The strangulation of Gaza

New documents reveal the deliberate callousness and cruelty of the Israeli blockade.

I'm delighted to reveal that Amira Hass, the award-winning Israeli reporter and correspondent for Haaretz and a journalistic hero of mine, has written our cover story on Gaza for the New Year special issue of the New Statesman – which hits news-stands tomorrow. Two years on from the Israeli onslaught on the strip, Hass examines the legacy of the three-week war and asks whether Israeli troops are preparing for another conflict with the poor Palestinians of Gaza.

I've written a short "box" to go with her essay, in which I examine the ongoing Israeli-Egyptian blockade against the Gazans and note the release of three official Israeli government documents that suggest the Jewish state had considered "a policy of deliberate restriction" of basic goods into the strip.

Here's an extract:

In October, the Israeli human rights group Gisha published three documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that outlined the Israeli government's policy for permitting transfer of goods into Gaza prior to Tel Aviv's attack on the international aid flotilla on 31 May. The released documents showed that the Israeli state approved "a policy of deliberate restriction" of basic goods, including food and fuel, to people living in the Gaza Strip.

The published papers contained a series of mathematical formulae, created by the Israeli ministry of defence, to calculate the "product inventory" inside the strip. "The calculations are presumed to allow Cogat [Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] to measure what is called the 'length of breath'," the Gisha website notes. "The formula states that if you divide the inventory in the Strip by the daily consumption needs of residents, you will get the number of days it will take for residents of Gaza to run out of that basic product, or in other words, until their 'length of breath' will run out."

The documents expose the cynicism of Israeli government officials – and yet, as the media analysis website Media Lens has remarked, not a single British newspaper has reported on their existence.

Read the whole piece in the magazine tomorrow.

In the meantime, check out the Gisha website for the full selection of documents, translated from Hebrew into English.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.