A looming disaster

It’s extraordinary how little attention the situation in the OT is getting just now. The Guardian carried a story entitled Gaza on the Brink of Implosion yesterday, but overall no-one seems to know or care what is going on as Israel, the US, and the EU impose a harsh collective punishment on the Palestinians because of the way they voted. An MEPs’ delegation to Israel-Palestine has denounced EU policy as likely to turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

There is at least now an online petition which you can sign to help build conciousness of the situation–I don’t think anyone is suggesting that it will itself do much to change policy. For a little more work, you can have a little more influence by writing to your MEPs (this page will tell you how to contact them). In London, two Conservative MEPs have been supportive!–who knows what the Scottish MEPs might say if we lobbied them effectively?

A Terrible EU Decision

Gush Shalom have issued a “Call to Europe” to stop the blockade on the Palestinian government. And European Jews for a Just Peace have written to the European Union:

President Jose Manuel Barroso
European Commission
Rue de la Loi 200
1049 Brussels

Amsterdam, April 10 2006

Dear President Barroso,

It is with great dismay, shock and concern that we note the proposed cutting of aid from the European Union to the Palestinian population. This amounts to a collective punishment meted out to approximately 3,500,000 Palestinians. Forcing people to go hungry is not an acceptable tool of international diplomacy. Yet that is exactly what this policy amounts to.

The Karni checkpoint has been closed for goods, leaving the people of Gaza without basic staples. At the same time Gazan fishermen are being denied access to fishing grounds prevented from catching fish, in grounds defined by international agreement as Palestinian, by the Israeli navy. The Israeli Army’s repeated shelling of the Gaza Strip has killed children as young as five years old.

In addition, one Israeli bank, the Bank Hapoalim, has now stopped the transfer of money to the Palestinian territories. If others follow suit, there will be no way of transferring funds to organizations and even family members from abroad because all funds must go through Israeli correspondent banks.

These are measures enacted against a population many of whom are already forced to live as recipients of charity from abroad because of the Israeli occupation. A people is being starved and humiliated. They are losing their property and being put in ghettos erected by the State of Israel, with its wall and settlements. Despite these being illegal, punitive measures such as those now proposed against the Palestinians have not even been considered against Israel. Indeed, any call whatsoever for divestment, boycott – or even for compliance with the EU’s own trade association agreement rules – are dismissed as unconstructive. We must ask then, how is this decision to cut aid a constructive one?

The European Union – among others – cannot demand democratic elections and then proceed to punish people because they do not like the result. Hamas has taken no anti-Israeli action since their election victory. Indeed, Hamas has taken no action against Israel for over a year.

This policy risks catastrophe, first and foremost for the Palestinians. It is bound to lead to more violence for Israelis as well. A people – not a government – frustrated and humiliated as the Palestinians are being will react with anger. Is it possible that the European Union is not aware of this?

Both as Jews and as European citizens to whom the EU is ultimately responsible, we urge in the strongest possible terms that this decision is reconsidered to prevent further violence. This policy cannot but bring more tragedy to both peoples living in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Yours sincerely,
Dror Feiler, Chairman, and
Dan Judelson, secretary

for the EJJP Executive Committee

We should follow this up with letters to our own representatives, although goodness knows how long it will take, or how much pressure, to overturn a decision by the Council of Ministers. An online petition is being started. Meanwhile Palestinian children are starving. Chag sameach!

Convergence and Convenience

Amira Hass writes in Ha’aretz about the end result of imprisoning an entire people behind walls, fences and checkpoints:

The convergence plan, which coagulates the violence of occupation in densely populated Palestinian areas, will bring forth and intensify three types of Palestinian rage: national rage due to the sabotage of the Palestinian project for a state, development and independence; economic rage of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their land, property and livelihood to the Jews who prosper on the other side of the barbed wire; and religious rage, of those who turn for solace to the Koran and Allah, where they can find explanations stating that’s the way Jews are.

Anyone will recognise the truth of this who takes the trouble to acquaint themselves with the barest facts about conditions under the occupation. So why does Israel press on towards this disaster?

A Just Peace

Ismail Haniyeh, the new Palestinian Prime Minister and a Hamas leader, discusses the demand on Hamas to recognise Israel in today’s Guardian.

The US and EU have been calling for Hamas to disarm and recognise the state of Israel, or lose foreign aide, since Hamas was elected in the Palestinian elections in January. However, Haniyeh notes that no demands have been made of the Israeli government to recognise Palestinian rights in the lead-up to the Israeli elections:

‘But we have not heard a single demand of the Israeli parties that took part in this week’s elections, though some advocate the complete removal of the Palestinians from their lands. Even Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party, whose Likud forebears frustrated every effort by the PLO to negotiate a peace settlement, campaigned on a programme that defies UN security council resolutions. His unilateralism is a violation of international law. Nevertheless no one, not even the Quartet – whose proposals for a settlement he continues to disregard, as his predecessor Ariel Sharon did – has dared ask anything of him.’

Let me make clear that it is not a justification of terrorism to acknowledge that there are indeed double standards at work. As long as both the Israeli government and the Palestinian government keep waiting for the other to recognise the other and cease all acts of violence, no progress will be made — everything will carry on spiralling downwards as before. One does not have to agree with Hamas to acknowledge this.

‘This is a good time for peace-making – if the world wants peace.’

Peace that does not recognise the basic rights of Israelis and Palestinians is not a just peace, and as such is not viable. We have seen over the last several decades that demanding recognition of the state of Israel and Hamas’s unilateral disarmament, without incentive for Hamas to comply, is not effective. We have seen that terrorist attacks and demands that Israel stop the occupation, without guarantee of security is not effective.

So the next step? Try something different.