As a new international flotilla sets sail for Gaza, three recent headlines put the operation into context.
In mid-June, Israel approved the delivery of $100 million of materials needed to build 1,200 new homes and 18 new schools in Gaza. Israel now transports some 50,000 tons of goods to Gaza biweekly. In addition to accelerating the flow of construction materials, Israel received 1,500 applications from Gazans for health care so far this year. Eighty percent had been approved last April.
Second headline: Two more rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza on June 22, bringing the total for the year so far to 332, compared with 238 for the whole of last year. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and the incident was generally ignored by the international media — but it showed once again that Hamas and the numerous other militant factions in Gaza are not ready to stop their unprovoked attacks on Israeli civilians.
Israel says it wants to monitor materials entering Gaza for precisely this reason — to stop weapons or materials that can be turned into weapons from reaching Hamas and its allies. Given these constant rocket attacks, can anyone say this concern is not justified?
Third headline: The International Committee of the Red Cross on June 23 urged Hamas to provide proof that abducted Israel soldier Gilad Shalit is still alive, a request that the Islamist group quickly rejected. Shalit has just marked five years in captivity. He has been held incommunicado while ICRC officials have never been allowed to visit him, which is a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.
“The total absence of information concerning Mr. Shalit is completely unacceptable,” ICRC Director-General Yves Daccord said in a statement.
In light of these developments, it is legitimate to question the motives of those aboard the various vessels trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Some may be moved by genuine concern for the residents of Gaza, who, it is true, have difficult lives in tough circumstances. But others are clearly seeking a repetition of last year’s bloody showdown, which left nine flotilla members dead and seriously damaged Israel’s relations with Turkey as well as its international standing.
For these activists, it’s not so much about helping Gazans as it is about isolating and weakening Israel. If it were just a question of delivering aid to Gaza, there are other ways. Also this June, a ship from Europe docked at the Port of El-Arish, in Egypt and unloaded some 30 tons of medicine, wheelchairs, baby food. and 12 ambulances, all of which were then taken through the Rafah crossing and into Gaza. It was the third such convoy to enter Gaza since 2008; another is expected in the coming months.
Only 175 miles separates Gaza from Damascus, where the Assad regime is brutally trying to crush a pro-democracy movement, indiscriminately firing on unarmed protesters, rounding up tens of thousands without any legal process, and driving thousands of villagers from their homes and across the Turkish border. If the flotilla activists were truly motivated by universal humanitarian concerns, surely at least some of them would turn their attention to the genuine human rights atrocities taking place right now in the Middle East — which are not happening in Gaza.
Regarding conditions in Gaza, it is true that for many residents, life is tough. Therefore, it’s appropriate to voice concern — not least because the Hamas government devotes all its efforts to building up its stocks of rockets and missiles instead of to developing the economy and the human potential of its citizens. We should remember that, in 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew all its troops from Gaza and dismantled all its settlements. Israel hoped, at the time, that this would spur peace — instead it spurred terrorism.
But let’s have some perspective. According to the CIA’s The World Factbook, life expectancy at birth in Gaza this year is 73.91, putting the territory in the 111th position of the 222 countries and territories measured — at exactly the 50th percentile. People in Gaza can expect to live longer than in Russia and Brazil, longer than those of Turkey and India. Life expectancy in most of Africa trails that of Gaza by decades.
If the flotilla participants are really moved by human compassion, how about doing something for the people of Angola, whose average life expectancy is less than 39 years? Or the oppressed citizens of Zimbabwe, who cannot expect to reach the age of 50?
Alan Elsner is the communications director of The Israel Project.
Alan Elsner is Special Adviser to the President of J Street.