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Careful use of language over easing of Gaza blockade

Mark Urban | 18:17 UK time, Thursday, 17 June 2010


The devil in the Middle East is not so much in the detail as in the delivery.

Thursday morning's headlines about Israel "lifting its blockade of Gaza" immediately set me wondering what exactly had been promised, how it would be delivered, and for how long.

Sure enough, on the first issue, eagle-eyed Israeli journalists soon spotted that the government press releases announcing the move read differently in their Hebrew and English versions.

The English version reports an Israeli cabinet decision on Thursday morning: "It was agreed to liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza [and] expand the inflow of materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision."

The Hebrew version did not report any specific agreement or vote among the ministers, leaving Israeli reporters to conclude that the old policy concerning banned items was still in force.

Construction materials

However, other Israeli government sources insist that a change is already under way to allow a much larger flow of food, household goods, toys, and educational materials into the Gaza Strip.

Middle East old hands are all too familiar this kind of imprecision. It has occurred before in relation to freezes of Jewish settlements, removal of movement restrictions or, during the Second Intifada, ceasefires.

In each case a miasma of statements from different sources left reporters wondering why is this happening? Who decided? And how long will it last?

Even on its most optimistic reading, today's announcement falls short on many areas that would help Gaza - for example allowing the free import of construction materials (which Israel says is restricted because of their use in making rocket launchers).

Many Gazans complain they cannot re-build the damage done during Israel's 2009 Operation Cast Lead offensive because of the shortage of cement and other items needed by builders.

One Hamas official has denounced the announcement as "window dressing".

Room for manoeuvre

There are many reasons why these odd or imprecise announcements appear. Of course announcing one thing in the vernacular and another in English is something many Middle Eastern governments do when they wish to soothe domestic and global constituencies at the same time.

This tendency to give mixed messages is amplified by Israel's fractious coalition politics.

Another reason to remain vague about what the Cabinet has or has not formally agreed to is that it makes it easier to reverse any concession in future.

If there is a barrage of Palestinian rockets on a southern Israeli town, the cabinet may wish to re-visit the issue of what gets imported into Gaza.

No declaration of victory

It is the Palestinian experience of the vicissitudes of daily life that leaves them so cynical about the removal of checkpoint or lifting of other restrictions.

They know that if things get bad again, so will these bugbears of daily life.

Perhaps it is because of their experience that neither Hamas nor the Turkish organisers of the aid flotilla, on which nine lost their lives, declared victory today.

If after all, the blockade had been lifted it would be a major coup for both groups.

But both sides in the Middle East conflict have learned to measure their concessions carefully, and leave themselves free to revise them when the spotlight of publicity has moved elsewhere.


  • Comment number 1.

    On the main news tonight(17-6-10) the reader said "After Hamas seized power in Gaza..."Hamas did not seize power they were democratically elected,so in effect the BBC broadcast a lie.

  • Comment number 2.


    Peace in our time . . .

  • Comment number 3.

    are human rights 'concessions'?

    it is legal to fund raise for settlers in the uk. Cameron is a patron of the JNF. The Middle east advisers consistently come from a small group of pro israelis. The uk supplies weapons to israel. British citizens can serve in the IDF. its clear which side of the fence the uk policy stands?

  • Comment number 4.



    I believe the newsreader was referring to this.

  • Comment number 5.

    I can't believe anyone thinks Fox News is a reliable source of info on Palestinian affairs! Note the footage was exclusively of people shouting and jabbing their arms in the air, or carrying guns while sporting full-face balaclavas, not of the Palestinians (the vast, vast majority in the West Bank as well as Gaza) too embarrassed and distressed to be able to speak about 'the situation' (the Hamas v Fatah fighting of three years ago). No understanding of how, when too many people are caged in too small a space, with restricted access to food, power and other things we take for granted, and no privacy (the IDF may have pulled out of Gaza, but soldiers can still surveill pretty much the entire strip, from the watchtowers along the border,) they do occassionally lose the plot a bit. And things can only have got worse since Summer 2007. And, you know what, I reckon the Israelis' 'lifting the blockade' will make rock-all difference; you'll be able to count in kilogrammes (rather than tonnes) the amount of additional aid that gets in, because the Israelis will find some reason to keep it out.

  • Comment number 6.


    You object to Fox drawing attention to Hamas' ruthlessness? Go check another news outlet. I'm not your researcher.

    How about The Guardian? Or the BBC?

  • Comment number 7.



    This just in. Unless you can't believe the Jerusalem Post is a reliable source of info on Palestinian affairs!

    June 19th 2010

    "Ahned Assaf, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, said that Hamas authorities were continuing to summon hundreds of Fatah supporters every day for questioning. He said that many of them were being held in Hamas prisons or placed under house arrest.

    Assaf said that Hamas's actions prove that the movement is not really interested in achieving reconciliation with Fatah, but only in maintaining its grip on the Gaza Strip."

    Khaled Abu Toameh

    Read it yourself.

  • Comment number 8.

    Actually, I prefer to get my Palestinian news from (or

    And I'm not saying there aren't thugs in Hamas, because there are, just like there are thugs in Fatah, and in every community around the world, regardless of religion, race, political persuasion etc. But there are also people in Hamas who are no more aggressive than 'ordinary' people in Britain; the people, for example, who support/ed Hamas because they felt Fatah hasn't done enough to end the Occupation. That Fox News piece, however, was full of images of people behaving aggressively, not the people (on both sides) so upset they actually could not speak. Mind you, I suppose pracically every other foreign news outlet (the BBC included) seemed to concentrate on the aggression, because it made better footage: a handful of gun-toting muppets rampaging along a street, or a dozen students quietly eating falafel in a restaurant in the next street, which makes for better TV? Hmm...


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