Refaat Alareer slams Turkey's latest accord with Israel

Refaat Alareer, editor of the Gaza Writes Back anthology of short stories from young writers in Gaza, and co-editor of the 2015 collection Gaza Unsilenced, has sharply criticized the deal that Turkey's government announced today with Israel, describing it as "scandalous" and unacceptably exploitative of the misery of Gaza's 1.8 million people.

Alareer teaches English and world literatures at the Islamic University of Gaza. He was speaking to JWB from Kuala Lumpur, where he is completing a doctorate on the work of English poet John Donne.

As reported here by Reuters, Turkey's deal with Israel brings to an end a six-year period of estrangement that was sparked by the Israeli navy's very violent 2010 storming on the high seas of the Turkish aid vessel the Mavi Marmara, and its killing of ten of the Turkish humanitarian activists on board. (One of those killed was also a U.S. citizen.)

The boat was trying to take humanitarian supplies to Gaza and by doing so to nonviolently break the siege that Israel has maintained around Gaza since 2006.

Under today's deal, Israel will pay some $20 million compensation to the families of the slain Mavi Marmara crew members and allow Turkey to send some humanitarian supplies into Gaza via the Israeli port of Ahdod. In return, Turkey has agreed to resume full diplomatic relations with Israel, to pass legislation shielding Israel and its citizens from any further claims by those slain in 2010, and to allow Israel to export natural gas through pipelines transiting Turkey for Europe.

In his phone interview with JWB, Alareer derided reports that Turkey had "won" the right to send 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Gaza. "We are not a humanitarian case," he stressed. "Our cause is political. If we can win an end to Israel's siege of Gaza, then Gaza can feed itself."

On his very informative Twitter feed, Alareer retweeted a graphic that that made this point simply and graphically (at right). In it a young boy says "Do not feed me a fish, fight with me to end the Israeli occupation so that I can fish freely."

Israel's restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza has remained extremely tight, even many years after the conclusion of the U.S.-mediated, 2005  "Agreement on Movement and Access" under which Israel pledged to allow a considerable amount of movement of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, and between Gaza and the outside world.

"Our maximum demand is that Israel end the occupation," Alareer said. "Our minimum demand is that they end the siege, which means that people and goods should be able to go in or out of Gaza freely." 

(Under international law, Israel as an occupying power is obligated to allow the residents of an occupied territory like Gaza to maintain their normal lives including economic activities and travel, subject only to measures that are immediately needed to protect the lives of Israeli combatants maintaining the occupation. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 also expressly prohibit the imposition of collective punishment of any kind on the residents of an occupied territory.)

Alareer said there is widespread anger in Gaza with Turkey's conclusion of the latest deal with Israel, and a deep sense of disillusion with the Turkish government, which for many years now has pledged to be a strong supporter of Palestinian rights and to work ceaselessly to end the siege of Gaza. 

"If Turkey actually wanted to help Gaza, then instead of simply sending in humanitarian supplies, they should pay the salaries for the 40,000 civilian government employees there who haven't been paid in many years," he said. "Honestly, if the Turkish government had said quite frankly that they could not end the siege, it would have been better. Instead of which, they claim the siege is now 'largely' lifted. That is not the case."

Alareer's own travails aptly illustrate the effects that Israel's tight controls on the movement of people and goods has on the lives of Gaza's 1.8 million residents. In the summer of 2014, when Israel launched an unprecedentedly fierce, 51-day-long military assault on Gaza, he was trapped outside the Strip, since he was doing his doctoral studies in Malaysia's. All he could do from that distance was worry about his family, who lived in one of the hardest hit parts of Gaza City, Shijaieh.

His brother Mohammed was killed in that assault, and the Alareer extended family's homes in Shijiaieh were all blown to smithereens. (His wife and five children survived.)

As soon as he could after that assault died down, Alareer made his way back to Gaza via Egypt. While he was there, he worked with fellow Gaza Palestinian Laila El-Haddad to compile Gaza Unsilenced, a powerful anthology of writings by Palestinians and others about the war, that Just World Books published in July 2015.

Then, once his family's situation was somewhat stabilized, he tried to leave Gaza again, to go finish his doctoral work in Malaysia. This time he found himself trapped inside Gaza. Four separate times he made the extremely wearisome trek to the Rafah crossing point to join the crush of fellow Gazans also trying to get out. It was only in May that he was finally able to escape.

He told JWB, "When I left Gaza this past time, things were really bad. But this deal with Turkey is really the last straw. We knew beforehand that we'd been betrayed by Mahmoud Abbas and by the Arab states, but so many people in Gaza had kept some last hope that Turkey would stay strong and help us to end the siege. Now, we know they have given in and abandoned us. For some people, it could look as if Turkey is now complicit with Israel in maintaining the siege-- or, they are very bad negotiators."

Alareer described the main sentiments in Gaza as being ones of helplessness and betrayal. "We see that promising young people from Gaza are setting out to leave there by swimming-- like so many people from Syria, or Libya. It is a desperate move, leading to near-certain death. They leave their families and all they hold dear.

"Now, the feelings of desperation are not just because of the siege and the Israelis, but also because of the effects of the political division among the Palestinians.

"Now, more and more people in Gaza are committing suicide, or committing crimes against other people in Gaza. Israel encourages this.

"In the West Bank, when people lose hope, they turn against the occupation, committing desperate acts against it. But in Gaza, the occupation is all conducted by remote control, so people turn on themselves, their families, or their neighbors," he said.

Just World Books is planning to designate July as "Gaza Month" this year. Look out for our special deals on our rich library of books about Gaza, which foreground the voices of Gaza's own talented but badly trapped people. Help us amplify these voices as widely as we can in the United States and around the world. 

Like the rest of Palestine, Gaza is not in any sense naturally-caused "humanitarian" disaster. It is a deeply harmful, politically caused disaster that has continued for far too long, for which the whole world (but especially the United States and its ally, Israel) have been responsible, and for which the whole world needs urgently to find a just and sustainable political solution.

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