“Seige” and “blockade” are dirty words for a dirty strategy to sully Israel in a way that is reserved for this country alone. There is another way to look at it.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had friends of a more-left persuasion than me complain about Israel’s intransigence with respect to Gaza. When I say, “But we left Gaza in 2005 and then they already had an agreement that would have given them all that Hamas claims that it wants now in order to stop the missile launches against us”, they come back with: “but we still kept Gaza under siege”. “How?” “Because their funds still went through us and we withheld their money, we monitored all the materials crossing the border, we controlled their power and water supplies and we limited their mobility between Gaza and the outside world.”
What my more-left-than-me friends seem to forget is that missiles had been raining down upon southern Israel almost daily since the year 2001. It is true that Israel had jurisdiction over life in Gaza ever since we won the 1967 war and that that was inconvenient for the Palestinians (to put it mildly) and psychologically unbearable for many of them (remembering that they had been under Egyptian control before that). Withdrawing totally from Gaza in 2005 was supposed to provide the very first opportunity to the Gazan population to take over the running of their own lives and build a new future. I have to admit that we did not relinquish all of our control even then, but there was an agreement in place that would allow a gradual development of greater independence and autonomy to the New Gaza, had they chosen to pursue that avenue.
My more-left-than-me friends blame us for the continuing hostilities between Gaza and Israel, claiming that maintaining rule over the border crossings ensured that Hamas would continue to launch missiles at us with ever-growing ferocity in spite of the fact that we had vacated their lands. According to them, we should have just left and opened all the borders unconditionally. Then Hamas would have played fair and would have got down to the business of developing Gaza without continually seeking to destroy Israel.
If you are like me, you were in a wrestling match as a kid at least once. When it was obvious you were going to win, you pushed a little harder just to make sure. Your opponent, that kid down the street that was always taunting you, finally cried uncle. But you didn’t release him all at once, did you? Of course not! Because you knew that if you released him just like that, he would only come at you again as soon as your back was turned. And if you didn’t have this experience as a kid, then you know it is so if you have seen enough movies with fisticuffs between two alpha males in a ring formed by the crowd that gathered to egg them on to fight to the finish.
Well, after your opponent cried uncle, you released your hold on him just enough to show that you were willing to end the fight. And even if the kid promised to go away quietly, you firmed your hold again just to let him know that you meant to take him down if he dared taunt you again. He “crossed his heart and hoped to die”. You glared in his eyes to make double sure he knew you meant business. And then you pushed him away from you with dramatic flair so that if he wasn’t on the ground before then, he certainly was at that point. Straightening yourself to your full height, rubbing the dirt off your hands, you turned and walked away.
Damn if that kid didn’t come after you again anyway! Some of the crowd cheered him on and others cried out to warn you to turn around.
And now you had to fight him all over again. Again gaining the upper hand, it was clear that there was no way he was going to win. He cried uncle, but this time you didn’t stop right away. You bashed him a few more times because now you couldn’t trust his cries for mercy. By this time his nose was bleeding. That did not make you happy, but you had to stop him. Finally, you made him promise again to stop the fighting. He was gasping for breath and you knew he just didn’t have it in him to continue. Still, you did not let go of his arms. You straddled his chest and pinned his legs with your own. You made sure that he was done – for now.
Even after the fight was over, you kept watch over his actions whenever he was on your side of the street. Were there hints that he was going to attack you again? Or had he decided that you were off limits and had therefore found other activities to keep him busy? Did it finally seem that he was no longer interested in you? It took a long time until you were able to lower your guard and not feel you had to monitor his whereabouts and activities. That’s just the way it was. (And sometimes that kid would gather a gang and come at you again, fortified with an unfair advantage. That is also just the way it was.)
Pardon me if it seems disrespectful to compare the hostilities between Hamas and Israel to a street-fight among kids. I think, though, that human nature is made clearer if we can relate personally to the topic under discussion. It is not wise to turn your back on a just-defeated opponent unless there are guarantees that he will not strike you in the back, whether that opponent is a kid down the street or another country or wannabe country. For Israel, those guarantees were in the form of watching Hamas’ behavior after disengaging the army and Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip to see what they would do with their new-found authority over the land and population. For that reason, also, Israel did not give up control over the border crossings, something that our enemies within and without chose to call a “siege” or a “blockade”, turning normal exercise of caution into a sinister thing. (Did not victorious sides in defensive wars throughout history – such as the Allies’ occupation of parts of Germany after WW II – maintain some control for many years until nonaggression could be ascertained and normalization established?)
I dread to think of how many more tunnels would have been built and how much more ammunition accumulated had we not had the level of control over the borders that we had – and had Egypt not closed the one checkpoint over which they had control. Please, let us not forget Egypt in the equation (funny how the words, siege and blockade are thrown only at Israel)!
So maybe it’s not so criminal as the world makes it out to be: to make sure your back is covered until you know that the one who attacked you before is not going to keep at it as soon as you’re not looking.