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Scribblings: The BBC Pre-empts Flotilla Inquiries

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Tzvi Fleischer

The BBC Pre-empts Flotilla Inquiries

Israelis have been much focused in recent weeks on the testimony of various top officials to the Turkel inquiry – looking into the flotilla clash off Gaza on May 31 that left nine Turkish activists dead. On top of this, the Israeli government has made an unprecedented decision to cooperate with an inquiry under former New Zealand PM Geoffrey Palmer set up by the UN Secretary-General. Finally, the notoriously biased UN Human Rights Council is also planning an inquiry which, true to form, will operate under a mandate dictated by a resolution which already declares Israel to be guilty, condemning “in the strongest terms the outrageous attack by the Israeli forces.”

However, there now seems to be little need for any of these inquiries because a neutral source, which cannot be accused of pro-Israel bias, has already essentially validated that the Israeli account of the flotilla incident is largely true. The BBC’s venerable “Panorama” investigative program screened a 30-minute documentary on the incident on Aug. 16. Presenter Jane Corbin found that there was no shortage of medicine or food in Gaza, that the Turkish Government supports Hamas, that the flotilla’s IHH organisers “invited fellow Islamists from across the Arab world” to participate, that there was a premeditated IHH plan to try to throw any Israelis soldiers encountered into the sea, and that many of those who participated in the violence hoped to die as martyrs. Moreover, overall, “the bid to break the naval blockade wasn’t really about bringing aid to Gaza” and that much of the aid brought is now sitting in a Gaza warehouse, while “two thirds of the medicines are out of date and useless.”

It’s well worth watching for anyone who wants to know what really happened, and you can view it at: tinyurl.com/Mavimarmara.


Borderline Behaviour

Now that the Israeli blockade of Gaza has been eased to target only military and dual-use products, international Gaza activists have found a new cause célèbre. It is claimed that Gaza remains an “open air prison” because Gazans are not able to leave freely.

Wrong. Since June, the Rafah crossing into Egypt has been open continuously, and most Gazans, if they have proper travel documents, are able to cross into Egypt. According to figures from the Palestinian Authority (PA), 45,000 people have taken advantage of this to cross the border in either direction over June and July. That’s almost 4% of Gaza’s total estimated population of 1.4 million. Egypt does knock back some people who try to enter Egypt – 4,600 individuals over the period in question – but large numbers of Gazans can and do leave, so the claim that Gazans are “trapped” there is just not true.

In fact, one of the most important limits on the travel of Gazans comes not from the Egyptian-Israeli blockade, but from internal Palestinian divisions. To enter Egypt, Palestinians need a Palestinian or foreign passport, and the Hamas-Fatah conflict reportedly makes getting the former very difficult for Gazans. Since the Palestinian Authority started issuing a new, more secure, passport last year, all applications for passports have to go through Ramallah. While there are agencies in Gaza that can lodge such applications for Gazans, it is being reported that the process is politicised, and that only Fatah loyalists are having their applications approved. Meanwhile, Hamas security forces are reportedly preventing Fatah-affiliated individuals from applying for passports and confiscating their passports when they have one.

This has led to protests from Palestinian human rights groups, with the al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights and the Palestinian Human Rights NGO Council reportedly having written to PA PM Salam Fayyad demanding he address discrimination in passport approvals, according to a Palestinian news agency.

So next time someone tells you Gazans are trapped in their “open air prison”, demand action against the guilty parties – the PA and Hamas.


Is the “Palestinian Cause” Fading in the Mideast?

On Aug. 2, noted Middle East scholar Efraim Karsh published an article in the New York Times pointing out that there appears to be declining interest in the Palestinian cause in Arab public opinion. He argued that this is positive development, because historically, despite the rhetorical flourishes about the centrality of Palestine to everything, in fact, historically “Arab states have shown far less concern for the well-being of the Palestinians than for their own interests.” (The full article is available at www.meforum.org/2696/palestinians-alone).

Prof. Karsh has received some support – albeit not explicit – from an unexpected source – Saudi columnist and editor Mshari al-Zaydi. Al-Zaydi wrote a column in the pro-Saudi pan-Arab paper a-Sharq al-Awsat on Aug. 11 entitled “What if the Palestine Issue was Resolved?” In it, he attempted to knock on the head the romantic Arab notions about the “Palestinian cause” and the unrealistic way it is approached.

He writes:

Is it possible to deal with the Palestinian issue as a dispute that has a solution?...

Are the Arabs as serious about fighting Israel and ending the Israeli presence in Palestinian lands, as we always hear? If this was the case – and of course, it is not – why aren’t Arab policies formulated on the basis of war, rather than peace?

We want war, and we want peace and development at the same time! This is not possible, and this current chaos only serves to benefit those who want to milk the issue to gain public support.

Moreover, like Karsh, he noted the counter-productive effects of the unrealistic Arab rhetorical obsession with Palestine on the Palestinians, writing;

The most dangerous thing is for others to treat you as if you are on a pedestal; an incomparable hero, or a wailing wall for people to cry over, and you believe that these tears are for you, however if this river of tears does not stop, it may choke those who are trying to deal with the Palestinian Cause, and prevent others from seeing the reality of the situation with clear eyes.

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