Palestine: Aid ship wins concessions from Israel

July 16, 2010
Cartoon: Carlos Latuff

Al-Sharq al-Awsat said on July 15 the Libyan aid ship, Amaltheal (“Hope”) docked the night before at al-Arish in Egypt. The ship was bearing 2000 tons of aid supplies for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is blockaded by Israel.

The ship’s odyssey from Greece was marked by uncertainty and danger for the 21 passengers. It developed a mechanical problem that made it move very slowly on July 14. There was a question about whether its captain might try to take it right into Gaza, despite the Israeli military’s blockade.

At one point, the ship was surrounded by eight Israeli war vessels.

Intensive diplomatic efforts were launched to convince the Libyan government and the Qadhafi Foundation, which provided the aid, to divert the ship to al-Arish.

The Israeli power elite viewed the outcome as a victory.

The USG Open Source Center translated a Hebrew language report from the Voice of Israel Network B, which was broadcast on July 14. It said: “Deputy Foreign Minister Dani Ayalon said that Israel can chalk up a victory in its dealings with the Libyan ship.

“He said that the fact that the United States and EU had urged the ship’s captain to accede to Israel’s demands granted legitimacy to the latter’s policy.

“Ayalon told Network B’s anchor Arye Golan this morning that the determination shown by Israel toward the previous flotilla [in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish passengers on a ship taking aid to Gaza] had contributed to its effective policy.”

Contrary to what the far right-wing ideologue Ayalon asserted, the incident was no victory for Israel.

The Qadhafi Foundation said it extracted several concessions from Israel in return for diverting to the Egyptian port. These included a pledge that travel abroad for treatment of ill Palestinians in Gaza would be expedited and reconstruction projects would be allowed to go forward.

One in eight Palestinians in Gaza had their homes destroyed in Israel’s 2008-2009 military assault on the territory.

The episode showed the continued determination of NGOs and governments to break the illegal and inhumane siege of civilians in Gaza. Despite recent Israeli announcements, this siege has not been eased much at all.

In international law, it is illegal for an occupying power to blockade the civilian population, for whose welfare it is responsible.

Israeli politicians’ assertion that the blockade is legal and must be observed by third parties is wrong. Blockades that primarily punish civilian populations are illegal, as is cooperating with them.

The Qadhafi Foundation is unlikely to be the last NGO to attempt to get aid to Gaza. Each round of attempted relief will put Israel in a bad light in the eyes of the world and will risk Israeli violence against a humanitarian mission.

If each such mission extracts concessions from Israel, then over time the blockade of Gaza will collapse.

Given that the blockade has failed to bring down the elected Hamas government in Gaza, its aim appears to be to let Israel act unbearably cruelly to Palestinians for an extended period of time.

It has no practical political objective — except perhaps to keep the Palestinians weak and malnourished for as long as possible.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has once again begun to destroy Palestinian homes in Jerusalem. These actions have repeatedly been condemned by the European Union as illegal.

The July 1 Jerusalem Post reported United Nations special rapporteur for Palestinie Richard Falk said some Israeli policies in Jerusalem, including a plan to expel Palestinian residents, may even constitute war crimes.

The timing of the demolitions was a slap in the face of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was about to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Mubarak hastily cancelled the meeting.

The Egyptian government’s close cooperation with Israel is deeply unpopular with the Egyptian public.

[Abridged from Juan Cole is a professor of history at at the University of Michigan and the author of a number of books on Middle Eastern politics.]

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