An easy $4 billion hits an Israeli blockade

Those who sat by and watched the destruction of Gaza have now come up with a quick $4 billion in guilt reparatiion. It's all a little much to stomach.

There’s something pretty stomach churning in the spectacle of the world’s major countries and large donors gathering in Egypt’s holiday mecca and in a day raising $4 billion to rebuild Gaza.

The disgust lies is in the utter waste when the world is in the midst of a financial crisis and these very same leaders stood by over Christmas and watched as Israel pummeled the Gaza strip, killed over a thousand people, and destroyed homes, factories, schools, hospitals and anything resembling infrastructure that existed in this tiny, problematic strip of land.

Now, in a ritual that carries more than a heavy whiff of guilt, the wealthy gather to dispense their riches to the poverty-stricken Gazans. It is poignant that neither of the destroyers—Israel nor the democratically elected but internationally shunned Hamas— was at Sharm el-Sheik. Israel, it would be hoped, would be too ashamed to show up and, anyway, what would it do? Hand out a few shekels to reverse its own handiwork? Hamas isn’t there because it wasn’t invited, as the world’s wealthy have big worries about how to avoid their nice clean money falling into the hands of these “terrorists”.

The hideous ironies compound. Yes, it is a fair shake of the Sharm el-Sheik to worry about what Hamas would do with a few billion dollars should it ever get its hands on the donor dosh. With a modus operandi of niggling Israel by peppering it with mostly innocuous little rockets, Hamas has not endeared itself to the wallets of the donors, and nor should it. Would big-time donor money mean more effective rockets? The risk is too big to take.

However, that should not distract from the reason behind the targeting—Hamas wants the lifting of the blockades that deny Palestinians in Gaza anything but the most basic of humanitarian needs—and even those needs are determined by the Israeli government. Surely such needs should be determined by the professionals who see the products of the blockades, the doctors and psychologists and teachers who deal first-hand with the severely malnourished children, poor sanitation, and lack of clean drinking water and regular formal education?

The disgust deepens when the rebuilding that the wealthy donors and various governments have pledged money towards has been threatened by Israel’s refusal to open the borders to allow in vital building materials such as concrete. Concrete for God’s sake! Let alone doors and windows and sewer pipes and roof tiles and tap faucets—not that there is any clean drinking water available to come out of those faucets. Remember this is a water short district and of the “shared” mountain aquifers between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel determines the share. It just so happens that it takes 80 percent for itself. A true share is when the kid who doesn’t know which part of the cake he’ll get is deputised to slice.

So here we have the new Secretary of State for the United States, Hillary Clinton, making her Middle East debut and her line is that given the new Israeli government is not yet established, she’ll be “listening”. Well done, Hills. But it seems that from her “listening’ pod she’s been able to say, according to the BBC, that the United States is unfailing in its support of Israel. Is this the new "change" or good old fashioned multi-tasking…or perhaps a little political double speak…or maybe even the change you have when you don’t have any change at all?

Canada’s Globe and Mail began an article on Clinton’s Gaza reconstruction conference visitation by posing a question to her. It came courtesy of an Arab woman who lives in Jerusalem and has just had her home, which was built on Arab land, bulldozed because it didn’t have a permit. Her home didn’t have a permit because Jerusalem’s municipality wouldn’t grant a permit as a way of limiting the number of Arabs building homes there. The policy is to ensure a majority Jewish population. The woman—a mother of six—asked of the Secretary of State how she as a mother would she feel if bulldozers just ploughed through her family home? Hint: it wouldn’t crumble as quickly, that's for sure. Couple this kind of practice with the prospect that the next Israeli government will be propped up by a far right party that requires all Arabs in Israel to swear an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state, and there is a whole new cesspit of problems ahead.

Now before those of you who think this is unfair to the Israelis start heckling, ask why no foreign journalists are permitted to cross the borders into Gaza to see first hand what’s going on there. Any administration with nothing to hide would not be so damned afraid of the international media as to ban their passing through just one of the many border points controlled by Israel. It is always an ominous sign….ask the people of Zimbabwe, or the protesters in Moscow, or the monks in Tibet. Oppressive and guilty regimes always—always—try to stop a free press.

So back to the ritzy Egyptian venue for the reconstruction conference. Hillary has reportedly made it clear that the new US administration expects Israel to do what the United Nations has already decreed it is in breach of, and that it is to stop its siege of Gaza and halt illegal settlements. That very word “settlement” is in itself a distraction because it implies something that is benign and impermanent. Make no mistake, the settlements are occupations and they are anything but temporary. This morning even the father of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit called for this to stop and Hamas to please deal with the current government because the coalition that is in the wings will be so hard-line there will be no chance of negotiation.

Sobering words.

The rich countries of the world profess a desire to restore viability to Gaza and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. To ensure they don’t themselves represent a sick joke at the expense of the Palestinians, they must also extract from Israel a commitment to open the borders and let in the reconstruction materials.

Perhaps they should all take note of the Israeli-Palestinian duet that is Israel’s successful entry into the Eurovision Song Contest. Sure there’s been limited protest from Israeli and Arab artists to the pairing of Achinoma Nini (known as Noa) from Israel and Mira Awad from Palestine. But these two young women should have more of the limelight as they have the guts to trust each other completely, and to compete with a song entitled There Must Be Another Way.

If the world could go ga-ga over the two state solution that led to North and South Korea holding hands in an Olympic opening ceremony, it can surely go ga-ga—or Ga-za—over a path to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.