In 2008 Israel Agreed to a Protocol for the Port of Gaza

Why not now?

In August, 2008, I and forty-three other participants motored into Gaza by sea in two converted fishing boats, becoming the first to openly succeed in doing so since 1967.  The entry stamp in our passports reads “Gaza port” and was created for the occasion.  We carried a modest cargo of hearing aids for the children of the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children.

Israel tried multiple means of preventing us from succeeding, including threats, jamming of communications, and pressure on the Greek and Cypriot governments, but it did not send naval or coast guard vessels to intercept us, and did not attack us or block our way.

Why not?  According to Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeserson Arye Mekel, “Because we know who is on the boats and what they contain … we will allow them to land.”

How did they know?  Because we put all of that information on our website and because the government of Cyprus made extraordinary security arrangements, inspecting our boats inside and out and even under the hull, and placing us in a separate section of the port where we were the only vessels.

Three days after our arrival in Gaza, the boats returned to Cyprus, leaving some of the volunteers behind and taking on some Palestinian passengers.  Israel threatened to stop us and remove the Palestinians, but in an interview with Israel National Radio only hours before departure, I pointed out that these passengers had been approved by Cyprus and that in any case they would be screened by Cypriot authorities in Larnaca upon arrival.  If they trusted Cypriot security on departure, why would they not trust them upon return?  In the event, Israel again did not obstruct us.

Why is this procedure not a model protocol for opening Gaza to shipping and passenger traffic?  It provides for total inspection of cargo, passengers and vessels by international authorities, but it also gives Gaza direct access to world trade and travel.  What’s the problem?

This is, in fact, the protocol used in two other cases in which Israel participated.  The first was for the Rafah crossing, as negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice between Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority in November, 2005.  The agreement provided for international monitors to staff the border crossing and to follow procedures agreed by all concerned.  It functioned as intended until Israel began refusing access to the observers in June, 2006.

The second was a temporary protocol that Israel established for all aircraft to and from Beirut to be routed through Amman, Jordan, after its 2006 invasion of Lebanon.  Although this lasted only a few weeks, it similarly put security procedures in international hands.  Since Israel appears willing to respect this type of procedure, perhaps it could be applied to the airport in Gaza, as the Hamas government is demanding.

In short, there is nothing in the Hamas demands that Israel cannot accept and has not already accepted in similar circumstances, as long as international monitors are placed in charge of implementing agreed protocols for control and security.  This is a common sense solution that can meet the requirements of all concerned and allow Gaza to develop itself in ways that are well established in the rest of the world.

It is, of course, unlikely that Israel will accept these or any other protocols, for reasons that have nothing to do with security concerns.  Its rejection is also unrelated to its putative desire to crush Hamas.  If Israel wants to weaken Hamas, it can allow Palestinians in Gaza to better their lives and become and have less interest in military deterrence.  The current policy of periodic assassinations and attacks as well as strangulation of economic and social development only strengthens the call for resistance.

The real reason for Israel’s refusal is that it is making steady progress toward eradication of the Palestinian people and society, and wants to continue this policy.  If, as expected, Israel declares a three kilometer buffer zone to replace the 500 meter one that it imposed on Gaza, it will confine the population of nearly two million to an even smaller land area with fewer water and other resources and no meaningful access to the outside world.  The intent is to create a society without hope and full of misery, subject to periodic pogroms.

Why, then, should Israel want to do anything that will allow Gaza to rise above its misery?  If ethnic cleansing is the objective, Israel will prefer to let the cease-fire talks fail and to continue to deny Gaza all but the most basic humanitarian aid, a policy that Israeli presidential advisor Dov Weissglas described as “to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” This is human warehousing: the placement of an undesirable population in a confined area until Israel finds the means and opportunity to dispose of them.

Paul Larudee is a retired academic and current administrator of a nonprofit human rights and humanitarian aid organization. Read other articles by Paul.