The fifth land convoy en route to Gaza left the United Kingdom on
Saturday. Its aim is to break the
closure on Gaza. In July the Israeli government eased its siege on the
strip following massive
international pressure due to Israeli commando’s attack on the Freedom
Flotilla. According to
Israeli government spokesperson, Mark Regev, the ease means there are
no restriction on the flow
of civilian items anymore, however Sari Bashi of the Israeli NGO Gisha,
says that even after the
lifting of restrictions only 40% of imports actually enter. Bashi also says
exports are still prohibited
from leaving the Gaza strip, continuing the crippling of the Gazan
economy. The Real News’ Lia
Tarachansky reports the latest on the status of the Gaza closure and the
international attempts to
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER, TRNN: On Saturday, a land convoy left England en route to Gaza. The fifth in a series of convoys entitled “Viva Palestina” will be traveling through Europe. The Israeli military response to such convoys has escalated with each attempt to breach the siege on Gaza. Activists have sent nine sea flotillas and four land convoys, each one being faced with the Israeli army. Some managed to enter Gaza, while others did not. In May, the Israeli Navy surrounded the last flotilla in international waters, leading to a lethal attack, killing nine activists. While in Tel Aviv, I spoke to Sari Bashi of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization focusing on Gaza and the freedom of movement.
TARACHANSKY: Can you describe the difference in the legal system between Israel proper and Gaza?
SARI BASHI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GISHA: Sure. Within Israel there is a system of domestic law. There’s a democracy. It’s a flawed democracy, but it is a democracy. And there’s a legal system that applies to citizens of Israel. Residents of Gaza and the West Bank are subject to a different regime. Folks in the West Bank are living under military law, where the Israeli military makes the laws and then enforces them. Folks in Gaza are living partially under the Hamas regime, and there are areas of control that Hamas exercises, where Hamas has been making laws. But where Israel is subject to international law is in the areas where it exercises control, namely, control of borders, control of the population registry, and control of the tax system.
TARACHANSKY: The goal of the convoy is to break the siege on Gaza.
BASHI: Israel has controlled Gaza’s borders for the last 43 years. Three years ago it squeezed those borders even more tightly shut. That’s a closure taking place under the context of occupation. Now, the fact of control is something that international law is neutral about. International law doesn’t say, stop occupying, start occupying. It says, if you occupy, if you control, you have obligations towards civilians who are under your control. And that’s what’s illegal. The restrictions on goods and persons coming in and out of Gaza, not for security reasons, but in what Israel describes as economic warfare against the Hamas regime, is illegal because it’s punishing civilians for acts they didn’t commit.
TARACHANSKY: In 2006, an election was held in the occupied Palestinian territories. Hamas won the majority of seats, many attributing their victory to the history of corruption in the old establishment party, Fatah. After the election, Fatah and Hamas formed a unity government, but its existence was short-lived, as the two parties descended into armed struggle in Gaza. The United States, Russia, the EU, and the UN refused to recognize Hamas’s victory in the election, despite international observers concluding the election was fair. Israel also tightened its restrictions on Gaza. While before, Palestinians with Israeli documentation could enter and leave the strip, travel was made nearly impossible after June 2007. The result was the near collapse of the economy in Gaza and the flourishing of a clandestine economy powered by goods smuggled through tunnels dug under the Rafah border with Egypt. I talked to the Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev about the reasons and nature of the closure.
TARACHANSKY: Is the closure part of a policy to topple the Hamas government?
MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: There’s no such policy. There is a security envelope around Gaza to prevent the Hamas regime from receiving weapons, missiles, rockets, and other dangerous military equipment that end up being fired on Israeli civilians.
TARACHANSKY: Following the Israeli military attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May, Israel announced it would ease the restriction on movement into and out of Gaza. It officially did so in July.
REGEV: There are no restrictions today on civilian goods reaching the civilian population on Gaza. The borders are open for civilian traffic. In fact, the quantities of equipment going in are determined more by what the Palestinians in Gaza are ordering.
TARACHANSKY: I followed up this statement with Sari Bashi.
BASHI: So the ban on consumer products has been lifted. Raw materials are allowed in in limited quantities, and the ban on construction materials is still mostly in place. In addition, export is still banned, and the movement of people is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Volume-wise, Gaza residents are allowed to bring in about 40 percent of what they need. They’re not allowed to bring in construction materials and they’re not allowed to export.
REGEV: There are security issues that are very, very serious. It’s justï¿½well, it’s not a total blanket ban on exports. There have been exports. There have beenï¿½throughout the last couple of years there have been exports of agricultural products of flour and of strawberries, where I think the Dutch government was involved.
TARACHANSKY: That breeds a culture of dependency on charity.
REGEV: Yes. I think if anyone looks at the issue of the Gaza Strip, one knows that always there was aid from the international community is [inaudible] has always played a major role.
TARACHANSKY: Is economic warfare legal by international standards?
BASHI: Not what Israel is doing. Israel has likened its policy towards Gaza to a policy of economic sanctions. Again, we think that’s not appropriate. A sanction is when you withhold something that is your sovereign right, a decision to trade with another country. Gaza’s not a country. And Israel is not just withholding its own decision to trade with Gaza; it is preventing every country in the world from trading with Gaza.
TARACHANSKY: The Gaza Freedom Movement is currently organizing the next flotilla, with the intention of sailing to Gaza before the end of the year.