Monday, March 09, 2009

Closure

Lisa Goldman explains very well and concisely why Israel's almost total closure of the Gaza Strip does not make any real sense. She does so in a comment on het weblog, which is why I cannot link directly to that explanation, so I post it here. When you go to her posting, you can also watch Closed Zone, a short video about the closure, made by the animator who worked on Waltz with Bashir.

First of all, the ministry of defense is not keeping Erez Crossing closed for security reasons. I understand that people would like to believe that Israel was reluctantly forced to impose a policy that causes innocent Gazans to suffer because that is the only way to keep Israelis secure. That is not the case. In fact, nobody in the government even pretends that is the case - which is why I’m constantly surprised that people believe it is. The prime minister’s office and security services have stated explicitly that Israel will keep the Gaza borders closed until Gilad Shalit is released. On previous occasions, the ministry of defense announced that it was closing Erez in response to a Qassam launch - again, as punishment, not as a security measure. On some occasions the closure has applied to foreign NGO workers, or to foreign journalists, as was the case during the two months period preceding Operation Cast Lead. Whether Gazans are allowed through Erez or not has no effect on the Qassam launchers. The two are separate issues. Qassams are not launched through Erez. They are launched from deep inside Gaza. Rockets were launched several times at the southern towns of Israel over the past week, while Erez was closed. The idea behind the closure is that if the lives of Gazans are made miserable enough - e.g., by keeping them penned up inside Gaza - they will rise up against their evil Hamas overlords, smite their firstborn or whatever, and then…. What? Bring back Fatah? Hold elections? No-one seems to be sure what the closure is supposed to achieve. It is certainly not working to loosen Hamas’s grip on power. Nor is it stopping the Qassam rockets. Hamas has demonstrated quite amply that it does not care at all how much civilians suffer. So it’s a mystery to me why anyone thinks that they’re going to be moved to make concessions to Israel - like putting a lid on their glorious Qassam resistance brigades - in return for Israel’s agreeing to re-open Erez Crossing to civilian traffic. That is not going to happen. Hamas leaders don’t have to worry about whether or not Erez is open; they enter and leave Gaza through the tunnels under the border with Egypt - which went back to working at full efficiency one day after the ceasefire - or through the Rafah border crossing, when the Egyptians open it for a couple of days every few weeks or so. Gaza’s economy is underground - literally. Goods ranging from zoo animals to computers are smuggled in through those tunnels. Hamas ministers bring in suitcases of cash that they collect from sympathetic donors abroad, too - not to mention the 20 percent tax they collect on all tunnel goods. Israel cannot control those tunnels: they are on Egypt’s border, not ours. In practice, Israel’s current border policy means, for example, that a well-known journalist who works for a prominent western media outlet, who speaks fluent English, has traveled through Erez on several occasions in the past and is known by the ministry of defense to present no threat, has no political affiliations and graduated from an Ivy League university, is denied permission to travel to Europe in order to speak at a conference. The reason for the refusal: “there is a policy in place that prevents Gazans to cross into Israel, unless it is an emergency (life and death)” (that last bit in quotation marks was copied from an email I received from a ministry spokesman). Opening the borders, does not mean swing the gate wide open and allow unchecked passage to any Gazan who feels like taking a stroll into Israel. It means allowing Gazan civilians to apply for a permit to enter Israel, by supplying their ID numbers and reason for wishing to visit Israel to the ministry of defense, which can then approve the request after verifying that the applicant is not a security risk. Right now no-one can exit, for any reason at all - unless they need a kidney transplant within 2 hours or they’ll die, and the only matching kidney is at an Israeli hospital, or something similarly dire that qualifies as a life and death emergency. You have to see the security at Erez Crossing to understand that it is physically impossible for someone to break through by force. Soldiers’ lives are not at risk from suicide bombers either: all gate controls, bag checks and body scans are done by remote control. The bottom line: there are no valid political or security reasons for keeping Erez closed. It is a punitive policy that neither weakens Hamas nor protects Israelis.

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