The Boston Globe (Editorial)
January 25, 2008 - 6:13pm

THE BREACHING early Wednesday of the barrier separating Gaza from the Egyptian side of the border town Rafah allowed an estimated 300,000 Gazans to seek staples and a brief experience of liberty outside their enclosed, suffocating strip of land. The highly publicized breakout of those Gazans also made it impossible to ignore the collective punishment being imposed on them by Israel's policy of closure and economic blockade.

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Israeli leaders justify their shutting of Gaza crossing points and their temporary cut-off of fuel supplies for Gaza's power plant as a response to Qassam rockets fired into Israel by Palestinian militants. They argue that Gazans suffering from blackouts, food shortages or lapsed power for dialysis machines ought to blame the Islamist Hamas movement, which seized power in Gaza in June after a swift, violent routing of Fatah, the secular, nationalist faction founded by Yasser Arafat.

Many Palestinians in Gaza may indeed resent Hamas for its refusal to stop the launching of rockets into Israel. Even so, they know that Israel is the power imposing an economic blockade, and that Israel has been abetted or encouraged in this callous policy by the governments of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and of Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah-backed president of the Palestinian Authority.

Imposing collective punishment on the people of Gaza is not only inhumane; it is also incapable of producing results that benefit Israel or the two main rivals of Hamas: Fatah and Mubarak's Egypt. By knocking down the Rafah barrier and forcing Mubarak to tell Egyptian police to let Gazans enter Egypt, Hamas placed itself in the position of defending Palestinians under its rule from the two states, Egypt and Israel, that have turned Gaza into a shutdown prison.

The Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, no less than Mubarak's Egypt and Abbas's Fatah, ought to be appealing to the populace of Gaza rather than driving it into the arms of Hamas. The current siege policy follows a narrow-minded, obtuse military logic. It assumes that if Gazans are subjected to ever worse deprivation, they will eventually prevail on Hamas to stop the rockets falling on the Israeli town of Sderot.

This punishing of an entire population to change the conduct of its rulers rarely has the desired effect. Olmert would be wiser to follow Yitzhak Rabin's dictum: to negotiate for peace as if there were no terrorism, and to fight terrorism as if there were no peace negotiations. If this also means arranging a cease-fire with Hamas so that current negotiations with Abbas have a better chance to succeed, Israel should pursue that cease-fire.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017