Arab News (Editorial)
July 10, 2011 - 12:00am

THE collective punishment Israel is inflicting on Palestinian citizens continues. Tel Aviv is currently preventing a gathering of foreigners invited by Palestinian activists to fly into Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport and then travel to the West Bank for a week in a “Welcome to Palestine” initiative. It is doing so by blocking, deterring and preventing mainly European activists from boarding flights to Israel on foreign airlines. It is now in the process of deporting hundreds of air travelers who managed to make it in the “flytilla” — a reference to the flotilla of boats that was supposed to challenge Israel's naval blockade of Gaza last month but has been stymied by Israeli pressure and by the cooperation of the Greek port authorities.

Israel argues it is ensuring public order at its main gateway to the world, a year after the Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara, which killed nine unarmed humanitarians. The violence was committed by Israeli storm-troopers dropping from helicopters with guns blazing under the cover of darkness in international waters.

A regime that committed wholesale murder against the last flotilla throws up the question of what exactly is Israel’s authority over who comes and goes in international waters, and the more recent question of who enters or leaves the Palestinian territory by air. Despite Israeli reports that foreign visitors will try to create chaos, these people are advocating nonviolence. They seek only to transit the airport and go to Palestine where they will give moral and humanitarian aid, both of which are cut off because of Israel's blockade. They bring with them nothing more menacing than perhaps placards calling for the occupation to end.

The ongoing episodes of nonviolent missions aiming to visit the West Bank and Gaza have exposed Israel's draconian anti-Palestinian policies and its concerted attempt to choke off access to Palestinian areas. This is all the more worrisome and unfair because Palestinians have no airport of their own and Israel controls the borders of the occupied West Bank.

Egypt's opening of an important crossing into Gaza may provide some relief but the real answer to the siege outsiders these days are trying to break relies on the general lifting of the blockade of Gaza. Restrictions on Gaza should be lifted, a view confirmed in UN Security Council Resolution 1860. But Resolution 1860 goes much further and calls for the sustained reopening of crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which provides for the reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank; bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza; the building of a new seaport in Gaza; re-opening of the airport in Gaza.

Eight months earlier the European Council repeated the EU's call for “an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza.”

The way to break the siege, which the UN itself calls illegal, is surely for the UN to apply sanctions. But there has been no move in the UN to sanction Israel for its continuing blockade of Gaza. Nor have there been any consequences for Israel's interception of the Mavi Marmara on the high seas, which the UN says was “clearly unlawful.”

The proper way for Israel to avoid trouble would be to end its illegal blockade of Gaza and end its illegal occupation of the rest of Palestine to ensure an unfettered flow of aid, and to not interfere with humanitarians going about their lawful business.


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