Sea Blockade of Gaza Was “Temporary” — 15 Years Ago

I must have got it all wrong.

I thought the first duty of a government was to protect its citizens from assault while going about their lawful business.

“There is no greater priority, no more important responsibility than the safety of all our citizens…” Didn’t our previous prime minister, Gordon Brown, say so?

To my way of thinking, that means protecting from armed thugs any British subjects sailing peacefully and lawfully on the high seas. The Israelis advertised their threats. The government had plenty of warning. So where was the Royal Navy?

Probably horsing around in the Gulf protecting foreigners who would rather be left alone. Or chasing pirates along the Somali coast. Or cruising the Caribbean showing the flag. Brown had also promised Royal Navy ships to thwart arms smuggling into Gaza, so if the flotilla was suspected of carrying arms you’d think jolly Jack Tar would have been on hand in a flash.

It seems our ships were just too busy on other chores like protecting Iraqis and Afghans to bother defending our own people from being murdered or abducted on their way through the Mediterranean on a noble humanitarian mission.

So new prime minister David Cameron fails his first test.

His foreign secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that he would stress to the Israeli Government the need for restraint “given that their actions appear to have gone beyond what was warranted or proportionate. We need to know whether more could have been done to minimise the risks, or to reduce the number of deaths and injuries.”

Meaning that the assault would have been OK if less blood on the decks?

He also wanted the Israelis to observe UN Resolution 1860, which calls for “sustained delivery of humanitarian aid” and calls on states “to alleviate the humanitarian and economic situation”. The fact that it has not happened, he said, was “a tragedy”.

More than a tragedy – it’s a dereliction of duty on the part of Britain and the rest of the international community. Their cowardice and moral bankruptcy has allowed Israel to defy dozens of other UN Resolutions.

“We will therefore continue to press the Israeli Government to lift the closure of Gaza,” said Hague, “and plan early discussions with Israel as well as with our other international partners about what more can be done to ensure an unfettered flow of aid while also ensuring that aid reaches those who need it and is not abused.”

Press away… There is only one way to “alleviate” the situation and that’s for the world’s navies to land supplies on Gaza’s beach.

Hague ducks and weaves

Sir Gerald Kaufman, the forthright Jewish MP, pointed out that any one of the 37 UK citizens might have been killed when the Israelis “committed a war crime of piracy in international waters, kidnapping and murder — and all in pursuit of upholding an illegal blockade on Gaza that amounts to collective punishment…” He asked Mr Hague for his assurance that further steps would be taken if the Israelis failed to comply with the modest request that had been made.

But Hague sidestepped, saying: “It is our strong advice to British nationals, as it has been in the past and will be in the future, not to travel to Gaza—let me make that absolutely clear—as they would be going into a dangerous situation, but it is absolutely wrong to maintain the blockade.”

By advising us not to travel – now and in the future – and failing to take action to break the illegal blockade, he chickens out and hands the Israelis an amazing victory. They, of course, don’t want witnesses crawling all over their major crime scene.

Jeremy Corbyn asked if it wasn’t time for sanctions such as revoking the EU-Israel trade agreement. Hague replied that he did not think imposing sanctions was the right policy. So no consequences.

Frank Dobson suggested that Britain and the other European members of NATO should give naval protection if another flotilla sets off for Gaza, with the Royal Navy reverting to its traditional role of protecting the freedom of the seas. Hague dismissed this too.

Does this mean that, after all that’s happened, we’re going to abandon the Rachel Corrie to her fate? She was too late to join the main flotilla and is steaming towards Gaza independently and due to reach Israel’s killing zone any day.

Mr Hague has been a Friend of Israel since his school days. Prime Minister David Cameron reminded MPs that he too counted himself a Friend of Israel. Why on earth do they and so many others in government champion a racist, rogue state? Why are they friends of Israel and not Palestine, not Lebanon, not Syria, not Iran? Why are they supportive of the Israeli government, who are proven terrorists, but hateful towards the democratically elected government of Gaza?

Should such people have their hands on the levers of power in Britain? In this new era of sleaze-free politics they owe us an explanation.

A very bad smell

Which brings us to the issue that few people seem to have questioned – Israel’s sea blockade and its legality. I’ve heard Israel’s apologists say the answer is to allow humanitarian supplies in by road through Israeli-controlled crossings while maintaining the blockade, and the US would probably agree to that.

Like everything else Israel does, and America supports, you have to look for the ulterior motive. Why did the belligerent party set up the blockade in the first place?

One reason is Gaza’s marine gas field, which lies 25 to 30 km offshore. It is estimated to hold 1 trillion cubic feet of gas worth around $4 billion in revenue. It would last 15 years and Israel wants it, so nobody talks about it.

In 2005, at the time of Israel’s “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians decided to drop plans to sell their gas to Israel and talked with Egypt instead. The position changed again when Tony Blair, Israel’s faithful dogsbody and special envoy of the Quartet, personally intervened on Israel’s behalf.

The plan cooked up was to pipe the gas from the sea-bed to an on-shore terminal at Ashkelon in Israel. A separate pipe would run from the terminal to Gaza, with Israel providing a raft of assurances about uninterrupted supply and an uninterrupted flow of profits to the Palestinians.

How laughable. This is the same Israel that’s starving Gazans into submission, blitzing them in their prison-home and trashing their economy… The same Israel that continues to murder and imprison whomsoever it wishes and steal whatever it wants… The same Israel that has no regard for international law or human rights… The same Israel that has blocked the flow of Palestinian tax and customs revenues, humanitarian aid and hospital supplies… The same Israel that will not recognise Palestine or its right of democratic self-determination.

Nobody in the Middle East believes that an assurance or guarantee by Israel is worth the paper it’s written on… especially in this case where it mounted a challenge to Palestine’s right to own and control the gas field, and lost. Their plan, apparently, is get their hands on Palestine’s precious energy resource in much the same way as they stole Palestine’s water. Israel would siphon off the gas in ever-increasing quantities while keeping the Palestinians in a state of bankruptcy and unable to use their share. Alternatively they’ll provoke endless ‘security’ alerts, as is their style, and block the pipeline anytime they choose as a collective punishment.

If Gaza’s gas is brought ashore in Israel, how can Palestinians benefit in terms of business contracts and job opportunities?

Would they ever get a whiff of their own gas?

Indeed, should the Palestinians be thinking of selling their gas to energy-greedy Israel in the first place? After 62 years of occupation and ruination isn’t every cubic foot needed to fuel their own economic recovery? It will be a long haul taking far more than 15 years.

Gaza, itself, ought to reap the full benefits and supply the West Bank direct. And maybe pipe some to Israel if it behaves itself.

Unfortunately an Interim Agreement signed in 1995 allowed the Israelis to weave a tangled web of security zoning in Gaza’s coastal waters leaving Israel in charge and dictating what happens off-shore and who comes and goes. It’s the sort of agreement no Palestinian would have signed unless under extreme duress.

It allowed fishing boats from Gaza to go 20 nautical miles from the coastline, but after Israel’s so-called ‘disengagement’ and the capture of Corporal Shalit, Israel unilaterally reduced the fishing area to three miles.

Being ‘interim’ these restrictions were not expected to last beyond 1999. But they are still in force. Why?

The nasty whiff is not just gas. So here’s an immediate and urgent task for the international community. It must untangle this sea blockade and restore to Palestine free unfettered use of its territorial waters.

As for the land blockade, if it is “wrong”, as Mr Hague says, and illegal as everyone else believes, it has been wrong and illegal for 4 years. It is not enough to say it must end. Action must be taken to bring it to an end.

Hague was no help in opposition. Now he’s in power, he is off to a poor start. The message to him and his fellow dining room loafers in the EU is clear: Cut the cackle and ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING… NOW!

Stuart Littlewood, after working on jet fighters in the RAF, became an industrial marketeer in oil, electronics and manufacturing, and with innovation and product development consultancies. He also served as a Cambridgeshire county councillor and a member of the Police Authority. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and has produced two photo-documentary books including Radio Free Palestine (with foreword by Jeff Halper). Now retired, he campaigns on various issues, especially the Palestinians' struggle for freedom. Read other articles by Stuart, or visit Stuart's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on June 5th, 2010 at 10:57am #

    Mr Littlewood has indeed got it all wrong. Or more precisely, those who gave him his RAF training saw to it that he got it wrong. Military people are taught all that guff about “protecting citizens” precisely so that they will see nothing wrong with doing what the Israeli sailors did. The idea that a country would launch a military attack on a country merely because it injured a few of its citizens is straight out of the Victorian era and is utterly at odds with the way the world functions in 2010. And it is precisely the American (Afghanistan!) and Israeli (the very blockade we are talking about!) penchant for such outdated ideas that has earned both the contempt of the world.

  2. hayate said on June 5th, 2010 at 12:09pm #

    This is a decent article from Littlewood. There is more information about this and the israeli desire to confiscate the gas off Gaza, but I’m out of time right now and will have to look for the piece later.

  3. woody said on June 5th, 2010 at 12:11pm #

    I don’t think Gordon Brown, who did indeed say those words, had any military training, Michael. And I don’t remember seeing anything about launching a military attack on (presumably) Israel.

  4. Ismail Zayid said on June 5th, 2010 at 1:58pm #

    David Cameron and William Hague are not the only political leaders who, through their inaction, are essentially complicit in the war crimes that Israel continues to commit. We have them here in the US, Canada and other countries including the Middle East.

    The outrageous act of piracy, that Israel committed against the Free Gaza Flotilla, is a continuation of the illegal blockade that Israel maintains against Gaza denying 1.5 million innocent people their basic humanitarion needs, and this will continue while the leaders of the so-called Free World are indulging in their deafening silence.

  5. mary said on June 6th, 2010 at 8:53am #

    A very well informed article specifically on the gas fields in Palestinian waters off Gaza. Note the wiping of Gaza from the map.

  6. hayate said on June 6th, 2010 at 11:54pm #

    Here is some additional info:

    War and Natural Gas: The Israeli Invasion and Gaza’s Offshore Gas Fields

    by Michel Chossudovsky January 8, 2009

    “The military invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves.

    This is a war of conquest. Discovered in 2000, there are extensive gas reserves off the Gaza coastline. ”

  7. hayate said on June 6th, 2010 at 11:54pm #

    See also:

    Geopolitical Time Line: War, Natural Gas and Gaza’s Marine Zone Fishermen’s Rights versus the Development of Natural Gas

    by David K. Schermerhorn, January 14, 2009

    “Beginning in late 2000 the Israeli military began a campaign of intimidation and harassment against the fishing boats that ventured near or beyond a 6 nautical mile limit. No formal notice or explanation was ever given to the Palestinians. Instead the regulation was written and enforced by Israeli machine guns and water cannons. At least 14 fishermen have been killed by the Israelis, over 200 injured and numerous boats damaged or impounded.


    In the late 1990’s the British Gas Group (BG Group) discovered a vast deposit of natural gas under the waters off Gaza: Over 1 trillion cubic feet equal to 150 million barrels of oil was estimated to be there. A significantly smaller deposit was also found in nearby Israeli waters.”