As news organizations report each detail of a possible prisoner release deal between Israel and Hamas, a related subject is receiving less attention: whether the release of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, would lead to an opening of Gaza’s crossings, closed to all but the bare minimum passage of people and goods. Writing in Haaretz, Akiva Eldar has suggested that one would not necessarily follow the other:
“It has been decided that the Shalit deal will not bring about a change in Israel’s policy regarding the blockade of Gaza and preventing the passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, except for humanitarian cases and essential goods”.
Really? It won’t?
Israel has justified its 3.5 year closure of Rafah Crossing and 2.5 year closure of Gaza’s other crossings as “sanctions” designed to pressure the Hamas regime, especially to release Shalit. While Gisha and other human rights groups have criticized the closure as unlawful collective punishment – irrespective of its “goals” – Israeli officials have insisted that closing Gaza’s crossings nearly hermetically is not only permissible but is also effective in achieving political objectives. The position that prevailed in an August 24, 2006 internal discussion among security officials regarding Rafah Crossing, reproduced in Gisha’s position paper, Disengaged Occupiers was to:
“Oppose opening the crossing even for a few hours, so long as the issue of the captured soldier remains unchanged”.
The “logic” of the policy was to make life so difficult in the Gaza Strip, that the 1.5 million civilians trapped in Gaza would somehow “overthrow” Hamas or at least – exert pressure for the Hamas regime to acquiesce to Israeli demands.
True, the Israeli public never quite believed the effectiveness of that goal: a 2008 survey commissioned by Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel found that 78% of Jewish Israelis believed it was unlikely that the closure would lead to regime change in Gaza, and 83% believed that Hamas had been strengthened since the closure was tightened in June 2007. A newly released film by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem uses animation to show just how fanciful the idea that the suffering of 1.5 million people could somehow be “effective” in putting the squeeze on Hamas. But Israeli policy-makers insist that Gaza residents could be “taught a lesson” through the closure. Can they really?