The blockade of Gaza is one of the most egregious components of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It imposes tremendous suffering and has not provided Israel with any significant tactical advantage. Yet Jewish leaders continually voice support for it.
“There are 1.5 million people living in Gaza and only one of them really needs humanitarian aid,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said to the Knesset on Monday. “Only one of them is locked in a tiny room and never sees the light of day, only one of them is not allowed visits and is in uncertain health – his name is Gilad Shalit, and this month four years will have passed since he was kidnapped.”
“In fact, there is no humanitarian crisis.” – ADL Director Abe Foxman
If your analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from a desire to rationalize Israeli policies no matter what, you end up making completely asinine statements like those above.
Shalit is often invoked as a method of ignoring or excusing the suffering of Gazans, which is a shame, because his captivity is horrible, inhumane, and criminal. The difficulty for someone like me who unequivocally opposes both the blockade and his captivity is in not coming off as belittling the former. So Barak’s quote hits me especially hard – denying the extent of the externally-imposed suffering, economic isolation, and restriction of natural development that the blockade causes, in order to shift the conversation to a single captive soldier of your army is just dishonest. This isn’t even a matter of comparing suffering (see this New Voices post for my thoughts on why that’s unproductive anyway) – using Shalit as a tool to shift the conversation away from the real-life effects of the blockade does a disservice both to Gazans and Shalit.
And it goes both ways. When the Gaza Freedom Flotilla refused Noam Shalit’s offer to advocate for them with the Israeli government if they’d deliver items to his son, they demonstrated a motive in their analysis of the conflict. Rather than accepting his offer of peace (which would have provided them with a tactical advantage as well), they chose to do exactly what Ehud Barak did, only in reverse. There’s very little excuse for not engaging in a humanitarian mission (and “because it doesn’t fit our opinion of the situation” is particularly weak). Had the Freedom Flotilla carried Noam Shalit’s package and letter to his son, they would have become a powerful metaphor for the peace activists’ ability and willingness to reach across to the Other and understand their pain. Instead, they demonstrated that there was no room for an Israeli’s suffering in their precooked narrative.
In the same way, Israel must immediately lift the blockade, and until they do, Jewish American leaders must stop excusing it. Having an honest debate about its merits and effects is legitimate, but Barak and Foxman take it too far. Changing the terms of the conversation in the manner they do is plain old dishonest.