Even seasoned pundits could not help but express dismay this week at the televised testimony by senior Israeli officials, beginning with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before the Turkel Commission charged with investigating the Israeli military’s May 31 interception of ships bound for Gaza. As the Israeli daily Haaretz pointed out in a scathing editorial, Netanyahu readily acknowledged that Israel’s decisions on what to allow or prohibit into Gaza were based not on concern for the welfare of the population in Gaza but rather about Israel’s image in the international media:
“Even though there was not a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, I decided to gradually ease the limitations and the movement of goods through the land crossings. I did so because gradually these limitations turned into a diplomatic and public relations burden”.
If the limitations really were, as Netanyahu claimed, necessary “to prevent the entry of weapons and war materiel into Gaza”, easing them just in order to improve Israel’s public relations would seem grossly irresponsible. If they weren’t necessary for security – why were they imposed in the first place?
We also found puzzling Netanyahu’s claim that “Israel increased the number of trucks entering Gaza by approximately 30% over the five months preceding the flotilla incident”. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the first five months of 2010, Israel actually decreased the volume of trucks permitted into Gaza by 9%, relative to 2009 (see the first and last pages of the MFA report, which show that the monthly average of trucks allowed into Gaza in 2009 was 2,576, compared with just 2,329 in the first five months of 2010).
The real change in the volume of trucks permitted into Gaza came only after the flotilla incident, when Israel was pressed to justify its policy blocking the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza: Last week, Israel allowed Gaza residents to receive 1,126 truckloads of goods, approximately 45% of need, as compared to about 25% of need prior to the flotilla incident.
Export and the movement of people, critical for economic recovery and normal life in Gaza, are still blocked. Perhaps these restrictions do not constitute a sufficiently heavy “diplomatic and public relations burden”?