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Column: Israel throws the spotlight on Gaza by refusing to facilitate passage for EU delegates

A refusal to admit EU delegates to Gaza brings fresh opportunity for scrutinising policies, actions and facts on the ground that adversely affect the people living there, writes Gary Spedding.

Gary Spedding

IT COMES AS no great shock that Israel’s ambassador to Ireland responded hysterically to Irish MEP Emer Costello’s criticisms of Israeli policy.

Boaz Modai gives attention to this matter in a peculiar attempt to offset the reality that Israel’s refusal to facilitate passage for an EU delegation to the tiny Palestinian enclave places a spotlight on the siege of Gaza, and a brings fresh opportunity for scrutinising policies, actions and facts on the ground that adversely affect the Palestinian people under Israel’s occupation.

Facts are always our friend when it comes to sifting the often polarised, highly controversial and overly politicised debates on Israel – Palestine.

Discussing an ambassador’s interpretation of his own countries policy, in this and many other instances mustn’t give rise to the notion that we can just ignore Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under both Oslo and crucially international law.

Mr Modai, in suggesting that Israeli policy is to “forbid entry to Gaza”, altogether avoids the fact that Israel’s obligation is to not impose restrictions on foreign nationals with a stated interest in visiting Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Gaza unless it can be categorically proven they are a security threat.

Costello condemned Israel’s decision

Now, in a press statement, Dublin MEP Emer Costello, condemned Israel’s decision relaying that she was “shocked and dismayed”. She also challenged official Israeli claims that such delegations manifestly ‘strengthens Hamas’, adding that the trip itself fell under the auspices of UNRWA, focusing upon engagements with “vital public services such as schools, health centres and food distribution centres”.

A copy of the draft schedule, which I saw last week, confirmed there were no meetings with Hamas.

Let’s throw in some context, I always find it useful, especially when studying the heightened tensions’ between Israel and the European Union is apposite in this discussion. Tension came about as a result of a Commission Notice (published in July) apparently adding restrictions on EU grants, prizes and programmes available to Israeli entities if they operate across the 1967 green line – in other words, within the occupied Palestinian territories.

Since July, EU officials and aid staff have struggled to gain permits to enter Gaza. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon even reportedly planned to make it more difficult for EU officials (such as the DPLC) to be granted passage through the Erez Crossing.

Wait a minute – isn’t Modai’s position that Israel is to “forbid entry to Gaza”? Why then has Moshe Ya’alon tried to make gaining permits more difficult if they can’t be gotten to start with?

Israel’s policies hermetically seal the Gaza Strip, it clearly doesn’t matter that there are human beings living in Gaza; all we need to know is that Gaza is under the control of Hamas, and so synonymous with terrorism.

The closure of Gaza

If we accept Modai’s cause-and-effect justification for the closure of Gaza, then we must also accept the Israeli government line on when the Gaza blockade began and the premise that said blockade fulfils a function in weakening Hamas. However, Israeli journalist Mya Guarnieri lifted the lid on this in 2011 writing that the blockade on Gaza began long before Hamas came to power. In another article Mya succinctly highlights that presently accepted discourse offer Israeli officials and those who do hasbara (Boaz Modai case-in-point) an easy opening to talk about Hamas and Gilad Shalit.

But Gilad Shalit is home now. Oh and the blockade, as opposed to EU delegations, has actually made Hamas stronger.

It certainly is sexy to talk about terrorist infiltration and the smuggling of weapons which is undoubtedly why Modai uses those topics in desperation to avoid the fact Israel (recognised as the occupying power), not Egypt, has again demonstrated its continued multifaceted control over Gaza.

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This inevitably brings us back to a topic which Israel has quietly tried taking out of the frame while we do a song and dance to US-led ‘peace talks’; Gaza’s increasing isolation as a result of the blockade.
By suggesting that Costello could have travelled to Gaza through Egypt, Ambassador Modai is obviously trying to absolve Israel of any and all responsibility.

One thing note is that 43% of the population in Gaza are under the age of 15 and, according to Gisha70% of the people living there (being food insecure) require some form of humanitarian aid to survive – just some of the many impacts of the blockade.

Israel’s policy on Hamas can be deciphered and scrutinised by reviewing the recent example of a Hamas tunnel. Immediately after the IDF announced it had discovered said tunnel, antagonists used it as an opportunity to attack ‘UN and NGO pressure’ that had seen Israel ease restrictions in recent months.

As Noam Sheizaf wrote recently;

Facts, point to a massive hole in the entire Israeli Gaza siege concept. Because, until recently Hamas had no trouble getting anything it wanted: cement, steel, explosives. Gaza residents got used to relying on the tunnel economy. The sector that got screwed by the Israeli siege was the third sector (non-profits).

Modai’s arguments in relation to Gaza demonstrate his indifference to Palestinian rights as protected peoples and more worryingly his deliberate attempts to absolve his government of any obligations.

Surely there is a more progressive discourse out there, more factual and conducive to a just peace?

Gary Spedding founded the Queen’s University Belfast Palestine Solidarity society in 2010 and is a writer, blogger and activist covering Israel- Palestine, Middle East conflict dynamics, and conflict resolution. Follow him on Twitter @GarySpedding

Read: Dublin MEP forbidden from travelling to Gaza

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