Commissioned letter in London Evening Standard

Posted by on June 1, 2010 at 8:00 am.

Give 1.5 million people a cargo of fish, and tomorrow they’ll be hungry again. Help those people break through an illegal siege, and tomorrow they’ll be able to fish for themselves. This is the reality for Gaza, and is one part of why the volunteer humanitarians on board the Freedom Flotilla are not interested in depositing their cargo in an Israeli port.

Another part of their reasoning is that Israel’s offer to pass the aid through land routes — in line with regulation — subtly refers to regulations that would see the bulk of the aid dumped. Israel allows a very specific, varying selection of goods into Gaza so it can claim to be helping. Including “sticks for brooms” and “cleaning products for tiles”, but not dental amalgam for fillings.

In fact, roughly enough dental amalgam manages to find its way into the country. But again, that’s a short-term solution. What Gazan dentists desperately want is young recruits to be able to study at universities. There are currently no anaesthetists in the strip. But the blockade prevents them travelling too.

In ten years as an aid worker, I’ve never been faced with such a one-sided problem. In Kosova, for example, we helped isolated communities of both Albanians and Serbs. One reason aid workers are so often accused of bias in Palestine is simply that precious few Israelis need our help!

Yet Israel insists on creating hostility where none need exist. The people who wielded sticks against soldiers two nights ago had no hostile intent. They were being attacked by armour-clad men leaping from helicopter gunships in the night.

Government responses must focus on this underlying cause: Israel’s inability to see that it is fomenting most of the trouble it tells us it is trying to suppress. William Hague has said directly the flotilla and its welcome “underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza”. The UN and EU have said much the same. Why is the world paralysed until the US joins in? And if Obama does dare, will we see the next flotilla escorted through the Israeli pirates by NATO ships?

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