By Amira Hass, Haaretz – 13 Oct 2009
Lucky pasta! When an American senator discovered Israel bans importing pasta into the Gaza Strip, a storm broke out. And ever since, senior Israeli defense officials have included noodles on their list of permitted products. And calves, how did we forget them? That was approved by the highest levels of the Defense Ministry. After all, the bureaucrat-officers would never have dared violate the siege directives.
But notebooks, textbooks, pens and pencils – whose lack is felt by Gaza’s children due to the Israeli ban on letting “luxuries” into the Strip – have no well-fed public relations agents like pasta and calves did. Do Gaza’s children need to draw or do their homework?
All right, forget about the pens. But what about the Gazan father whose Israeli son is being barred from visiting him by Israeli generals, after not seeing each other for seven years? What about the son being barred by those who carry out the orders from bidding his dying mother farewell in Jordan, or the engaged woman being barred from going to the West Bank to marry? Clearly, the wedding is a Palestinian plot to alter the demographic balance.
The cynical criteria set by successive Israeli governments (before the disengagement, before Gilad Shalit’s captivity, before Hamas took over the Gaza Strip), which dictate the reality of the siege under which 1.5 million people, half of them children, live, are translated by hundreds of obedient officers and soldiers into a long list of draconian prohibitions and paternalistic permissions. If the justices on the High Court of Justice continue to uphold the ban on students leaving the Strip to study in the West Bank or Belgium, and the jurists of the State Prosecutor’s Office are not bothered by the fact that farmers, tailors and carpenters are becoming beggars because of the Israeli ban on importing raw materials and exporting finished products, why should this bother a 20-year-old soldier serving at the Erez checkpoint? Why should Israeli society care about sick people who miss medical treatments because of arbitrary decisions by the defense establishment ?
There are three Israeli human rights organizations that do care: Hamoked – The Center for the Defense of the Individual; Physicians for Human Rights; and Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. Every year, hundreds of besieged Palestinians apply to them for help in obtaining exit permits. These Israeli organizations claim for themselves the right and duty of intervening on behalf of Gazans’ right to freedom of movement by representing them, monitoring their cases and appealing to the Israeli courts.
It is thus no wonder that a month ago, on September 13, they were told that henceforth, their applications to the army’s District Coordination Office on behalf of Gazans who need to leave the Strip (sick people, students, parents) would no longer be answered. Apply to the relevant Palestinian agency (the Palestinian Civilian Committee), they were told. As if that agency has any involvement whatsoever in issuing exit permits, other than the courier service it provides by handing over the Palestinians’ documents.
The Peres Center for Peace has made life easier for hundreds of Gazan families this year by financing their children’s medical treatment in Israel. The defense establishment did not tell it to arrange exit permits for these children and their escorts via the Civilian Committee – and rightly. Why complicate and sabotage the process?
But that is precisely what the defense establishment is trying to do to the work of these three human rights organizations, who have represented thousands of Palestinians over the years. And it is doing so precisely because these groups are neither charities nor part of the “peace” establishment. On the contrary: They talk about the occupation and its obligations, which the defense establishment is violating. And they thereby question the morality of its criteria and directives.