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The blockade on Gaza began long before Hamas came to power

The gradual closure of Gaza began in 1991, when Israel canceled the general exit permit that allowed most Palestinians to move freely through Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Since then the closure, which may soon be challenged by the second Freedom Flotilla, has become almost hermetic.

By Mya Guarnieri

Athens, Greece – The second Freedom Flotilla is slated to set sail by the end of the month in an attempt to challenge the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The act will call attention to the closure that the United Nations and human rights organizations have decried as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the collective punishment of civilians.

According to the Israeli government — and most of the mainstream media — the blockade began in 2007, following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. The aim of this “economic warfare” was to weaken Hamas, a group that the Israeli government had once supported. Israel also sought to stop rocket fire and to free Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held in Gaza since 2006.

Four years on, none of these goals have been achieved.

Israel has achieved a minor victory on one front, however. Even critics use 2007 as the start-date of the blockade, unintentionally legitimizing Israel’s cause-and-effect explanation that pegs the closure to political events.

But the blockade did not begin in 2007, following the Hamas takeover of the Strip. Nor did it start in 2006, with Israel’s economic sanctions against Gaza. The hermetic closure of Gaza is the culmination of a process that began twenty years ago.

Punitive closures begin

Sari Bashi is the founder and director of Gisha, an Israeli NGO that advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement. She says that the gradual closure of Gaza began in 1991, when Israel canceled the general exit permit that allowed most Palestinians to move freely through Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Non-Jewish residents of Gaza and the West Bank were required to obtain individual permits.

This was during the First Intifada. While the mere mention of the word invokes the image of suicide bombers in the Western imagination, it’s important to bear in mind that the First Intifada was, by and large, a non-violent uprising comprised of civil disobedience, strikes, and boycotts of Israeli goods.

A wave of violence came, however, in 1993. It was then, Bashi explains, that Israel began closing some crossings temporarily, turning away even those who held exit permits. Because a tremendous majority of Palestinians are not and were not suicide bombers, the restrictions on movement constituted collective punishment for the actions of a few — foreshadowing the nature of the blockade to come.

Over the years, there were other suggestions that a hermetic, punitive closure was on the horizon. The beginning of the Second Intifada, in September of 2000, saw Palestinian students “banned from traveling from Gaza to the West Bank,” Bashi says. In general, travel between the Occupied Palestinian Territories came under increasing restrictions, as well.

Exports took a hit in 2003, with the sporadic closures of the Karni crossing. While the 2005 disengagement supposedly signaled the end of the occupation of Gaza, in reality, it brought ever tightening restrictions on the movement of both people and goods. And, in 2006, the few Gazans who were still working in Israel were banned from entering, cutting them off from their jobs at a time when the Strip’s economy was under even more pressure.

Gaza today: the economy has been driven into the ground. The unemployment rate is almost 50 percent and four out of every five Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on humanitarian aid. Hospitals are running out of supplies. The chronically ill cannot always get exit permits, which can lead to access-related deaths. Students are sometimes prevented from reaching their universities. Families have been shattered. Some psychologists say that the intense pressure created by the blockade – which was compounded during Operation Cast Lead – accounts for spikes in domestic violence, divorce and drug abuse.

It doesn’t end at Gaza’s borders

But the consequences of the blockade do not stop at Gaza’s borders. When movement restrictions began in 1991, some Palestinian day laborers were prevented from reaching their jobs inside Israel. And this is about the time that Israel, already hooked on low-cost labor, began issuing work visas to migrants from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

Fast forward to Israel, 2009 — the same state that is imposing a severe, hermetic closure of Gaza announces that it intends to deport 1,200 Israeli-born children of migrant workers, along with their parents. NGOs decry the expulsion as inhumane and a gross violation of human rights.

The standard Israeli line is that these people must be deported because they’re “illegal.” (Never mind that the Israeli Supreme Court has recently struck down the policy that made the mothers lose their legal status, calling it a violation of Israel’s own labor laws). Politicians who are more honest about the issue admit that the expulsion is about minimizing the “demographic threat” to Israel.

The message of both the blockade and deportation is the same — both serve to illustrate that Jewish-Israeli privilege comes at the expense of the human rights of anyone who is deemed an “other.”

The refugee crisis

Of course, if you were to ask a Gazan when the restrictions on freedom of movement began, some might go back even earlier. They might point to a 1984 order that forbade farmers from planting commercial quantities of fruit trees without permission of the Israeli military government. In a definitive piece on the economic de-development of the Gaza Strip, published in 1987, Dr. Sara Roy pointed out that it took some Palestinian farmers five years or more to obtain these permits.

While the people of Gaza were still able to move in and out of the Strip at the time, their ability to live freely on their own lands was already severely restricted — as was their economy. According to Dr. Roy, the occupation had rendered the Strip hopelessly dependent on Israel and vulnerable to its economic fluctuations and political whims. It had also created a captive market, a convenient dumping ground for Israeli goods.

But, as Dr. Roy points, Gaza’s economic woes didn’t begin with the occupation. They started with the sudden, unexpected influx of Palestinian refugees in 1948. The Gaza Strip was largely agricultural at the time, she explains, and wealth was consolidated into the hands of a few. Simply said, there wasn’t enough for everyone.

While organizers of the flotilla emphasize that they are attempting to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza, unpacking the blockade itself points to urgent questions that must be resolved: the status of Palestinian refugees; the disastrous and unrelenting effects of over 40 years of occupation; and Israel’s utter lack of respect for the human rights of non-Jews. And that’s the discussion the Israeli government doesn’t want any of us to have.

Mya Guarnieri is a Tel Aviv-based writer and journalist. She is covering the flotilla for Maan News Agency. Her articles have appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Guardian, Tablet, and many other international outlets. Her short stories have been published in The Kenyon Review Online and Narrative Magazine. She is currently working on a book about migrant workers in Israel.

Follow Mya on Twitter: @myaguarnieri

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  • COMMENTS

    1. aristeides

      The lies of the Israeli narrative have become common currency, beginning with the “five Arab armies.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard apologists declare that “the Arabs” attacked in 1967.

      Reply to Comment
    2. What with all the concern one hears about International law, wouldn’t Nasser’s blocking of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping constitute an unequivocal act of war? Am I missing something here Aristeides?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Gaza’s been closed alternately many times since 1948, including many periods with closure to Israel, and periods of closure by Egypt at times before 67.

      For long periods of time, there was no transit between Israel and Egypt at all. Its only since the late 70′s that that changed.

      There is a relevant question about what is the rational and legal manner to control a border, if it is Israel’s sovereign right to not allow any transit between Israel and Gaza.

      In the context of official occupation, that is illegal. In the context of Gazan independence, its a possibility.

      Similarly for Egyptian relation to Gaza. It is their right to maintain border controls, unless Gaza is officially occupied by Israel, in which case it is Israel’s responsibility.

      There is another question relative to the international legal rights of a non-state, a militia.

      Do they have the international rights to sea access transit legally, in fact?

      If the answer to these questions are that Israel is occupying, then it is responsible to manage all inputs and outputs into Gaza until the status changes, and the blockade is likely legal, though may be immoral.

      If the answer to the occupation status question is that Israel is not occupying, then ambiguity of the non-state status is the problem.

      What solves the problem? NORMALIZATION.

      That is the path of formation of a unity government (in fact, not pettily delayed), negotiation with Israel and ratification of 67 border state (with consented modifications).

      If Hamas is willing, that sends a big signal. If unwilling, as has been reiterated a dozen times since the unity deal was proposed, then that sends a big signal as well.

      The prerequisite to negotiations includes cessation of settlement construction, which seems to me to be more than a reasonable demand indicating Israel’s intent to make peace, rather than rationalize the likud mix of risk aversion/opportunism.

      Two clear tributaries:

      1. Hamas conditional acceptance of Israel (not just of Palestine, who cares about “Jewish state”)
      2. Cessation of settlement expansion

      All by September.

      I dislike the flotilla as it appears to me to enable Hamas to avoid joining the Palestinian civilian government as full and permanent participant, rather than only as griping opportunist.

      They are free to choose how they conduct themselves, but it definitely does hinder the prospects for Palestinian sovereignty and well-being, and greatly adds to the prospect of miscommunication and war.

      Reply to Comment
    4. max

      aristeides, I guess you could find a twisted way to explain that Nasser’s actions weren’t an act of war (though I know you wouldn’t be able to provide parallels). But you can’t do it with the west bank territories – Jordan’s entry to war, so your claim is ridiculous.
      Care to comment and add explanation about the “5 armies”?

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      The Strait of Tiran is in a unique geographical position. It is entirely within Egyptian territory, thus not naturally international waters. Egypt had not agreed at that time that the strait would be regarded as international waters, thus the Egyptian position was quite legitimate. Israel had no right to travel through EGYPTIAN waters.

      These replies are very typical examples of the Zionist compulsion to defend the lies they are fed and deny the truth about Israeli war crimes and other malfeasance. Israel conducted a sneak air raid against Eyptian and Syrian forces, an overtly aggressive act of war, yet apologists keep clinging to excuses.

      Reply to Comment
    6. max

      1. Aristeides, I propose that you look up a map before you continue to embarrass yourself.
      2. Egypt also broke its international obligation by ordering the UN forces out
      3. While not the reason for war, Egypt didn’t fulfill its international obligation to let Israeli ships through the Suez canal
      4. I don’t have to wonder why you avoid the Jordanian & “5 armies” topics
      .
      Your ignorance is pathetic, but unfortunately common. Or is it really ignorance?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Danny

      I think the last sentence of the article says it all: Israel’s utter lack of respect for human rights of non-Jews. Right on! Israel would NEVER, not in a million years, allow for its people to be treated the way the Palestinians have been treated by Israel since 1948 (every year, on holocaust memorial day, millions of Israeli school kids are reminded of the Warsaw ghetto uprising – an event with many parallels to Gaza’s struggle for freedom today). That is the crux of Israel’s hypocrisy and shame.

      Reply to Comment
    8. aristeides

      I hope you and your lies are happy together in denial, Max. And speaking of the Suez canal, I notice you ignore the 1956 aggression against Egypt by Israel, usually ignored by its apologists when they rant about “arab attacks”.

      Reply to Comment
    9. max

      Aristeides, I would find it difficult to deny a map, but I live to learn :D

      Reply to Comment
    10. Barry

      In the warsaw ghetto the victims didn’t send hundreds of suicide bombers to slaughter German children.

      How dare you compare the beasts of Gaza, with the innocent Jewish children of Poland. The child genocidaires of Gaza are not worthy of sympathy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gi-c6lbFGC4

      (Oh, and when did the Nazi Mohammedans of “Palestine” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVuIht_nzDU become such humanists?)

      Reply to Comment
    11. aristeides

      Maps are easy to find, Max. If you look at a map of the Straits of Tiran, you will notice that it runs between the mainland coast of Egypt and the island of Tiran (whence the name), which is Egyptian territory (although Saudi wants to claim it). In short, it is Egyptian waters.

      After the 1956 aggression against Egypt by Israel, international parties, ie the US, proposed that the straits be considered international waters, but Egypt had not agreed to this in 1967. There was no binding treaty.

      Reply to Comment
    12. ck Wednesday, June 29, 2011 5:12 am

      “Nasser’s blocking of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping constitute an unequivocal act of war? “

      Yes. But the only act of war to start a war, is the firing of the first salvo. That honor did not go the Egypt.

      “Am I missing something here Aristeides?”

      Very likely… Israel’s blockade of Gaza is an act of war. Occupation is an act of war. In fact any action carried out to further military advantage is an act or war. Not all are illegal. The Laws of War and Conventions tell us how acts of war may be legally carried out

      ————–

      Richard Witty Wednesday, June 29, 2011 5:28 am

      “..in the context of Gazan independence”

      Palestinian Independence. Gaza is only one part of the Provisional State of Palestine

      “Similarly for Egyptian relation to Gaza. It is their right to maintain border controls, unless Gaza is officially occupied by Israel, in which case it is Israel’s responsibility.”

      If Israel occupies, which it does according to UNSC Res 1860, Israel can only physically act from the Gaza side of the Gaza/Egyptian border. Israel cannot act in Egyptian territory, it would infringe on Egyptian sovereignty. However, Egypt and Israel have an agreement (2005) under which Israel has the right to demand Egypt close the crossings between Egypt and Gaza.

      “There is another question relative to the international legal rights of a non-state, a militia.”

      Palestine is a Provisional State. That status has not been altered since being instituted under the LoN Mandate (ref to LoN Charter Article 22) Therefore it has rights under the UN Charter Chapt XI, which Israel is obliged to uphold.

      “What solves the problem? NORMALIZATION.”
      Is it normal to be occupied? Is it normal to occupy? Is it normal to ignore UNSC Resolutions, the UN Charter, International Law? Is it normal to illegally acquire territory by war? Is it normal to illegal annex territories illegally acquired by war? Is it normal to illegal settle in illegally annexed territories illegally acquired by war?

      Normalization is for Israel to adhere to the rule of law and very specifically the UN Charter Chapt XI

      Reply to Comment
    13. Barry Wednesday, June 29, 2011 2:20 pm

      “In the warsaw ghetto the victims didn’t send hundreds of suicide bombers to slaughter German children”
      True. I suggest though, you look at a map and consider the distance between Poland and Germany.

      <em"How dare you compare the beasts of Gaza"

      ‘beasts’ tch tch… The majority of Palestinians in Gaza have never been suicide bombers. In fact the majority are women and children who’ve never lifted a finger towards anyone.

      “The child genocidaires of Gaza”

      There have been exactly NONE. A Palestinian child by military order of Israel, is considered an adult at 16yrs. ( a Jewish child however becomes an adult at 18 years) There have been NO suicide bombings carried out by Palestinian children.

      Reply to Comment
    14. max

      Talknic,
      ““Nasser’s blocking of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping constitute an unequivocal act of war? “
      Yes. But the only act of war to start a war, is the firing of the first salvo. ”
      - Ridiculous. War isn’t defined by shooting. Anywhere.
      .
      “Palestine is a Provisional State. That status has not been altered since being instituted under the LoN Mandate”
      - False. That provisional state was the Jewish one, while the Arab one was defined as Trans Jordan. That’s why the Palestinians don’t use this argument.
      .
      “I suggest though, you look at a map and consider the distance between Poland and Germany.”
      With facts against you, you resort to speculations.
      .
      “The majority of Palestinians in Gaza…” have elected a terrorist organization to govern them. Suddenly accountability disappears.
      .
      ““The child genocidaires of Gaza” There have been exactly NONE”
      Funny how hiding behind children becomes the accepted norm.
      Funny how the comparison to the PA area is suddenly ignored.
      .
      With such a disdain to facts, no wonder you allow yourself to claim “legal violations” with no factual base.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Danny

      “The majority of Palestinians in Gaza…” have elected a terrorist organization to govern them. Suddenly accountability disappears…. Hmmm… I could say the exact same thing about the majority of Israelis: Elected a reactionary, extreme, anti-peace, pro-occupation right-wing government to govern them. Where is their accountability?

      Reply to Comment
    16. max

      Danny, yes, Israelis elected a government that in your opinion is …
      So what’s your point?

      Reply to Comment
    17. Danny

      My point is that you are a hypocrite for saying that Palestinians should be made to suffer for their choice of government but Israelis shouldn’t.

      Reply to Comment
    18. max

      Danny, your statement is blatantly crooked: of course Israelis accept accountability for electing their government. Characteristically, you put in my mouth words I didn’t utter.

      Reply to Comment
    19. David

      The Gaza blockade really started when the locals missed the Enlightenment. Their fate was sealed.
      No word of Hamas in the piece. Telling. Let’s us not write about the 800 pd. gorilla in the room shall we?

      Reply to Comment

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