Aiding Israel: Love thy neighbour

Featured image: Comic by Carlos Latuff.

On this day last year members of the third Viva Palestina overland convoy arrived in Gaza after a month of travelling from London. Their arrival would have been much earlier had it not been for major obstacles posed by the Egyptian authorities. They were barred from entering Egypt via the Red Sea causing the convoy of about 500 people to be stranded in Aqaba, Jordan for five days. They were then forced to detour for more than 500 miles to Latakia, Syria where there were more delays before they could sail via the Mediterranean Sea.

When the convoy finally arrived at the port town of Al-Arish in Egypt, they were quarantined for hours in the airport and had their passports confiscated. Later they were put under house arrest in various hostels in town before they were taken to the port where their vehicles were quarantined—only to be locked up within the port gates for a couple more days. As Egyptian officials negotiated with convoy leaders on which vehicles were allowed to enter Gaza, a major scuffle broke out between convoy members and the Egyptian riot police. Bloodshed and bruises later Egyptian police escorted the convoy to the Rafah border where they crossed into Gaza and were finally “free”. Egypt had only allowed the convoy 48 hours in Gaza before they would close the border and continue to keep it under siege.

But convoy members only stayed for about 30 hours following overnight Israeli air raids. When they crossed back into Egypt they were transported directly to the Cairo International Airport where every single convoy member was deported back to their home countries. Unlike members of the Freedom Flotilla who were attacked by the Israeli navy in international waters, the challenges faced by this convoy—delays, detours and detentions—were imposed by an Israeli proxy: Egypt. And while the global movement for a free Palestine prefers to keep the spotlight focused on Israel in their narrative, the fact is Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine is aided even by its traditional “foes”, namely member states of the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

How so? In the case of Egypt it is straightforward. Egypt openly supports Israel’s siege on Gaza by keeping its Rafah border mostly closed and by constructing the controversial steel wall to prevent access of goods into Gaza via underground tunnels. The result is manifold: About 1.5 million people (half of whom are children) are trapped in Gaza, supply of basic goods and medical aid are cut off from a population of which 80 percent is dependent on food aid, inflation rises and Gazans are forced to do business with Israel using —and empowering—the Israeli shekel.

But Israel’s other Arab League and OIC allies are more closeted. They take a strong and loud diplomatic stand against Israel but does business with the state on the quiet. Turkey, which lost nine of its citizens to Israeli bullets on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, saw an increase of 30 percent in its trade with Israel in 2010. According to Israel’s Commercial Attaché in Ankara, Doron Avrahami, in an interview with Israeli news portal Ynet, “The political events have not had a bad influence on business between the two countries in the public sector.”

The same can be said about business with members of the Arab League. Though the League maintains a Central Boycott Office member states have generally abandoned the three-tiered boycott they declared following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Today, against the spirit of their declaration prohibiting individuals, businesses and organisations in member states from engaging in business with any entity that does business in Israel, Starbucks can even sit at the heart of the holy city of Makkah. But while passionate Muslims around the world are ever ready to burn the flag of Israel in public rallies, they are not prepared to take the same stand against Israel’s Arab and Muslim partners who keep the occupying state economically secure.

Published in Malaysian Digest

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