Mike Merryman-Lotze speaks out about Israel’s punishing blockade of Gaza

I’m publishing a post from Mike Merryman-Lotze that I found especially insightful and informative.  He provides a cogent response to those who support Israel’s 8-year siege and blockade of Gaza.

Mike is in a position to know of what he writes.  He first traveled to Palestine and Israel in 1996 as a student. He returned in early 2000 and worked with the Palestinian human rights organization as a researcher through the second Intifada. He also lived and worked in Palestine from 2007 to 2010 while working on children rights issues. Since 2010, he has worked with the American Friends Service Committee as their Palestine-Israel Program Director. (The Quakers were the first group of people to help Palestinian refugees following their expulsion from their homes in 1947.)

In addition to Mike’s experience in Palestine, he has worked in Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, and on programs in Iraq, Syria, and the broader Middle East. He’s also on the steering committee for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.  Mike has been traveling in and out of Gaza regularly since 2007 and has managed projects there throughout that time. He is familiar with the donor regulations and impact of the blockade. He was last in Gaza in December 2014.

The opinions in this piece are his own and written in a private capacity.  Thank you Mike.

“Every time something is posted about the Gaza blockade people write that the blockade is in place to stop arms shipments and because cement and other materials are being used in tunnels and to create weapons. But let’s be clear, weapons smuggled into Gaza have never legally come through the closed borders. They were always smuggled through tunnels and via the sea. The blockade has not stopped this illegal trade. Rather it caused it to increase. Likewise, the cement used in tunnels and by Hamas on other military infrastructure is not the cement that comes through border crossings but cement smuggled through tunnels.

The reality is that international aid in Palestine is more heavily regulated than in any other place in the world. Building supplies coming into Gaza through Erez are tracked and monitored and are not going to Hamas. Money given by the international community is not going to Hamas but is being used to provide basic need for Palestinians who are unable to provide for themselves due to the blockade. The impact of the blockade is not only a stoppage of imports for the local market but also a stoppage of exports which kills the Gaza economy and creates unemployment and poverty. The siege hurts average people who are left unemployed and who cannot buy reconstruction materials or other goods – either because they have no income or because the goods are banned from Gaza.

Hamas is not hurt significantly by the blockade. Rather, for years the blockade provided Hamas with a steady source of funds as it could control the tunnel trade and illegal smuggling. It could tax goods coming through the tunnels. It could smuggle in cement and other goods that people say shouldn’t come through the closed and controlled borders. The draconian impact of the blockade is not primarily felt by Hamas.

The idea that Hamas abuses “aid” meant for the Gaza population is also bogus. Hamas does not get aid from donors. Even a conversation with Hamas can result in charges of material support for terrorism. Funding from international donors and agencies therefore does not go to Hamas. There are exceedingly stringent financial controls in place to make sure that funds are tracked. Hamas does use a portion of its own funds which are received through its own channels for weapons and military infrastructure (around 14% by Shin Bet estimations), however, proportionally it spends less on its armed wing than either Israel or the US spend on their militaries. I do not support violence but those criticizing Hamas’ use of funds for military purposes must recognize that what they are asking for is one sided disarmament which will not happen in a situation of ongoing siege and occupation.

But what about those terrorist tunnels? Didn’t Hamas try to attack kindergartens and civilians? The answer is the tunnels into Israel didn’t go anywhere near kindergartens (unless you count 2.5 km close), didn’t come up under civilian communities, and were only used to attack military targets. This has been repeatedly reported on by the Israeli press. This doesn’t mean I support the military use of tunnels, but tunnels for smuggling and military purposes must be understood within the context of siege, occupation, and violence against Palestinians. If you want to make them disappear end the siege and occupation.

What about the thousands of rockets? From the end of the 2012 attack on Gaza by Israel until Israel attacked Gaza last summer no rockets were fired from Gaza by Hamas (as confirmed by the Israeli military). A few rockets were fired by other groups but there were also daily attacks on Gaza by Israel (see the Gaza NGO Security Office briefs). Since the end of the conflict this summer Hamas has also refrained from rocket fire although a few rockets have been fired by other groups. Again, Israel has fired into and attacked Gaza nearly every day while maintaining the blockade in violation of the terms it agreed to in the ceasefire. The reality is that since 2009 Hamas has controlled and stopped most rocket fire. There have not been thousands of rockets fired into Israel since 2009. This has not changed Israeli policy.

Finally, what about Egypt? Isn’t it responsible and what about its destruction of property in Rafah? First, the destruction of property in Rafah is appalling and many of us who have engaged in the struggle for rights in the Middle East are speaking about this. But the people holding up Egyptian violence and destruction in Rafah and using it to criticize those of us critical of the Israel and the blockade are not showing actual solidarity or concern for the citizens of Rafah. They are cynically using the suffering in Rafah to deflect attention for other rights violations. This is all around abusive. Regarding Egyptian responsibility, it is limited. Egypt is not a good actor in this situation and has contributed heavily to Palestinian suffering. However, its actual treaty obligations along the border are with Israel. Those saying that Egypt should provide aid are not actually saying that Egypt should freely open its border to Gaza and allow for free movement of people and goods as that would completely undermine the blockade that these same people support.

Israel as the recognized occupying power in Gaza (recognized as such even by the US). As the power that controls the Gazan borders, water supply, electricity, tax revenue, money supply, the flow of goods and people, the airspace, waterways, electromagnetic spectrum, and populations registry (for a partial list) it is the party responsible for Gaza, the party that is violating the law, and the party most responsible for violence and human suffering.”

Thank you Mike!

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, People

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