My following article is published today in Overland journal and was co-written with John Docker and Ned Curthoys:
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
– Mahatma Gandhi
Israel is creating a kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry. In the outside world, the welfare of Jewry depends on the maintenance of secular, non-racial, pluralistic societies. In Israel, Jewry finds itself defending a society in which mixed marriages cannot be legalized, in which non-Jews have a lesser status than Jews, and in which the ideal is racist and exclusivist.
– IF Stone
On 14 December 2010, the Marrickville Council in inner-west Sydney, led by its Greens mayor Fiona Byrne, expressed its support for, in her words, ‘the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, to exert peaceful pressure on the government of Israel to honour its human rights obligations to the Palestinians’ (Fiona Byrne, ‘Rates, roads – and justice in Gaza’, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 April 2011). As is well known, the council’s now failed proposal (Sydney Morning Herald, 20 April 2011) to support BDS was controversial and widely ridiculed, and not only in the feral newspaper The Australian. In conversation, friends and acquaintances who live in the Marrickville municipal area made it clear to us that while they are sympathetic to the Palestinians, they feel such an action is rather absurd and silly for a local council so far from the Middle East. They also thought the Council hadn’t provided its constituents with necessary information. They have a point in terms of the council’s failure to communicate the rationale of a BDS. But was the Marrickville Council support for BDS really so ridiculous? In this essay we try to provide information about BDS that can help stimulate discussion and debate. We contend that supporting BDS is not only necessary in order to help save the Palestinian people from an ongoing catastrophe, but vitally important for the self-respect of the international community.
As anti-Zionist Jews, we support the BDS, and agree with Sonja Karkar of Australians for Palestine (‘Report on BDS Vote in Marrickville’, 21 April 2011) that the Marrickville Council action spectacularly succeeded in bringing nation-wide attention to the existence of the international boycott-Israel movement.
We have our own ideas about what is absurd, and what is allegedly ‘extreme’ on issues to do with Israel/Palestine. It’s clear that not much is known about BDS in Australia, which is not surprising, given the crippled state of the print media in this country and its near-blanket censorship – what other name is there for it? – of views critical of Israel, especially the views of Palestinian, Arab, and anti-Zionist Jewish intellectuals. On this issue the media in Australia make a mockery of democracy, media diversity, and intelligent and empirically informed journalism (Antony Loewenstein). Compared to the UK – think the Guardian and Independent – the print media in Australia is second-rate, and, given the near monopoly of the Murdoch press, getting worse. It’s stunning that so many Australian ‘journalists’ can accept money from the Israeli government, or from Zionist organizations in Australia dedicated to providing active support for the Israeli state, to visit Israel. It’s clear that upon their return they act as advocates and agents of influence for Israel, uncritically enunciating the policy concerns and worldview of an ethnocentric state with a racist immigration policy, a state that supports and subsidizes the ongoing colonisation of Palestine, illegal under international law; a state that is opposed to Australia’s own values as a secular, non-racial, pluralistic society. Aren’t journalists supposed to be independent of the state – any state? Isn’t this situation absurd?
There are, however, and thankfully, alternative sources of information. Here we focus on Omar Barghouti, whose 2011 book BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights draws attention to the epigraphs we’ve used above from Gandhi and I.F. Stone (pp.1, 78). Barghouti is in the great tradition of Palestinian intellectuals, historians and poets like Edward W. Said, Walid Khalidi, and Mahmoud Darwish, maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the Jewish diaspora and the Israeli people while advocating Palestinian rights in the most eloquent terms possible. With postgraduate degrees in electrical engineering from Columbia University and in philosophy from Tel Aviv University, he works in Palestine as a dance choreographer. Barghouti is a founding member of both PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which made its first call for boycott in April 2004, and the general Palestinian Civil Society Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which made its call a year later, in 2005.
Importantly, Barghouti points out in BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions that the ‘BDS movement as such does not adopt any specific political formula’, for example, it steers away from the ‘one-state-versus-two-states debate, focusing instead on universal rights and international law’ (pp.51-52). He does, however, offer his own personal vision. He tells us that on ‘a personal level, not as a representative of the BDS movement’, he has for over twenty-five years consistently supported the one-state solution, ‘a secular, democratic state: one person, one vote – regardless of ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, and so on’. Such a state can ‘reconcile our inalienable rights as indigenous Palestinians with the acquired rights of Israeli Jews as colonial settlers, once they’ve shed their colonial character and privileges and accepted justice and international law’ (p.178).
He opposes violence: ‘Even when it is in reaction to colonial violence, an indiscriminate attack on the civilian community of the oppressors is morally unjustifiable, in my opinion’; international law ‘never condones deliberate or criminally negligent attacks against civilians. I fully endorse that’ (p.130). So do we. Barghouti sees BDS as part of the tradition of non-violence whose most famous representatives are Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela, though the majority of Palestinians have always engaged in ‘non-violent resistance even before the inspiration of Gandhi, King, and Mandela’ (p.174). Mandela and Archbishop Tutu, he reminds us, liken Israeli occupation practices to apartheid South Africa. The present BDS campaign itself is ‘largely inspired by the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa’, though he does not suggest that the two situations are identical. The analogy is worthwhile, however, since ‘Israel’s system of bestowing rights and privileges according to ethnic and religious identity’, including allowing Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories to vote in Israeli elections and creating infrastructure, including modern highway systems, designed for the near exclusive use of those settlers, fits both the UN definition of apartheid in its Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1973 and the International Criminal Court’s Rome statute of 2002.
Barghouti describes Zionism and the Israeli state – and such a description should make all Australians think of our own history of colonization of Indigenous peoples and lands – as one of ‘settler colonialism’ (p.4). He regards Zionism as a form of racism, and refers to the Israeli state as ‘ethnocentric, racist, and exclusivist’. Drawing on Ilan Pappé’s 2006 book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, he recalls that Israel’s creation in 1948 involved ‘massive ethnic cleansing, massacres, rape, wanton destruction of hundreds of villages’ by Zionist militias and later the Israeli army. Such brutality was ‘premeditated’ and ‘meticulously planned’ by Zionist leaders, including David Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister). Over 750,000 Palestinians were dispossessed and uprooted and more than four hundred villages were ‘methodically destroyed to prevent the return of the refugees’. Now refugees and internally displaced persons, the majority of the population of Gaza (something ignored by the pro-Israeli media who are deliberately ahistorical about these issues), make up two-thirds of the Palestinian population.
Barghouti believes that the BDS movement, appealing to people of conscience everywhere, is necessary ‘to avert genocide’, by which he means Israel’s ongoing assault on the Palestinians as a people, enacted through the annexation of Palestinian land, alienation of Palestinian farmers from their arable lands, restrictions on Palestinian housing and construction permits, attacks on Palestinian olive crops, attacks on Palestinian rights of assembly, cultural expression and schooling, the mass imprisonment of young Palestinian men and boys, removal of Palestinian populations from East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank, onerous military curfews, attacks on Palestinian freedom of movement, and a crippling undermining of the Palestinian economy.
In Gaza, Barghouti writes, the situation is desperate. He quotes the international law expert Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, who argued in 2007 that what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians in Gaza reveals a ‘deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty’. Falk urges the governments of the world and international public opinion to ‘act urgently to prevent these genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy’. Barghouti also quotes the Goldstone Report (more on the unfortunate Richard Goldstone in a moment) on the December 2008-January 2009 war on Gaza saying that the Israeli assault was a ‘deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population’. Both Falk and the Goldstone Report emphasise that the Israeli mistreatment of the people of Gaza, which has included the destruction of their schools, wells, electricity generators, crops, and factories, reveals deliberate intention and systematic policy (pp.36-37, 46).
We can only lament Goldstone’s recent ‘turn’ here. While the meticulous research and legal judgements of the Report still stand, Goldstone’s reputation is irreparably damaged (Richard Falk, ‘What Future for the Goldstone Report? Beyond the Name’, 20 April 2011). In our view, Goldstone’s stumbling retreat from the Report reveals the acute dilemma facing many progressive Jews with a residual sympathy for Israel: the choice between supporting international humanitarian law, or a repugnant Israeli state dedicated to stonewalling and undermining the principles of international humanitarian law. The latter is a trait of the Israeli state at least since the late 1940s when it refused to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as required by international law (UN General Assembly resolution 194, 1948). Goldstone chose to support the Israeli state, thereby betraying the Palestinian people, his colleagues in international law, and the traditions of Jewish humanism and universalism that inspired him to investigate the events in Gaza in the first place. Despite Goldstone’s reversal, those traditions are now re-asserting themselves across the world, exampled by the inspiring support given to the BDS movement by leading Jewish intellectuals and activists such as Judith Butler and Naomi Klein. Richard Falk himself, who is Jewish, deserves very honourable mention in this respect as well.
Barghouti argues that the Palestinian call for BDS demands Israel observe the fundamental human right to full equality, ending its ‘system of racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens’. He sees recognition of the Palestinian right of return as ‘the litmus test of morality for anyone suggesting a just and enduring solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict’. Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands captured in the 1967 war, including the West Bank of which East Jerusalem is a part, is illegal in international law. All Israeli settlements established in the occupied territories are a violation of article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which Barghouti quotes: ‘The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies’. An example in the academic sphere is the Hebrew University, which has moved Israeli staff and students into illegally confiscated land in East Jerusalem. On 9 July 2004, The International Court of Justice in The Hague declared that Israel’s construction of the infamous apartheid wall is illegal because it annexes Palestinian land and separates Palestinians from their lands, as it was surely designed to do.
BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions dismisses any accusation that the boycott campaign is anti-Semitic (pp.82-83). For one thing, as part of the struggle for ‘universal rights’, BDS is opposed to ‘all forms of racism and racist ideologies, including anti-Semitism’. For another, as we have suggested, there is growing support for the Palestinian-led BDS from Jews inside and outside Israel. In Israel, on 27 June 2010, following the Palestinian Queers for BDS initiative, ‘an Israeli LGBT’ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) call endorsed BDS. Israeli groups of Palestinians and Jews that have endorsed the BDS call include the Alternative Information Centre, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition, and Who Profits from the Occupation? which is a project of the Coalition of Women for Peace. Who Profits? keeps a database of Israeli and international corporations involved in the occupation. There is also the ‘courageous Israeli BDS group Boycott from Within’.
Outside Israel, there is accelerating Jewish support for the BDS campaign, beginning with the famous letter from Steven Rose and Hilary Rose to the Guardian on 6 April 2002 calling for a moratorium on EU funding of research collaboration with Israel, funding which is meant to be predicated on respect for human rights. In September 2010, more than 150 US and British theatre, film, and TV artists issued a statement initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), supporting the boycott movement. In October 2010 Israeli-British architect, Abe Hayreem, founder of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, described how Israeli architecture and planning are instruments of the occupation. Jewish intellectuals mentioned by Barghouti who have been prominent worldwide in supporting BDS include Judith Butler, Mike Leigh, Richard Falk, Naomi Klein, Ilan Pappé, and Ronnie Kasrils. In the United States, issues like the BDS movement and Israel’s increasing distance from an American self-image of an inclusive liberal democracy based on human rights, are beginning to seriously fracture the Jewish community.
And what of local authorities in various countries? The implication of the ridicule of the Marrickville Council proposal appears to be that this small local government was the only one in the world silly enough to think globally and support the BDS. On the contrary. In June 2010 the South African Municipal Workers Union, we read in BDS: Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions, initiated a campaign ‘to rid all municipalities in South Africa of Israeli products’ in order to make them apartheid-Israel free zones, a campaign that has ‘started firing the imagination of BDS activists elsewhere’. There has been local council support for the Palestinian and international campaign against the Jerusalem Light Rail, the Israeli project whereby two giant French firms, Veolia and Alstom, build a tram route serving Israel’s illegal colonies in and surrounding occupied East Jerusalem, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In the West Midlands, UK, the Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council decided not to consider further Veolia’s bid for the Waste Improvement Plan contract; Barghouti says that while the decision was presented as commercial, he is confident it was the result of BDS pressure. Furthermore, several local campaigns, from Hampshire County to Liverpool to Camden to South Yorkshire, have ‘sprouted to derail Veolia’ from large public works contracts. Barghouti welcomes BDS actions wherever they occur, however small or directed to one object: ‘As I’ve jokingly said in my talks’, even if a group ‘decides to launch a campaign targeting Israeli tomatoes only’, the Palestinians would be glad. He admires CodePink who have ‘chosen to focus their creative energies on boycotting AHAVA, the Israeli cosmetics company’ that manufactures in occupied Palestinian territory. Many campaigns in Europe, he adds, ‘have a narrow focus in their BDS targets, and that’s perfectly fine’.
We believe that support for BDS is crucial for the future of the international community if it is serious about upholding the principles of international law, which include non-aggression towards civilians, the illegality of occupying and annexing foreign territories, and the refusal to legitimise racist and apartheid systems of governance. The Western powers, including Australia, attempt to lead the world by relentlessly suggesting they alone act on behalf of universal principles of justice, human rights, and international law. Yet their cynicism in ignoring universal rights whenever it is convenient to do so in their own interests (think of Western intervention in Libya, yet no support for democracy in Bahrain) is glaringly revealed in the history of Israel/Palestine since 1948. Those powers blatantly protect the state of Israel, ignoring universal rights and international law, despite the fact that Israel’s self-conception, as I.F. Stone observed, is ‘racist and exclusivist’ (‘Holy War’, New York Review of Books, 3 August 1967); Israel is, according to its own preferred self-definition, a state that serves the prerogatives and interests of Jewish nationals rather than the entirety of its citizens. Consequently, while the Palestinians face a very bleak future that includes diminution of land and water rights and continuing exposure to military violence, the West generates anger and contempt for its egregious hypocrisy. We submit that BDS is indeed a litmus test for humanity, because it asks the world’s citizens to act to uphold universal human rights. If BDS fails, we are all diminished.
Barack Obama made a conscious choice when taking office to Look Forward and Not Back after eight years of illegal torture committed by the Bush administration.
To put it another way, every CIA torturer, all those involved in acts of rendition, and all the officials who okayed such acts, as well as the lawyers who put their stamp of approval on them, are free to continue their lives untouched. Recently, the Obama administration even went to court to “prevent a lawyer for a former CIA officer convicted in Italy in the kidnapping of a radical Muslim cleric from privately sharing classified information about the case with a Federal District Court judge.” (Yes, Virginia, elsewhere in the world a few Americans have been tried in absentia for Bush-era crimes.) In response, wrote Scott Shane of the New York Times, the judge “pronounced herself ‘literally speechless.’”
The realities of our moment are simple enough: other than abusers too low-level (see England, Lynndie and Graner, Charles) to matter to our national security state, no one in the CIA, and certainly no official of any sort, is going to be prosecuted for the possible crimes Americans committed in the Bush years in pursuit of the Global War on Terror.
The following statement was released yesterday:
On the eve of first anniversary of the deadly Israeli attack on the 2010 international Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza, Australian participants reiterated their determination to join the second Flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza at the end of June.
“We welcome Egyptian moves to partially lift the siege by opening the Raffah crossing,” said former Greens MLC Sylvia Hale, “but in itself this will not substantially alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza.
“Despite the easing of the siege, men under 40 are not permitted to cross, making it impossible for them to find jobs outside Gaza. The refusal to permit raw materials to enter Gaza or exports to leave it, means widespread unemployment will continue.
“Gaza will not be free so long as the Israeli siege destroys the territory’s economy,” said Ms Hale.
“The Australian delegation is determined to join the second international Flotilla to break the siege,” said Vivienne Porzsolt of Jews Against the Occupation.
“The world witnessed the brutality of the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara 12 months ago, when nine activists were killed and many others injured and illegally detained,” Ms Porzsolt said.
“Such aggression must not go unchallenged. By participating in the Flotilla, we are opposing Israel’s acts of piracy in international waters and its illegal blockade of Gaza..
“We are committed to peace and non-violence and will offer no provocation or resistance to any action by the Israeli forces. Should any of us be injured, it will be the responsibility of the Israeli Government,” said Ms Porzsolt.
The Arab Spring hasn’t been kind to countless Middle East dictatorships. Internet censorship has been a key plank of trying to maintain order in the face of a massive popular uprising. At least in Egypt we’ve now seen former Mubarak ministers and the former President himself being fined for daring to cut internet connections and mobile phone services during the revolution.
For weeks, Syrian democracy activists have used Facebook and Twitter to promote a wave of bold demonstrations. Now, the Syrian government and its supporters are striking back — not just with bullets, but with their own social-media offensive.
Mysterious intruders have scrawled pro-government messages on dissidents’ Facebook pages. Facebook pages have popped up offering cyber tools to attack the opposition. The Twitter #Syria hashtag — which had carried accounts of the protests — has been deluged with automated messages bearing scenes of nature and old sports scores.
“There is a war itself going on in cyberspace,” said Wissam Tarif, head of the Middle East human rights organization Insan, whose Web site has been attacked.
Syria offers just one example of the online backlash in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. Although social media sites have been lionized for their role in the Arab Spring protests, governments are increasingly turning the technology against the activists.
One of the most ominous signs is in Iran, where the brutish government seemingly wants to cut itself off from the world. This could be the response of many autocratic states aiming to hold onto power, no matter what. It must be resisted:
Iran is taking steps toward an aggressive new form of censorship: a so-called national Internet that could, in effect, disconnect Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world.
The leadership in Iran sees the project as a way to end the fight for control of the Internet, according to observers of Iranian policy inside and outside the country. Iran, already among the most sophisticated nations in online censoring, also promotes its national Internet as a cost-saving measure for consumers and as a way to uphold Islamic moral codes.
In February, as pro-democracy protests spread rapidly across the Middle East and North Africa, Reza Bagheri Asl, director of the telecommunication ministry’s research institute, told an Iranian news agency that soon 60% of the nation’s homes and businesses would be on the new, internal network. Within two years it would extend to the entire country, he said.
The unusual initiative appears part of a broader effort to confront what the regime now considers a major threat: an online invasion of Western ideas, culture and influence, primarily originating from the U.S. In recent speeches, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top officials have called this emerging conflict the “soft war.”
On Friday, new reports emerged in the local press that Iran also intends to roll out its own computer operating system in coming months to replace Microsoft Corp.’s Windows. The development, which couldn’t be independently confirmed, was attributed to Reza Taghipour, Iran’s communication minister.
Iran’s national Internet will be “a genuinely halal network, aimed at Muslims on an ethical and moral level,” Ali Aghamohammadi, Iran’s head of economic affairs, said recently according to a state-run news service. Halal means compliant with Islamic law.
One month ago, David Sheen, an Israeli journalist with Haaretz, filmed an anti-immigrant rally in Tel Aviv and found widespread hatred against anybody who didn’t look white. Racism, pure and simple.
Now Sheen has returned to the same place to see what’s changed, if anything:
I went to see Munib Masri in his Beirut hospital bed yesterday morning.
He is part of the Arab revolution, although he doesn’t see it that way. He looked in pain – he was in pain – with a drip in his right arm, a fever, and the fearful wounds caused by an Israeli 5.56mm bullet that hit his arm. Yes, an Israeli bullet – because Munib was one of thousands of young and unarmed Palestinians and Lebanese who stood in their thousands in front of the Israeli army’s live fire two weeks ago on the very border of the land they call “Palestine”.
“I was angry, mad – I’d just seen a small child hit by the Israelis,” Munib said to me. “I walked nearer the border fence. The Israelis were shooting so many people. When I got hit, I was paralysed. My legs gave way. Then I realised what had happened. My friends carried me away.” I asked Munib if he thought he was part of the Arab Spring. No, he said, he was just protesting at the loss of his land. “I liked what happened to Egypt and Tunisia. I am glad I went to the Lebanese border, but I also regret it.”
Which is not surprising. More than 100 unarmed protesters were wounded in the Palestinian-Lebanese demonstration to mark the 1948 expulsion and exodus of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in Mandate Palestine – six were killed – and among the youngest of those hit by bullets were two little girls. One was six, the other eight. More targets of Israel’s “war on terror”, I suppose, although the bullet that hit Munib, a 22-year old geology student at the American University of Beirut, did awful damage. It penetrated his side, cut through his kidney, hit his spleen and then broke up in his spine. I held the bullet in my hand yesterday, three sparkling pieces of brown metal that had shattered inside Munib’s body. He is, of course, lucky to be alive.
And I guess lucky to be an American citizen, much good did it do him. The US embassy sent a female diplomat to see his parents at the hospital, Munib’s mother Mouna told me. “I am devastated, sad, angry – and I don’t wish this to happen to any Israeli mother. The American diplomats came here to the hospital and I explained the situation of Munib. I said: ‘I would like you to give a message to your government – to put pressure on them to change their policies here. If this had happened to an Israeli mother, the world would have gone upside down.’ But she said to me: ‘I’m not here to discuss politics. We’re here for social support, to evacuate you if you want, to help with payments.’ I said that I don’t need any of these things – I need you to explain the situation.”
Any US diplomat is free to pass on a citizen’s views to the American government but this woman’s response was all too familiar. Munib, though an American, had been hit by the wrong sort of bullet. Not a Syrian bullet or an Egyptian bullet but an Israeli bullet, a bad kind to discuss, certainly the wrong kind to persuade an American diplomat to do anything about it. After all, when Benjamin Netanyahu gets 55 ovations in Congress – more than the average Baath party congress in Damascus – why should Munib’s government care about him?
The real face of London’s foreign policy posture:
Britain is training Saudi Arabia‘s national guard – the elite security force deployed during the recent protests in Bahrain – in public order enforcement measures and the use of sniper rifles. The revelation has outraged human rights groups, which point out that the Foreign Office recognises that the kingdom’s human rights record is “a major concern”.
In response to questions made under the Freedom of Information Act, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that British personnel regularly run courses for the national guard in “weapons, fieldcraft and general military skills training, as well as incident handling, bomb disposal, search, public order and sniper training”. The courses are organised through the British Military Mission to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, an obscure unit that consists of 11 British army personnel under the command of a brigadier.
The MoD response, obtained yesterday by the Observer, reveals that Britain sends up to 20 training teams to the kingdom a year. Saudi Arabia pays for “all BMM personnel, as well as support costs such as accommodation and transport”.
Bahrain’s royal family used 1,200 Saudi troops to help put down demonstrations in March. At the time the British government said it was “deeply concerned” about reports of human rights abuses being perpetrated by the troops.
“Britain’s important role in training the Saudi Arabian national guard in internal security over many years has enabled them to develop tactics to help suppress the popular uprising in Bahrain,” said Nicholas Gilby of the Campaign Against Arms Trade.
Analysts believe the Saudi royal family is desperate to shore up its position in the region by preserving existing regimes in the Gulf that will help check the increasing power of Iran.
A flashmob in Washington has felt the full force of the law, by being forcibly arrested by police – for dancing in public. They’d gathered at the Jefferson Memorial in defiance of a ban on dancing at the monument.
Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah crossing to people raised great apprehension in Israel, as expected. The immediate concern is that the opening of the crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt will allow Hamas and other groups to bring in an unlimited supply of weapons.
Ostensibly, that’s a persuasive claim, though four years of closure haven’t prevented the passage of weapons into Gaza or the manufacture of missiles there, nor have they prevented terror attacks on Israel. Reports by defense officials that Hamas has amassed large quantities of advanced missiles are proof of that. Meanwhile, Cairo has hastened to make clear that goods will not be allowed through the crossing, and it may be assumed that Egypt is not encouraging the stockpiling of weapons in Gaza.
Along with security concerns, Israel’s fury seems to stem from the fact that the opening of the crossing scuttles its vengeful and cruel closure policy. That policy did nothing at all to free captured soldier Gilad Shalit, nor has it encouraged a Palestinian uprising against Hamas, as Israel had hoped. Rather, it has turned Gaza into the world’s biggest prison, led to terrible human tragedies and sowed deep desperation among the people.
That policy created the deep divide with Turkey and pulverized Israel’s image worldwide. Egypt’s cooperation with the closure created the false impression that Israel’s policy had Arab support. But Egyptian citizens frequently protested the closure, and the opening of the crossing reflects the new regime’s desire, if only temporarily, to draw a line between itself and the previous ruler, Hosni Mubarak, and to respond positively to the new wind blowing in Egyptian society.
The opening of the Rafah crossing is above all an important humanitarian gesture. As such, Israel should follow suit and open the crossings from the West Bank to Israel. The return of normal life to Gaza might encourage its citizens to put the brakes on terror. More importantly, the opening of the crossing will clearly show that Israel has decided to disengage from Gaza and abandon its all-but-direct occupation. But even without these strategic calculations, it’s the human aspect that should guide the Israeli government.