The global outrage in response to Israel’s attack on the flotilla is fitting. But we should not lose sight of why it was so terrible. This was not just an attack on aid workers.
If it were just that, it would be bad enough. In itself it would be nothing new for Israel. However, putting the attack in context more fully reveals its moral obscenity.
Paul McGeough, who was on board the flotilla, wrote that the flotilla was bringing water filtration equipment to Gaza.
The reason it chose to do so was because there is virtually no clean drinking water in Gaza. Partially due to Israel’s destruction of greenhouses during its attack on Gaza from 2008-2009, the Gaza water supply was reported to be on the verge of collapse in September last year. There was an urgent need to find clean drinking water, because, as Amnesty International pointed out, some 90-95 per cent of water in Gaza was not fit for drinking.
This would be bad enough, but, as Kate Allen, head of Amnesty International UK pointed out, “Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza is preventing the importation of urgently-needed materials to repair water and sewage treatments works.”
As noted in the Ha’aretz report, the unclean drinking water caused respiratory and intestinal problems to babies in Gaza.
Victoria Brittain pleaded in the Guardian for “just one corner of the blockade” to be lifted “to let water works begin and to give infant lives a chance.” All it would take was “Just one telephone call from the Israeli defence ministry”. This phone call still hasn’t come, and Palestinian babies continue to suffer, as the world continues to watch in silence, and as Western media continues to pass over this issue.
Defenders of the attack on the flotilla – who tend to be paid for their advocacy work – say for the benefit of an Australian audience that the blockade is to prevent rockets from entering Gaza. This is a lie. A simple look at what Israel does and doesn’t allow into Gaza shows that it is arbitrary and punitive. The Economist, for example, relying on Israeli human rights group Gisha, has a table of banned and permitted items. Fresh meat, newspaper and canned fruit is banned. Frozen meat and fresh fruit, however, are permitted. Clothes are permitted, but fabric for clothing is not.
Yet even this only tells part of the story. In late April, the Israeli government announced that it would allow clothes and shoes in Gaza for the first time in three years. Why did it start letting in shoes and clothes? Are these now safe? Why did pasta miraculously become safe after John Kerry noticed the ban on it?
The BBC was finally able to gain access to a list of commercial goods allowed into Gaza. Everything else is not allowed. No list of what is not allowed can ever be exhaustive. Amira Hass, reporting for Ha’aretz, once noted what wasn’t allowed: needles, books, matches, sausages, cups. One could go on, yet this list can hardly capture the reality of living in a place denied virtually all goods, and allowed only a tiny trickle of the necessities of life.
The BBC and New York Times have reported Israeli officials “count the calories” that they allow into Gaza. They allow so little food in that, for example, a year ago the Goldstone Report described the alarming rates of anaemia: “66 per cent on average among 9- to 12-month-old babies (the rate being higher for girls (69 per cent)). On average, 35 per cent of pregnant women suffer from anaemia.”
This is a result of Israel’s consciously chosen policy. The logic was explained by one of the Israeli Prime Minister’s leading advisers, Dov Wessglas. “It’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die”.
This was a joke: apparently, the leaders of Israel found it highly amusing. Isn’t it funny?
As a result, the people of Gaza have been on a diet for years. They have lost weight. Their children’s growth has been stunted, their babies have suffered anaemia. Lately, most Gazans do not have clean drinking water.
The policy itself is well understood in Israel: most Israelis think the blockade is for political reasons. Whilst Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev says on Lateline the blockade is to stop the rockets, only 32% of Israelis actually believe that its goal is to “Prevent the movement of goods or people who could endanger the security of Israelis”.
In April 2007, the logic was openly explained again in Ha’aretz. Israel decided it would increase the severity of the blockade, and target Gaza’s power and fuel supplies. The security cabinet unanimously approved this policy to use “civilian levers” against Hamas.
Using “civilian levers” is an abomination. It means, in the strict sense of the word, terrorism.
The activists on the flotilla sought to help provide some Gazans with clean drinking water. They could not hope to fix Gaza’s water supply: they could hope to arouse the world’s conscience. Hopefully, they could send the world the message that Gazans deserve clean water.
Israel responded by attacking their ship, and killing at least 9 of them. In defending the siege, it defends its denial of Palestinians clean water.
Perhaps now you can understand the sheer moral depravity of Israel’s attack on the flotilla. The Israel government has murdered at least 9 people trying to fight for the right of Palestinians to the basic necessities of life. And yet, there are still those willing to defend such barbarism.
Have they no shame? At long last, have they no sense of decency?
Michael Brull has a featured blog at Independent Australian Jewish Voices, and is involved in Stop The Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS).