Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Audacity of Stonewalling

It would be nice if the people of Gaza could benefit from what Ron Fournier, Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press, called Barack Obama's "rhetorical pivot" last night, his transition "from selling fear to raising hopes." Fortunately, the people of the United States do not have to content with the ideological intransigence of the Israeli government the way the residents of Gaza do. During last month's hostilities, Israel escalated the level of fear in Gaza to such a height that, for the first time in the history of Israel's conflicts with its neighbors, the international community was calling for an investigation of war crimes. Now, with a cease fire at least temporarily in place, Israel seems to have adopted the policy that what cannot be achieved through fear can be attained through the annihilation of hope.

Hope does not have to be fired upon with big guns. Sometimes it is sufficient just to wear it down with petty matters. According to an Agence France-Presse report, John Kerry experienced the impact of such petty matters first hand during his visit to Gaza:

Last week, influential US Senator John Kerry witnessed first-hand the difficulties involved in delivering key supplies to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade since Hamas seized power in June 2007, and is struggling to recover from Israel's devastating 22-day war.

While touring Gaza, Kerry learned that truckloads of pasta were prevented from entering the Palestinian enclave and was told by UN officials that Israel lists rice as humanitarian aid but not pasta, the newspaper said.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak eventually allowed the shipment in following an intervention by Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who heads the US Senate's powerful Foreign Relations Committee.

According to this same report, our State Department is willing to go on the record in taking Israel to task over such pettiness. However, the signs are that Israeli will not let up on a tactic that they have a long reputation for using so well:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pressing Israel to stop blocking aid to the besieged Gaza Strip and will raise the issue during a visit next week, an Israeli newspaper reported on Wednesday.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected to issue a strongly worded statement on the situation when he travels to Israel this week, Haaretz said.

"Israel is not making enough efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza," the paper quoted US officials as telling their Israeli counterparts last week. "The US expects Israel to meet its commitments on this matter."

Clinton has relayed messages to Israel about the aid issue in the past week, and senior aides have made it clear the question would be central to her visit to Israel on Tuesday.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Ygal Palmor said he was unaware of any such messages and the prime minister's office said it would not comment "as long as there is no official US statement" on the issue.

Out of fairness, it is worth reporting that, on the basis of a story filed for McClatchy Newspapers by Dion Nissenbaum, the Israeli government is just as capable of applying this stonewalling tactic to its own citizens, as well as to others. This will give little comfort to the people of Gaza, but it may give our own State Department a better idea of the opposition they will continue to face. In most circles this would just be more examples of chutzpah from the culture that gave birth to the noun. However, my own feeling about giving Chutzpah awards is that they provide an opportunity for rewarding the outrageously positive and giving the negative the ridicule it deserves. When international discourse turns to talk of war crimes, we must recognize that this particular situation has progressed beyond ridicule. Israel has eroded the semantics of "chutzpah" with that same pettiness with which they are eroding the hope of the Gazan people and of those trying to assistant them with humanitarian aid.

Much of the Old Testament can be read as a chronicle of how "God's chosen people" tried to convince God that (s)he made the wrong choice. As Ronald Regan might have said about current Israeli tactics, "There they go again." Do the Israeli people really want to be represented by such a government?

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