Breaking the siege of Gaza

My friend Kieran, who coordinates (to which I am donating 10% of my royalties from Up The Creek Without A Mullet), is currently in Gaza.  He’s been helping an organisation called Viva Palestina in their attempts to deliver aid from all across Europe to the besieged Palestinian territory.  He travelled with their first convoy to Gaza last year, and this one appears to have been making headlines due to some political difficulties at the Egyptian border.

After having travelled through Europe and into the region via Turkey, the convoy of a couple of hundred vehicles was stopped the other day from entering Egypt, various bureaucratic barriers being erected, presumably under pressure from Israel.  Violence ensued as Gazans protested against the hold-up, an Egyptian border guard died, and – to cut a long story short – the convoy was eventually allowed to enter Gaza.  There is a good summary of the story – plus an opinion piece from one of the convoy team – on the excellent Al-Jazeera English-language site.

The blockade formed a part of the ongoing attempts by the Israeli government to put a stranglehold on Gaza’s Hamas leadership following last year’s war in which over a thousand Gazans died.

Now, much as I support the thankfully successful attempt to break the siege, it doesn’t make me wholeheartedly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli.  The fact that the Hamas government in Gaza is a xenophobic and violent terrorist movement motivated by a hatred of Israel and a perverted and warped interpretation of Islam doesn’t lessen the suffering of the innocent people of Gaza – indeed, it greatens it.  And the fact that Viva Palestina is a firmly partisan organisation and a brainchild of the controversial left-wing British MP George Galloway doesn’t change the facts that intolerable and inexcusable suffering is going on (and has been for years) in Gaza.

The Israeli government’s argument in favour of the blockade of Gaza is a sound one in principle: preventing materials that could be used to construct weapons used to attack Israel from entering the territory.  However, how that can be extended to food, medical supplies and other basic humanitarian resources is beyond me, and Israel can justifiably be accused of collective punishment in its strangling of ordinary Gazans.  For that reason, the convoy’s success is a humanitarian victory much more than it is any political or PR victory for Hamas or any indictment of the Israeli or Egyptian actions.

Indeed, I would put myself firmly on the fence in the debate over Israel and Palestine.  Both countries have the right to exist in a sustainable and secure way within their legally-recognised borders, and neither has the right to deprive each other of that existence.  Both countries are populated by folk who are probably often scared, angry and lacking in understanding of each other; and both countries’ leaders are perpetrators of war crimes.  That both Hamas and the Israeli government are democratically elected does not justify what either of them do; indeed, it brings further and equal shame upon them both.

How you get to the solution of a lasting piece is something that’s beaten the modern era’s best politicians and diplomats.  But allowing the people of Gaza to receive the humanitarian aid like the convoy has delivered, and which they desperately need, is a start.

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