LETTING THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY
In a gesture that has received more than a little attention in the Western media, Israeli officials announced with some fanfare that they were easing the embargo of goods they allow into Palestine.
Israel’s supporters have been using the opportunity to declare that this demonstrates Israel is reasonable, and that US support of Israel is fully justified, even given the exceptionally tepid US response to the Israeli assault on the Gaza flotilla and America’s sustained opposition to any international efforts to hold Israel accountable for its actions.
This gesture becomes markedly less impressive once one examines the list of items once embargoed but now (at least for a while) allowed by Israel into Gaza. As a news website in India reported, “Palestinian liaison official Raed Fattouh, who coordinates the flow of goods into Gaza with Israel, said that soda, juice, jam, spices, shaving cream, potato chips, cookies and candy were now permitted.” Not much, to put it mildly, but to a suffering people in the ruins of their city, I imagine almost anything will be better than nothing. Besides, at least some of the aid supplies the Israelis have removed from the pirated Gaza flotilla vessels may end up in Gaza at some point, and that, too, will be something.
But the announced easing of the embargo, slight or even less than that, is significant in a way I am certain Israel did not intend, and which may even make a few of its supporters just a little anxious. This is because it provides an interesting insight into the real Israeli motivation behind the embargo, and thus of the blockade itself, and not the one it professes internationally and its cabal elsewhere echoes so vociferously.
Consider first of all Israel’s defense of its blockade of Gaza as something that is essential for its security, with the accompanying embargo on products that it allows to enter Gaza officially being intended to deprive Hamas of anything that might strengthen its position there, and allow it to strike Israel anywhere with anything. This is the theme reiterated by Israeli officials when they halt land convoys and intercept sea-going ones, and applauded by its cheerleaders in the US Congress and the mainstream media in the US and elsewhere.
Then look at the once-embargoed items now allowed at least temporarily into Gaza. Potato chips?? Potato chips were once considered by the Israeli government as a staple of Hamas support, or a weapon that could threaten Israel, or both?? Now, I confess that I personally have nothing against potato chips. In fact, I love them. But I cannot see how they constitute a threat to anything except possibly the health of the person consuming them. They make terrible bunkers, hitting someone with a bag of potato chips — even a large one — cannot remotely be considered life-threatening, and putting them into a catapult and throwing them at a Merkava tank or a nearby Israeli town isn’t going to be a threat to anyone.
So embargoing potato chips, like so many other items on Israel’s list in support of its illegal blockade of Gaza, has absolutely nothing to do with Israeli security interests — can we agree on this point? But it symbolizes a key aspect of the core Israeli strategy underlying the blockade, which is a blend of heavy-handed brutality and small-minded malevolence, designed first to ruin what little the Palestinians there have, and then to make sustained misery their present fare and future diet until they succumb and either go away, accept their Israeli overlords, or die.
This strategy of the collective punishment of a people — which is a breach of international law and a war crime, ladies and gentlemen of any legislatures and media outlets who have not checked their ethics into their respective Israeli embassies and consulates — is essentially designed to hurt Palestinians and not to protect Israelis. The Israelis understand this, as do their supporters overseas. The Palestinians in Gaza, and many in the West Bank, certainly understand that — even Abbas may on those rare moments when thought works its way through the murkiness surrounding it. And so do those who try, often bravely but usually unsuccessfully, to bring some humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.
This knowledge alone isn’t much help. But it is always a good thing to really understand your enemy, and an enemy that has an affinity for dominance and inflicting deaths of a thousand cuts in the name of intangibles such as the Exodus theme, is very different from one that confronts you directly over tangible interests that permit compromise.
Too many of us — myself once included — for too long have viewed Israelis as just a particularly nasty variant of a type often seen in the world, something like semi-Semitic Prussians or an apartheid-era South Africa of the Middle East. They are not. They are much worse, and much more dangerous to all of us, than either of those — the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbors are just in the front line now. Their chips — and not the edible ones — are on Israel’s playing table now. Do any of the rest of us really want to sit back and wait for our round in the game to begin at Israel’s pleasure?
Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D, University of Michigan) is a ten-year US Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the US Army War College. He can be contacted at [email protected]