Israelis reflect on flotilla raid

By Jon Donnison
BBC News, Jerusalem

Image caption,
Israel's overall policy towards Gaza shows little sign of changing

"Israel's eases three-year blockade. Gazans get jam and coriander" ran the debatably sarcastic headline in this morning's left-leaning Haaretz newspaper.

The article by the Israeli journalist Amira Hass, a long-time critic of Israel's blockade, outlined the first moves to relax the blockade, allowing in goods including canned fruit and crisps.

Ms Hass, one of the very few Israeli journalists to have got into Gaza to report from the territory, by no means represents the majority opinion in Israel, but there is a substantial minority who believes the blockade is at best counterproductive and at worst inhumane.

Israeli tightened the blockade in 2007 after Hamas took power. The Islamist movement had won elections in 2006, but Israel, the EU and the US refused to accept them in government. Hamas then forced their secular rival, Fatah, from Gaza in a violent struggle.

Israel says the blockade is necessary to put pressure on Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets into Israel over the past decade. Hamas has recently reined in the amount of rockets coming out of Gaza, but other militant factions continue to fire rockets sporadically.

Hamas is also still holding the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a raid by militants in 2006.

But four years on, the blockade has not pressured Hamas into releasing him, and the Islamist movement remains in power.

'More extreme'

Critics say the blockade had encouraged people towards more extreme groups operating in Gaza. Such groups, often called Salafists, share the ideology of al-Qaeda and believe Hamas are too moderate.

But Israel's overall policy towards Gaza shows little sign of changing despite mounting international criticism, including from Israel's strongest ally, the United States.

US President Barack Obama, announcing $400m (£273m) worth of aid for the West Bank and Gaza, said the situation in the territory was "unsustainable".

There has been widespread criticism in Israel of how the raid on the Free Gaza Flotilla, in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, was handled - "Flotilla Fiasco" and "Botched Raid" just two of the headlines in the Israeli newspapers over the past week.

And the Israeli politicians and the military are beginning to blame each other.

On Thursday, a foreign ministry official told the BBC they had warned the navy that carrying out the raid in international waters would be "bad for the country's public relations".

They added though that Israel believed the raid was perfectly legal under international law. And Israel insists it would do the same again.

Israeli opinion polls are not necessarily reliable. But one in the Israel Hayom newspaper, carried out by the New Wave Research Institute, suggested 91% of Israelis were in favour of the navy stopping any future attempts to break the sea blockade.

In the same poll, 73% of people asked said they did not believe the blockade of Gaza should be lifted. The researchers polled 561 people from Israel's Jewish population.

And the rhetoric from some of the military and the politicians backs that up.

Gen Uzi Dayan, a former deputy chief of staff, said if Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was to try to come to Gaza by ship, the Israeli navy should "sink it" and see it as "an act of war".

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