The chained jailers of Gaza -
Israelis refuse to comprehend that Gaza is a huge prison, and that we are the wardens
I have seen happy Gazans. A reporter for Kan, the Israeli public broadcasting corporation, went to the Erez checkpoint a few days ago, shoved a microphone and a camera at people leaving the Gaza Strip and invited their sighs of relief. Great! The Hamas inspection point on the Gazan side has been removed and the bearded security people didn’t interrogate us.
The impression left by the news item and by an earlier report in Haaretz is that the only stumbling block faced by those who wish to leave Gaza is Hamas, but here are some of the questions that the Gazans at the border were not asked, along with the answers that would have been forthcoming:
Q: Now, following the removal of Hamas checkpoints, can anyone who wishes to do so leave Gaza? A: Are you kidding? Since 1991, we leave only if Israel approves.
Q: How long is the waiting period for an Israeli exit permit? A: About 50 days. Sometimes only legal intervention by an Israeli organization such as the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement or Physicians for Human Rights can result in a permit.
Q: What is involved in the inspection at the Israeli checkpoint? A: A revolving scanner, instructions shouted from loudspeakers, sometimes a strip search.
Q: What are you allowed to take? A: You’re not allowed a laptop, sandwiches, a suitcase on wheels or deodorant.
Q: Other than Islamic Jihad and Hamas, who isn’t allowed to leave? A: Most people aren’t allowed. The daughter of a neighbor of mine has been receiving medical treatment in Jerusalem for the past nine months, and he has yet to receive a permit to visit her. The same is true of three friends who have been in need of a follow-up medical exam for the past year. Young people who would like to study in the West Bank cannot do so because Israel won’t permit it. About 300 students who were accepted to study abroad are waiting for a permit, and their visa is at risk.
Q: Were you interrogated by the Israeli Shin Bet security service? A: Not today. But sometimes we arrive at the checkpoint and they take us aside, sit us down on a chair for an entire day, and in the end ask a few questions about the neighbors, for 10 minutes, or send us home even without asking questions. That’s how we miss a hospital appointment or a work meeting.
Israelis refuse to comprehend that Gaza is a huge prison, and that we are the wardens. That’s why they are chained by their own voluntary ignorance. Reporting on the situation is easily turned into propaganda for use by policymakers. On the other hand, the omissions and distortions in articles written by officials who carry out the policy are natural. Such as the article written by the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and two of his colleagues, which appeared last week on the Institute for National Security Studies website.
The omissions and distortions are aimed at the general public. For example the article states: “Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip by force.” On the contrary, Israel, the Middle East Quartet (the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union) and Fatah worked in various aggressive ways to overturn the results of the democratic election to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, which Hamas had won.
“Hamas has become the sovereign,” Mordechai and his colleagues wrote. The sovereign? Even when Israel controls the borders, the air and maritime space and the Palestinian population registry? “Hamas’ rule is losing strength due to its responsibility for the scope of the poverty and unemployment.” Readers who reach this point in the article may have already forgotten an earlier assertion: “The situation of the citizen in Gaza has deteriorated greatly since 2007, mainly due to the restrictions imposed on the strip by Israel (in terms of movement to and from the area and in terms of economic activity).”
The writers from the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories are chained by their very position. COGAT scrupulously imposes these restrictions and has even made them more restrictive. The authors’ warn in their article of the prospect of a worsening of the situation there, both economically and psychologically, but that is not followed by a courageous call to policymakers to remove the prohibitions against the movement of people, raw materials and local produce.
The writers do issue a hint to the government that it would be preferable to allow the process of internal Palestinian reconciliation to move forward. And they courageously invite the Gentiles to finance the reconstruction of what Israel has destroyed and is destroying. After all, that’s what the Gentiles have been doing since 1993 – pouring in funds to prevent an even worse deterioration and to maintain a status quo that is convenient for Israel. The time has come for the Gentiles to use those funds as political leverage that will force Israel to restore freedom of movement to the Palestinians in Gaza.