Sometime this month a flotilla of ships, small & not so small, will depart from Turkey and head for Gaza port: a freighter has already left from Ireland. One of the vessels is named ‘Rachel Corrie’, after the peace campaigner who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer. These voyages, by the Free Gaza movement, began in 2008; but since the first successes have been met by increasing violence by Israel. It is surprising that no lives have been lost so far.
Three overland convoys have been to Gaza, with limited success due to the efforts of Israel and Egypt to prevent aid getting through. What is the military value of these convoys? Cement can be used for building defences, although it is reasonable to assume that, if the women and children have any say in the matter, the building of homes, schools, and clinics would be the priority; but what can be the military use of clothes, toys, paper & pencils, and medical supplies?
The blockade is justified, by Israel & the West (USA, UK, Europe) on the grounds that Gaza is controlled by a terrorist organisation. With international encouragement Hamas engaged in the democratic process, and won. That’s one of the dangers of democracy. So if, and God forbid, the BNP turn out winners on Thursday can I take it as a precedent and boycott UK? Hamas is presumed to be the problem, the obstacle to peace. So it’s surely important to ask what was the obstacle to peace before 1988 (when Hamas was formed in the aftermath of the first ‘intifada’.)
Listen to the voices within: of Avigail Abarbanal, an Israeli psychotherapist who describes his society as ‘insane’ , or Rami Elhanan, whose daughter was murdered in a suicide attack in 1997, and who believes “she was murdered because we were not wise enough to preserve her safety in …… the only correct and possible way – the way of peace and reconciliation.” (from Palestine Chronicle).
Does the boycott damage Hamas? Quite the opposite: in the eyes of many of the Arab & Islamic nations Hamas are heroes because they have taken on the mighty West. Any mistakes they make are blamed on the boycott. In the meantime many of the 1.5 million Gaza residents suffer in ways we can barely imagine.
So, here’s the challenge. I am praying that the convoy will get through. They will be in international waters outside Israel’s jurisdiction. Any act that endangers life is an act of piracy or State terrorism. We should be telling our government, whoever they turn out to be, to guarantee the safety of the convoy. And we should be explaining to Israel that any act of aggression must inevitably lead to sanctions, and possibly criminal charges. It is what we have done with North Korea, with Iran; what we did with Iraq, what we are doing with Zimbabwe. If ‘sanctions don’t work’, why are we still using them in these other situations. Is it because Israel is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? more on that later…