It's the Gaza siege, stupid

Here are a few responses that buttress my earlier post about what's important in the flotilla crisis. They emphasize the need to end the Quartet-backed blockade of Gaza. For the last 24 hours, Israel has putting forward the argument that the blockade stops rockets from reaching Gaza. This is a ridiculous and patently untrue argument. As countless NGOs and the UN have shown, Israel is engaging in a policy of deliberately withholding construction materials and basic necessities in what one senior official under the previous Israeli government described as a policy of "putting the Palestinians on a diet" back in 2006:

Israel's policy was summed up by Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, earlier this year. 'The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger,' he said. The hunger pangs are supposed to encourage the Palestinians to force Hamas to change its attitude towards Israel or force Hamas out of government.

This is a policy of collective punishment, it is what the flotilla was fighting against, and what must end.

✩ International Crisis Group - link to Norman Finkelstein's site, for some reason it's not their main site. ICG (whom I worked for 2007-2009) has had a good line on Gaza, and this is emphasized here: 

Brussels/Washington/Jerusalem, 31 May 2010: The International Crisis Group condemns Israel’s assault on a flotilla of humanitarian aid bound for Gaza, which resulted in a tragic loss of life.

At the same time, the incident is an indictment of a much broader policy toward Gaza for which Israel does not bear sole responsibility.

For years, many in the international community have been complicit in a policy that aimed at isolating Gaza in the hope of weakening Hamas. This policy is morally appalling and politically self-defeating. It has harmed the people of Gaza without loosening Hamas’s control. Yet it has persisted regardless of evident failure.

“The flotilla assault is but a symptom of an approach that has been implicitly endorsed by many”, says Robert Malley, Director of Crisis Group’s Middle East Program. “It is yet another stark illustration of the belated need for a comprehensive change in policy toward Gaza.”

✩ The Guardian's editorial ended along the same lines:

The blockade should end, but that will only be the start of the U-turn which is now required. Closely allied to Gaza's physical isolation is its political one. The international consensus is also crumbling on isolating Hamas by insisting it recognise Israel before it is allowed to join a national unity government with Fatah. Russia broke the taboo first two week ago when its president, Dmitry Medvedev, met Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader in Damascus, but other countries in Europe are now planning to follow suit. Brick by brick, this policy is coming apart, and in a strange way Israel is helping.

✩ William Hague, UK Foreign Secretary - I'm surprised with this one, it's excellent! Better than anything Labour would have said.

This news underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza, in line with UNSCR 1860. The closure is unacceptable and counter-productive. There can be no better response from the international community to this tragedy than to achieve urgently a durable resolution to the Gaza crisis.

I call on the Government of Israel to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians ."

✩ On the Arab front, Syria has called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League (there will be a press conference tonight). Kuwait's parliament has voted to rescind its endorsement of the Arab Initiative. Qatar was the first Arab state to condemn the flotilla murders, perhaps they came so soon after an Israeli cabinet minister was in Doha. And Egypt is reopening the Rafah border:

(Reuters) - Egypt opened its border with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, letting Palestinians cross until further notice amid a storm of international criticism of Israel's blockade of the enclave, officials in Egypt and Gaza said.

It's not clear exactly what will happen, but at a minimum humanitarian aid should be allowed in directly through Rafah without going through the Kerem Shalom or Karni crossings controlled by Israel.

✩ Last but certainly not least, my friend Ethan Heitner — a cartoonist dedicated activist for justice in Israel/Palestine — has produced a comic strip leaflet calling for attendance at US protests:

Do check out his new comic blog, Freedom Funnies.