Gaza: is the international community all at sea over how to react?

Yet again the Israel-Palestinian conflict has thrown out a challenge to the world. How to respond to what appears to have been a heavy-handed storming of the Gaza aid convoy by Israeli commandos?

Not for the first time, the UN has effectively flunked it. It looks to me as if the Security Council’s call for an impartial investigation is too vague. If the pressure for it grows, the Israeli authorities are likely to announce a response to the flotilla raid – but probably some sort of “independent review” of its military operation. And that is likely to be that.

Instead Amnesty has demanded an international inquiry, with Israel inviting relevant UN experts to genuinely internationalise it. (Please support the Amnesty action directed at William Hague on this here). It’s really what the Security Council itself should have insisted on, but once again the inevitable horse-trading in New York seems to have led to a UN compromise (another probable instance of what Amnesty denounced as the politicisation of justice in its annual report last week).

Meanwhile, one thing this tragic, dramatic situation has done is highlight the blockade itself. The Israeli ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor and others continually refer to Israel’s three-year-long economic blockade of the Gaza Strip as a defensive measure against “Hamas rockets”. And, to be clear, there’s no question that Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel are indiscriminate (the rockets are inherently inaccurate and cannot be aimed to minimise civilian casualties). They should be stopped. Period.

But the basic point that Ambassador Prosor and others gloss over is this: how can punishing the entire 1.5 million men, women and children of Gaza be justified in the name of keeping Israeli citizens safe?

Collective punishment of entire populations is expressly forbidden under international law, as Israel surely knows. Yet still it goes on.

As I’ve said before, the evidence shows that the blockade has degraded life in Gaza to an intolerable degree. Eighty per cent of Gazans are now dependant on humanitarian aid. Very ill people – including cancer patients – have died because Israel wouldn’t let them travel for treatment not available in Gaza’s under-equipped hospitals. Even building materials to patch Gaza together after Operation Cast Lead are denied entry: before the blockade an average of 7,400 truckloads entered Gaza every month; by contrast, between January and December 2009 only 41 trucks of construction materials got into Gaza – a pitiful amount given that 3,500 houses were totally destroyed and another 50,000 damaged during the military offensive.

There may be howls of protest on this blog – and that’s fine, that’s what blogs and debate are all about. But shouldn’t those that cry foul whenever Israel is criticised on human rights grounds ask themselves: could Israel do things differently?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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