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A tragedy in the making: EU profits and the Gaza Strip faces an intensifying humanitarian crisis

On the one hand, business is going as usual, the European Union is going through the required procedures and working groups in order to arrive at the most mutually profitably arrangement for the upgrading of its bi-lateral trade (plus) relations with Israel. The European Union’s 27 foreign ministers unanimously approved upgrading relations with Israel on Monday, with France’s Kouchner at the lead, despite all efforts by state and non-state actors to bring the process to a halt (see the report by Haaretz).

It is reported, “Israel and the EU will also conduct a strategic dialogue on issues such as the peace process, the Iranian threat, counterterrorism and organized crime. In addition, the EU pledged to help Israel integrate into UN agencies and to include Israeli experts in EU peacekeeping forces.” The occupation of the Palestinian territories and the practices undertaken by Israel as part of its military regime in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is nowhere mentioned on the parties’ agenda, a clean-slate approach that has evidently lifted the reputation of the Israeli military expertise up to the ranks of the UN peacekeeping forces.

Moreover, the EU and Israel, who have been working on a common aviation policy as part of a series of developments in the EU-Israel trade relations. On 9 December 2008 EU and Israel signed a civil aviation agreement providing for gradual market opening and a high level of regulatory convergence in the areas of aviation safety, security, air traffic management, competition, state aid, environmental and consumer protection and research (see the limited reporting done here). Yesterday, the European Community and the Government of Israel signed an aviation agreement which will remove nationality restrictions in the bilateral air services agreements between EU Member States and Israel.

An even more interesting facet of this new bilateral framework, is that the agreement “was signed by European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani and Israeli Minister for Transport, Shaul Mofaz, after a meeting in the margins of the EU Transport Council.” (see reported here). This is after an investigation was sought to be commenced against Mofaz, who “during a briefing to army officers in May 2001, after the start of the second Palestinian uprising, ordered a daily “quota” of [70] Palestinian deaths”. Also, in 2002, while Mr Mofaz was visiting Britain, a British lawyer presented the Director of Public Prosecutions with claims of other war crimes by Mr Mofaz, including targeted assassinations and the demolition of Palestinian homes. Nevertheless, no action was taken before Mofaz departed seeing that word leaked as to the likelihood of his arrest (see the report by The Independent).

Concurrently, almost in a parallel existence under the radar, the siege on the occupied Gaza Strip persists and the hermetic closure imposed on the Strip for over a month now continues to be maintained. The Bassiouni case submitted by a group of organizations in 2007 to the Israeli Supreme Court, condemned and called for an immediate cessation of Israel’s decrease in the supply of gas and electricity to the Gaza Strip, which remains under its occupation. The state of siege and the control retained of all means of sustenance of the local Palestinian population was not disputed by the Court, who proceeded to uphold the State Attorney’s submissions in faith that the consignments admitted through Karni, the major commercial crossing, were “sufficient” “to meet the vital humanitarian needs of the civilian population in the Strip.” Although the Court did not examine what this terminology had meant or what the State had been providing, the Israeli Justices entrusted the Israeli authorities with the responsibility of remaining above the critical threshold, and all this on the sole basis of “the facts presented to [them]” by the State itself. The judgment delivered the following:

“…we again point out that the Gaza Strip is controlled by a murderous terrorist group that operates incessantly to cause injury to the State of Israel and its citizens, and violates every possible precept of international law with its violent actions, and makes no distinction toward civilians – men, women, and children. Nevertheless, as stated above, the State of Israel is required to act against the terrorist organizations within the framework of the law and in accordance with the dictates of international law, and to refrain from deliberately harming the civilian population located in the Gaza Strip. In light of the entirety of the information presented to us with respect to the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip, we believe that the amount of industrial diesel fuel that the State indicated it intends to supply, and the electricity that is regularly supplied through the power lines from Israel, are sufficient to meet the vital humanitarian needs of the Gaza Strip at this time.” [para. 22 of the judgment].

Since the January 2008 judgment there has been no call for a review or reassessment of the situation, even in light of the current closure, upheld for over a month, and the numerous subsequent additional decreases since January.

Today, 10 December 2009, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967  submitted a statement to the press – titled “Gaza: silence is not an option” – appealing to the international community and the bodies of the UN with regards to the severity of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. He notes that,

“many leaders have commented on the cruelty and unlawfulness of the Gaza blockade imposed by Israel, such a flurry of denunciations by normally cautious UN officials has not occurred on a global level since the heyday of South African apartheid. And still Israel maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease. Such a policy of collective punishment, initiated by Israel to punish Gazans for political developments within the Gaza strip, constitutes a continuing flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Furthermore, he adds:

“The UN is obligated to respond under these conditions. Some governments of the world are complicit by continuing their support politically and economically for Israel’s punitive approach… However difficult politically, it is time to act. At the very least, an urgent effort should be made at the United Nations to implement the agreed norm of a ‘responsibility to protect’ a civilian population being collectively punished by policies that amount to a Crime Against Humanity.”

Most damningly, in light of the fact that the EU bodies persist at the very same moment to sign trade related agreements with Israeli war criminals, the Rapporteur submits that “…it would seem mandatory for the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law… ‘This is a humanitarian crisis deliberately imposed by political actors.'”

Who is the actor that is bound to react? It appears that the UN Security Council is the only adequate mechanism that should be ‘up for the job’ – able, yes, but is it really willing?! We are yet to witness, as it seems in the nearer future, the real ending to this living time bomb putting millions of helpless civilians in suffering and despair of being barely able to survive from one day to the next.

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