Pondering Israel's naval blockade of Gaza

Israel has asserted its security control over Gaza’s maritime space, but it does not have title to these Mediterranean waters — nor has Israel ever asserted a territorial claim on them.
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Gaza today – the schizophrenia

A Grad or Katyusha missile fired from Gaza hit Ashkelon the first thing this morning.

On Sunday, Monday, and today, the Israeli Air Force attacked — from the air — tunnels around Rafah and the southern border between Gaza and Egypt. On Monday and today, Egypt reportedly moved on the ground to demolish a number of tunnels running under the Egyptian-Gaza border. This is the stick.

At the same time, negotiations in Cairo with Hamas on a cease-fire with Israel are reaching what is being called a “sensitive phase”. There are reports that Egypt might open the border with Gaza to allow in badly needed reconstruction materials. This is the carrot.

Also of interest:
From YNet —
“Forty-eight Palestinian orphans whose parents were killed in bombings during Operation Cast Lead were planned to arrive in Israel on Wednesday for two weeks of rest and recovery from their grim reality at home. [[BUT ]]Tuesday’s closure of the crossings with Gaza made it unclear whether the children, aged 8-15 would be able to arrive as scheduled … The children will be hosted in Haifa, Sasa and Kfar Qassem as part of the Kibbutz Movement’s humanitarian initiative. A rich program in Haifa’s various sites was designed for the orphans, including a visit to the Museum of Science, the zoo, a cruise in Haifa bay, trips around the city, watching movies and children’s theater, and other social activities During their stay the children will also meet with Israeli students from schools in Haifa. Head of the Kibbutz Movement’s special assignment division Yoel Marshak, who operated the volunteers’ headquarters for southern residents under rocket fire is also managing the current humanitarian project. Marshak said Tuesday evening that the humanitarian effort was meant to ease the orphans’ suffering and not aid terrorists … Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog who is responsible for humanitarian aid sent to Gaza welcomed the project Tuesday night, saying, ‘This is a very important initiative. The State of Israel makes an absolute distinction between aid to the civil population in the Gaza Strip and Hamas’.” This news item can be read in full here.

From Haaretz —
European Union Middle East envoy Marc Otte said in Jerusalem today questioned why more material is not being allowed into Gaza: “What encouragement to terrorism would it be to rebuild the sewage system, have clean water, have kids going to school, have clinics that work, have mothers delivering their babies in safe conditions? … We’re not going to rebuild Hamas’s headquarters or provide weapons … Nobody wants Hamas to be legitimised unless they comply with certain practical and political conditions. But they’re still going to be there. Reconstruction should not be mixed … We just want that Gaza looks less like hell than it’s looking now … I hope we see flexibility soon because it’s not acceptable to simply say to people that for political reasons they and their children have to sleep outside.” The Haaretz story added that “Israeli officials say materials presently blocked could be used by Hamas to build rockets, bunkers and smuggling tunnels, and that a big reconstruction campaign would strengthen Hamas’s hold on power at the expense of the Palestinian Authority”… This is from an article published here.

From the Jerusalem Post —
“Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that while last month’s operation against Hamas had been effective in harming the group’s ability to threaten Israel, the day may come when another operation would be necessary. ‘The quiet in the South is a result of the serious blow dealt to Hamas in Gaza, and even if it takes a little more time and a few more shots are fired, this is the nature of events of this kind,” Barak told Army Radio, adding that “if we have to, we will hit Hamas again’. Barak later sparked a political storm by telling an election rally at Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University that the best way to achieve territorial continuity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank was by digging a tunnel that would connect the two areas. He said the tunnel would be 48 kilometers long and cost 2-3 billion dollars. Right-wing MKs quickly criticized Barak’s proposal, saying it would only add to Israel’s security concerns”.  This report is posted here.

And, from the Ma’an News Agency —
“Palestinian caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will deliver a speech on Wednesday detailing the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza following the Israeli offensive. Fayyad’s office said that the speech will be delivered at the opening of a conference dedicated to evaluating the Palestinian Authority budget for 2009. According to a statement from Fayyad’s office, the Ramallah-based caretaker prime minister will outline the PA’s response to the disaster, including plans for a first phase of reconstruction in Gaza. These programs, according to the statement, will include urgent relief programs such as housing homeless people, refurbishment of damaged houses and economic facilities”.  This can be read here.

Also from the JPost —
“Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday promised that a government under his leadership would topple the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. ‘[Kadima leader] Tzipi Livni and the people of Kadima scoffed at the predictions regarding rocket fire. A government under my leadership will overthrow the Hamas rule in Gaza and bring about a cessation of rocket fire’, Netanyahu said during a tour of Ashkelon following the first Grad rocket attack since the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead some two weeks ago”… This is from the JPost here.

A conversation in Ramallah

In a leisurely conversation in Ramallah one recent evening, a well-connected friend spoke about Gaza now, and Lebanon from the mid-1970s until the Israeli thrust up to Beirut in 1982 — which resulted in the re-location of PLO leader Yasser Arafat and many of his fighters, and the Sabra and Shatila massacres soon after that evacuation.

Painful memories were evoked — the siege of Tel az-Zaatar, where gradually water was cut off until only one line with a tap was left working in an exposed area, around which were Phalangist snipers. Families with many children were asked to chose to volunteer one of them for the next foray to try to bring back some water.

Then. he recalled sadly, the situation was nearly reversed when the Palestinians entered Christian areas of Dammour. He expressed revulsion, and shook his head.

Now, he said: What will happen now in Gaza and in the region is that America is going to impose a solution.

Everybody else is only a minor player, he said — including Israel. The solution will be based on American interests, and American interests alone.

This includes, but is not limited to, control of the oil in the Arabian peninsula, Persian Gulf — and in Iran, he said.

Until that plan is elaborated and imposed, he predicted, there will be more of the same: post-cease-fire skirmishes, a flurry of speculation about negotiations on this and that — but no relief in Gaza.

Gradually, I realized that he really believes this.

Meanwhile, back in Dahiet al-Bariid…

Yellow numbers have been painted on all the houses in the Twilight Zone in Dahiet al-Bariid, between The Wall and a very miserable checkpoint (commonly known as the ar-Ram checkpoint).

Soldiers came in the night, around 9 p.m. or so, about a week ago, and knocked on all the apartment doors, asking who lived there. A friend who works with the UN calls it a “census”.

The soldiers were said to be particularly interested in looking for anyone who has West Bank IDs.

The landlord said that the neighbors — including two Israeli lawyers from the north — spoke to them, because they know how to speak. They just wanted to know who had West Bank IDs. The soldiers, too, were polite, the neighbors-who-are-lawyers reportedly said.

Nobody in our building has a West Bank ID — all are either Israeli or have (East) Jerusalem IDs, meaning they are legal permanent residents of Israel. Some of the other neighbors are members of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.

But in one of the neighboring buildings — I do not know which one — there is said to be at least one person or family who has a West Bank ID.

The landlord said that the lawyers in our building thought the soldiers were going to look for a way to get a permit for those who have West Bank IDS to continue to live in their houses in our area, now that it has been clearly demarcated by The Wall as being part of Jerusalem (though that was absolutely, crystal clear, well over a year ago.) But, a friend who works in the UN said that the soldiers told other people in the neighborhood (who have Jerusalem IDs), to tell anyone with a West Bank ID that they have 20 days to move … to the West Bank.

The friend said that the Israeli military liaison office said that the gate in The Wall will be closed either today or tomorrow. (It was not closed today.) But the Israeli military liaison has not given any answer to the UN’s questions about when the checkpoint will be removed…

Apparently, the checkpoint will remain, even after the gate is closed. That will trap everyone, with only one way out — through a very miserable checkpoint. The intention, we suppose, is that sooner or later, this will “flush out” anyone with West Bank IDs. There may also be further house-to-house searches…

At the beginning of last September, as we reported here, the U.S. Consulate apparently wrote to the headmaster of the Jerusalem International School which had just relocated to Dahiet al-Bariid to give reassurances that the checkpoint would be removed in twenty days!

Twenty days seems to be a figure that resonates.

In any case, six months later, six months after the last gap in The Wall was closed by a 9-meter high concrete guardtower, and the checkpoint is still there.

So, twenty days from now, after the gate across the road that used to be the main road between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the checkpoint may very likely still be there as well, making everybody miserable.

But, nobody has any real information. This is what it is like, here. There are only rumors.

The only positive development is that the ugly red sign — the one I have complained about, which says that this neighborhood, a normal neighborhood, is a “military zone” and that anyone who enters there “ENDANGERS HIS LIFE” — is now gone.

Red mortal danger sign at checkpoint at entrance to Dahiet al-Bariid