A Failed Blockade

Posted June 01, 2010, at 6:17 p.m.

Improving Israel’s security won’t come by commando raids on supply ships or by walling off the Palestinian population. Instead, Israel must find a way to give Palestinians hope for their future so they are less apt to resort to violence. Given the duplicity of Palestinian leaders, this is no easy task, but Monday’s botched raid on a flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip — and the strong international condemnations that followed — shows the current Israeli approach has failed.

On Monday, Israeli commandos were lowered from helicopters onto the lead ship of a flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of supplies to the Gaza Strip. The Turkish vessel was in international waters at the time. The Israelis were reportedly met with metal poles and knives. A gunfight then erupted, ac-cording to published reports, and nine people aboard the Mavi Marmara were killed.

The Obama administration called for a full investigation of the events.

Israel and Egypt sealed the border with the Gaza Strip in 2007, in part to contain Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that controls the territory. The blockade was meant to weaken Hamas, but instead has made life increasingly difficult for Palestinians. The flotilla was meant to get supplies to Gaza Strip’s residents. Israel had said it would not let the ships reach land.

In the Gaza Strip, 1.5 million people live in a small area, 25 miles long by 7 miles at its widest, sandwiched between Egypt, the Mediterranean Sea and Israel. Movement in and out of Gaza is tightly controlled by Israel. Unemployment runs about 50 percent, and those with jobs work mostly for aid agencies and the government. Poverty and childhood diseases are rampant.

Conditions in Gaza have led to resentment against Israel and the United States, its largest supporter. It also helped Hamas, which Western countries have labeled a terrorist organization, gain control of the government. By providing jobs and economic help to residents, the militant organization maintains strong support.

For years, Hamas forces fired homemade rockets, called Qassams, into Israel, forcing residents into bomb shelters. Last year, Israel bombarded Gaza and sent in ground troops to stop the rocket fire.

“Israel cannot achieve peace or even political stability by turning Gaza into even more of a defeated, hopeless Palestinian prison camp,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in a report at that time.

To avoid this outcome, Mr. Cordesman called for massive international aid, especially construction jobs. This would prove the United States and Europe are concerned about the fate of Palestinians while offering employment and schooling as an alternative to bomb-making.

After Monday’s botched raid, Israel’s staunchest ally in the Middle East, Turkey, turned against it, and international experts said the events dealt a severe blow to peace talks. This is all the more reason to pursue the more rational path of improving, not worsening, conditions in Gaza.

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