[Published June 2010]
The statements issuing from senior United Nations officials following the two failed attempts by the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza during the past week were strident and uncompromising - but entirely misdirected and unhelpful in seeking an end to the misery and suffering being endured by Gaza’s civilian population.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon headed the protests condemning Israel’s failure to allow the blockade to be breached stating:
“The long-running closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is counter-productive, unsustainable and wrong. It punishes innocent civilians. It must be lifted by the Israeli authorities immediately.”
The Secretary General was supported by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco who told the UN Security Council that :
“today’s bloodshed would have been avoided if repeated calls on Israel to end the counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza had been heeded…the blockade is unacceptable and counterproductive and must end.”
Not wishing to be left out on a limb - Richard Falk - the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory - characterized the blockade of Gaza as a
“massive form of collective punishment… Unless prompt and decisive action is taken to challenge the Israeli approach to Gaza all of us will be complicit in criminal policies that are challenging the survival of an entire beleaguered community,”
Strangely missing from all three statements was any mention or criticism of:
(i) Egypt - which had also been maintaining the blockade of Gaza for as long as Israel.
(ii)Hamas - which had assumed control of Gaza in 2007 after a bloody internecine struggle with the Palestinian Authority - leading to the joint blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt in an attempt to restrict the flow of arms, war materials and terrorists into Gaza.
(iii)The FGM - whose motives in organizing the attempted breaches of the blockade went far beyond those of a humanitarian organisation purely seeking to end the suffering of the Gazans.
The FGM’s end game is identical to that of Hamas - the destruction of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. This is not a secret agenda but is made very clear in its mission statement which declares:
“6. We recognize the right of all Palestinian refugees and exiles and their heirs to return to their homes in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories; to recover their properties, and to receive compensation for damage, dispossession and unlawful use of such property. This is an individual and not a collective right, and cannot be negotiated except by the individual”
The FGM is perfectly entitled to espouse such views. However the insistence on this right of return has been one of the main stumbling blocks in arriving at the “two-state solution” over the last 17 years.
Israel will not accept this demand - whether it is sought to be enforced by individuals or by either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. Compensating both Palestinian Arab refugees as well as Jews who fled Arab countries following the 1948 War through the establishment of an international claims tribunal offers a possible way forward.
However if return - rather than compensation - is to be pressed then it can only ever come about as a result of conflict - which will make the current humanitarian problem in Gaza pale into insignificance by comparison with the humanitarian crisis that would be created if force was employed to achieve this objective.
Breaking the blockade will greatly strengthen Hamas in pursuing the right of return that the FGM also openly calls for - by allowing Hamas the freedom to bring into Gaza whatever weapons and terrorists it wants.
The FGM does not seem to be too concerned that in seeking to end the suffering of the Gazans this might become the prelude to inflicting suffering on the Israelis as Hamas pursues its stated aim of liberating Palestine.
The Gazans therefore remain stuck between Israel and Hamas as human shields to deter any military efforts by Israel to defeat this Hamas end game. Their plight has become increasingly evident since Israel’s unsuccessful attempt to rid Gaza of Hamas control in January 2009.
The UN are being taken for fools and need to rethink their attitude to Gaza.
If the UN truly wishes to end the privation and suffering of the Gazans then there is only one way out of the current predicament - the evacuation of the Gazans from Gaza.
The Gazans are in a situation fraught with danger as they live between two combatants - Israel and Hamas . Gazans need to be offered the opportunity to evacuate Gaza to safer havens until it is safe for them to return to Gaza.
Evacuation through Egypt to those countries willing to accept the evacuees should not be beyond the capacity of the 191 countries that make up the UN. Certainly the 57 states that comprise the Organization of the Islamic Conference must play a leading role in accepting the evacuees.
Israel was able to absorb one million refugees from Russia. It should not be beyond a concerned world to accommodate a similar number of Gazan evacuees on a temporary basis until circumstances permit their return to Gaza.
Certainly many Gazans will not want to be evacuated - but all should at least be given the opportunity to do so by the UN.
Israel will not be ending its blockade though it may well ease it. However useless calls such as those emanating from the Secretary General and his minions calling for an end to the blockade will continue to be rejected - with good reason - by Israel.
Israel is entitled in its national interest to do everything in its power to blunt Hamas and secure the safety and security of all Israelis - both Jews and Arabs.
Instead of futilely continuing to challenge Israel’s approach to Gaza - the UN should try to do something positive to end the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Failure to implement a policy of evacuation of Gaza’s civilian population will indeed make the UN complicit in failing Gaza’s beleagured community when it had the opportunity to end their current suffering - but did nothing constructively to do so.
The UN at the very least must follow the practice of its own High Commissioner for Human Rights — Navi Pillai - who at the height of the Sri Lanka conflict in 2009 called for the evacuation of the entire civilian population by land or sea.
Failure to similarly do so now in the case of Gaza will condemn the UN as a totally impotent, biased and irrelevant body.