American leaders have a different view of punishing blockades today than they did after the British authorities imposed one on Boston in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party. Then, collective punishment of Massachusetts spurred the Revolutionary War; but now, Israel’s blockade of Gaza draws little more than a yawn, as Nima Shirazi notes.
By Nima Shirazi
July 12, 2011
On March 30, 1774, in response to the Boston Tea Party, the British Parliament enacted the Boston Port Act, effectively shutting down all commerce and travel in and out of Massachusetts colony.
The law, known as one of the Intolerable Acts, was enforced by a British naval blockade of Boston harbor. These punitive acts, which collectively punished an entire colony for the acts of resistance and frustration of a few, served to unite the disparate colonies in their fight for self-determination, sovereignty, and natural and constitutional rights.
Colonies as far away as South Carolina sent relief supplies to their compatriots in Massachusetts.
As a result of British imperial overreach, the First Continental Congress was convened on Sept. 5, 1774. The Congress, in turn, established the Continental Association, a solidarity pact among the colonies to boycott all British goods and, in the event of continued British aggression, to stand as one in their fight for independence.
Now, 237 years later, the so-called “Middle East Quartet” – that is, the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia – has issued a “Statement on the Situation in Gaza.”
It is a brief and unsurprising document. No mention of a “siege” or “blockade,” of course.
While it states that the “conditions facing the civilian population in Gaza” are “unsustainable,” it provides absolutely no indication of the extent of the humanitarian crisis (i.e. 80 percent aid dependency, 95 percent of water is undrinkable, a mere 20 percent is food secure, 36 percent unemployment 47 percent among Gaza’s youth – and 38 percent living below the poverty line).
The statement ignores all of this. Instead, it “notes that efforts have improved conditions over the last year, including a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials moving into Gaza, an increase in international project activity, and the facilitation of some exports.”
Yet, these “improved conditions” are illusory.
For instance, a recent report found that while, since June 2010, there has been “improved access to formerly restricted goods, including some raw materials, the increased imports of construction materials (cement, gravel and steel bar) through the tunnels from Egypt, and the improved volume of imports of construction materials for Palestinian Authority-approved projects implemented by international and UN organizations helped reactivate the local economy in Gaza,” this “[e]conomic growth has not translated into poverty reduction.”
More importantly, “Israeli restrictions on access to markets (imports on a range of raw materials and exports) and access to natural resources (land and water), as well as the increasing transport costs due the closure of Karni crossing” make it virtually impossible for real economic sustainability – through private sector growth – to occur.
Furthermore, the recent decrease in unemployment in the Gaza Strip is mainly linked to the construction and agricultural sectors which have some of the lowest wages and employ mainly unskilled/casual laborers.
The new access regime allowed for an increasing number of construction projects under the UN or international umbrella, but failed to trickle down the benefits to the private sector. The latter is still relying on tunnels for the supply of construction materials.
The agricultural sector is seasonal and more than half of the labor force is composed of unpaid family members.
Ongoing restrictions on the movement of goods and artificially-inflated food prices and transport costs continue to impact the economy even after the new access regime, and thereby the June 2010 decision failed to impact the viability of the tunnel economy.
The new access regime did not translate into a tangible relaxation of exports despite the Dec. 8, 2010, cabinet decision by the GoI [Government of Israel], and the consecutive agreement with the Quartet Representative in February 2011.
The blockade is still in place. Apart from a very low rate of cash crops exported, no other goods have been exported out of the Gaza Strip under the new access regime.
The unpredictability of the crossing, frequent power cuts, as well as increased transportation costs do not ensure sustained exports of agricultural goods. Moreover, the exports are cut from their market of origin.
Nevertheless, the Quartet Statement commends Israel for the recent approval of $100 million in construction material to be allowed into Gaza and used to build 18 schools and 1,200 houses. Distraction accomplished.
But then things get even more ridiculous.
The statement reads: The Quartet recognizes that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must continue to be safeguarded. Members of the Quartet are committed to working with Israel, Egypt and the international community to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza and believe efforts to maintain security while enabling movement and access for Palestinian people and goods are critical.
Naturally, Palestinians in Gaza – y’know, the ones who keep getting murdered by Israeli bullets, tank shells, mortars, missiles, cluster bombs and flechettes – are not entitled to the same kind of security guarantees.
While the U.S. continues to supply the occupying power with the latest killing machines and heavy-duty artillery, the occupied are denied their own right to resist brutality and slaughter.
One wonders, if “illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza” is to be avoided, what channels are available for the legal transfer of weaponry and mechanisms for self-defense? Oh right, there are none.
The Quartet Statement then goes on to voice its opposition to the 2011 Flotilla – without mentioning its stance on international law and whether or not the blockade is legal (hint: it’s not) and blah blah blah “established channels” blah blah “established land crossings.”
The disconnect is staggering. While the Quartet condemns the Flotilla, it has already acknowledged the slight benefits of Israel’s “new access regime” implemented in June 2010 as a direct consequence of the 2010 Flotilla.
So, while calling for an end to that tactic, they already understand full well that it is the only thing that has worked so far to bring attention to the blockade and to force Israel to act (even meagerly) on its obligations.
And then the kicker: The Quartet regrets the injury and deaths caused by the 2010 flotilla, urges restraint and calls on all Governments concerned to use their influence to discourage additional flotillas, which risk the safety of their participants and carry the potential for escalation.
Read that again. “Injury and death caused by the 2010 flotilla.” Not by the heavily-armed and armored Israeli commandos who illegally stormed the ships in international waters and shot nine innocent people to death. No, no, the “flotilla” is to blame.
Just for the record, here’s what the United Nations – a member of the Quartet! – had to say about last year’s Mavi Marmara massacre:
The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. Such conduct cannot be justified or condoned on security or any other grounds. It constituted grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.
It also found “clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: willful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.”
And it stated that Israel had seriously violated its obligations under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the “right to life … torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment … right to liberty and security of the person and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention … right of detainees to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person … [and] freedom of expression.”
Based upon “forensic and firearm evidence,” the UN fact-finding panel concluded that, of the nine murders, the killing of Turkish-American citizen Furkan Dogan and that of five Turkish citizens by the Israeli troops on the Mavi Marmara “can be characterized as extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions.”
Also, from whom is the Quartet “urg[ing] restraint”? They never say. Clearly not Israel!
Maybe they’re wishing 86-year-old Hedy Epstein should calm the hell down. Maybe Alice Walker should chill out. But Israeli soldiers executing civilians on the high seas? Whatever.
The statement concludes with a single sentence: “The Quartet also calls for an end to the deplorable five-year detention of Gilad Shalit.”
Deplorable. The capture and detention of a single Israeli Occupation soldier receives the deepest condemnation of the entire document. But what were the “conditions facing the civilian population in Gaza” – 1.6 million people – again? Oh right, “unsustainable.”
Obviously, were the siege simply more sustainable and less of a burden, it wouldn’t be an issue. But since it’s “unsustainable,” it should probably be addressed somehow since the Quartet is “concerned.”
But does the Quartet call for an end to the four-year naval blockade or the five-year siege or the 44-year occupation or the airstrikes or kidnappings or buffer zone sniper shootings or drone attacks or collective punishment? Nope.
But they sure do “call for an end to the deplorable five-year detention of Gilad Shalit.”
Because, after all, it’s clear that the life of one Israeli soldier is more important than a million and a half Palestinians any day of the week.
Nima Shirazi of Brooklyn, New York, writes at Wide Asleep in America.