It is easy to blame the activists on the flotilla. They sought to embarrass Israel and drive worldwide attention to the situation in Gaza.
It is also easy to blame the Israeli military. Israel was determined to stop the flotilla. And the Israel Defense Forces apparently failed to anticipate the type of confrontation that occurred after commandos rappelled onto the Mavi Marmara.
The operational failures of the IDF — whether in gathering intelligence, making contingency plans or implementing the prescribed plan — will undoubtedly be analyzed ad nauseam in the coming days and weeks.
The character, intentions and organizational affiliations of the activists who organized the flotilla, not to mention the people killed and injured on the Mavi Marmara, will undoubtedly be scrutinized publicly, in an effort to prove either their innocence or guilt.
The public statements of politicians, pundits and interested organizations (including ours) will undoubtedly be weighed and measured.
Those who engage in these blame games are missing the point.
The root of this disaster lies not in the actions of the flotilla’s participants or the actions of the Israeli government this week.
The root of this disaster lies in the failure of the policy, initiated by Israel after Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 and supported by the international community, to block the free movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza.
From early on it was clear that the blockade was a mistake.
The primary rationale for the blockade is Israeli security — the legitimate Israeli desire to stop Gaza militants getting their hands on more weapons. But it hasn’t worked. The blockade didn’t bring about an end to rocket attacks. To the contrary, rocket attacks escalated following the implementation of this policy, culminating in the 2008-2009 Gaza war. And with the flourishing tunnel traffic between Gaza and Egypt that has developed since the blockade was established, today Israeli military experts believe that Hamas can get pretty much whatever it wants in terms of weapons, regardless of the blockade.
The other rationale for the blockade was to oust Hamas from power. Here again, the blockade hasn’t worked. To the contrary, it has played into Hamas’ hands. Rather than the hoped-for groundswell of popular Palestinian action to oust Hamas’ government, the blockade has helped Hamas strengthen its hold on Gaza. Gaza has turned into a society that is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid, with poverty rates so high that the UN estimates that more than 60 percent of households are now food insecure.
As a result of the blockade, Gaza’s innocent civilians are suffering and its independent merchant class has been wiped out, while Hamas’ hold over Gaza has been strengthened through the control of the smuggling tunnels. Because the aid that Israel permits to pass through its crossing points is so limited, nearly all regular goods for Gaza must pass through Hamas-controlled tunnels, which are the backbone of Gaza’s pseudo-economy. Today, Hamas is even taxing the goods that come through these routes, meaning that the blockade has indirectly become a source of income for the Hamas government.
The Gaza blockade is untenable and increasingly indefensible given the humanitarian crisis that it has created, and given Israel’s increasing international isolation that it is contributing to. An effective ban on imports and smuggling of arms into Gaza can be sustained through an international regime without subjecting the entire population to misery, and without Israel adopting policies that are clear strategic liabilities.
The roots of this crisis cry out for serious attention. That must happen even before considering the tremendous public relations nightmare that the current situation poses for Israel. Because if we don’t deal with the roots of this crisis, it is only a matter of time before Israel will face another challenge to the blockade, and will be faced with another set of choices dictated by what is at heart a faulty strategy.
Let us get away from the blame game. The tragic loss of life Monday on the Mediterranean, the impossible position that good, brave Israeli soldiers found themselves in, these must not be for nothing. This crisis must be a catalyst for change.
It is time for the Obama administration to show stronger leadership on this issue. To work with the international community — including Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority — to create a new security regime for Gaza.
Mechanisms that guarantee Israel’s security needs — like crossing points that are monitored by international forces — are possible. What is needed is the political courage to admit failure and to try a new path.
Debra DeLee is the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now.
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