Eyeless in Gaza

How radical critics distort Israel's alleged “siege” of Palestinian territory.

The past year brought a fresh wave of anti-Israel rhetoric and accusations, most of which cited Israel’s “siege” of Gaza during last winter’s Operation Cast Lead as evidence of Israel’s injustice toward the Palestinians. The international press frequently echoed calls by human rights groups and activists to “end Israel’s illegal blockade” and “liberate Gaza.” Such messages have been conceived to undermine Israel and present a very misleading picture of the actual Gaza conflict.

In a typical blockade, no supplies would be allowed to enter into enemy territory. Similarly, most English dictionaries define siege as an “act or process of surrounding and attacking a fortified place in such a way as to isolate it from help and supplies.” But in fact Israel has allowed substantial shipments of aid into Gaza. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website has reported that in 2009 alone, Israel allowed 703, 224 tons of humanitarian aid and 105,600,128 liters of fuel to be delivered into the Gaza Strip following Operation Cast Lead.

“The IDF invested major resources to enable the flow of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip,” said Col. Moshe Levi, the head of the IDF’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, in November 2009. According to Levi, humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip increased by 900 percent compared to the previous year. Over 22, 893 humanitarian aid trucks entered into Gaza throughout 2009.

All of this has been pointedly ignored by Israel’s critics. Most recently, the Gaza Freedom March illustrated the way in which pro-Palestinian organizations and left-wing groups have been able to use the international press and media to communicate their Gaza narrative using the “blockade” and “siege” narrative. Organized by Code Pink’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, who also happens to be Jewish, the Gaza Freedom March received worldwide media attention as protestors set to break the “siege” of Gaza.

The march was able to attract some well-known celebrities, like Roger Walters of Pink Floyd and American novelist Alice Walker. But it was not the support of these two celebrities and others like them that attracted the attention of the press. The Gaza Freedom March organizers had Hedy Epstein, an 85-year old Holocaust survivor and pro-Palestinian activist affiliated with the radical International Solidarity Movement, put in the spotlight for their cause. When Epstein declared a hunger strike to support the Gaza Freedom March, she became an instant international poster girl for the march and made headlines across the world. In its reports about the Gaza Freedom March, the Huffington Post quoted Epstein explaining her support for the Palestinians by likening Israel to Nazi Germany. “[E]everything is due to the Holocaust,” Epstein explained. “But Israel is not being persecuted now. Israel is now the persecutor.”

Unfortunately, those who support the Gaza Freedom March and Palestinian rights, like Hedy Epstein and Medea Benjamin, disregard the other side of the Mideast conflict. Operation Cast Lead took place to stop the thousands of Gaza rockets striking Israeli schools, playgrounds, homes and communities each year. Equally absurd is the way such groups ignore Israeli policies that are set to ensure Palestinians’ access to humanitarian aid and goods – despite the fact that Palestinian terror attacks continue on the Israeli border crossings through which these goods pass.

The original intention of the Gaza Freedom March protestors was to demonstrate that Israel was the sole cause of hardship for Gaza’s Palestinians. Inadvertently, the Gaza Freedom March actually brought to light the siege-like policies of Hamas, the extremist Islamic regime that took over Gaza in 2007.

Haaretz reported earlier this month the Hamas government imposed a “siege” of its own on Gaza residents, prohibiting them from providing lodgings to several hundred international protestors. According to the article, “tough, Hamas security men,” accompanied the peaceful activists during their visit to Gaza and blocked them from speaking with ordinary Gazan residents. “The march turned into nothing more than a ritual, an opportunity for Hamas cabinet ministers to get decent media coverage in the company of Western demonstrators. Hamas hijacked the initiative and we gave in,” said one protestor quoted in the article.

There were barely any Palestinians who took part in the Gaza Freedom March, and absolutely no Palestinian women. Italian photojournalist Anna Selini reported that most of the marchers were international supporters. “Hamas did not encourage, even discouraged local people from participating,” Selini said. Haaretz has similarly reported that activists got the impression that “non-Hamas residents live in fear, and are afraid to speak or identify themselves by name.

This is not surprising. In December 2008, the Hamas parliament imposed Islamic Sharia law onto the Palestinian judicial system. Hamas punishments for Palestinian offenders include whipping, severing hands for stealing, crucifixion and even hanging. Few if any among the 1,300 international protestors of Israel’s alleged repression of Gaza realized that their message of freedom for Gaza would have been far more effective had it been directed towards Hamas.

Anav Silverman is the international correspondent for Sderot Media Center, a social media organization dedicated to bringing the voices of Sderot and Negev residents to the attention of the global community.