Gaza’s borders are Israel’s too

During and after the recent conflict in and around Gaza, the media in the UK and many other commentators commonly referred to Israel’s ‘blockade’ of Gaza, imposed by closing the frontier crossing-points between Gaza and Israel.  Lifting this blockade has been one of the principal demands of the Hamas régime in Gaza.  Now Dave, who has contributed many well informed comments to discussions of Israel-Palestine issues on this blog, has sent me a copy of what seems to me an extremely interesting exchange of messages on the question of Gaza’s borders and the Israeli blockade.  The messages are exchanged between himself and a contact of his, here called simply ‘A’, an Israeli living in one of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank.  With Dave’s agreement, for which I am grateful, I have put the text of this exchange (“Gaza: frontiers or prison walls?“) on my website.  You can read it here.

In my short introduction to this text, I have written:

I am grateful to Dave, who has contributed many informative (and sometimes controversial) comments to my blog, for allowing me to put here this exchange of messages between himself and an Israeli contact, ‘A’, about the nature of the border between Gaza and Israel.  I know nothing of ‘A’, and not much more about Gaza’s borders, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of A’s remarks in this exchange.  Nor do I take sides over the issues discussed.  But many of the points made and the questions asked seem to me to shed fresh and useful light on issues which some of the UK media have perhaps tended to present in over-simplified black and white in their coverage of the recent tragic conflict.  Anyway, judge for yourself.

The text of the exchange of messages is at

If you wish to leave a comment on any aspect of the Gaza border question or on what Dave and ‘A’ have written about it, please do so here, in the space for comments below this.


15 Responses

  1. Ed Davies says:

    Could you explain the Royal Navy’s involvement?  I’d missed hearing about that and don’t feel terribly happy about it, to be honest.

    By the way, using abbreviated links like is useful in some circumstances but is to be discouraged where there’s no particular need for brevity.  The problem is that readers can’t see if they’ve already opened the page.  I’d already seen your page on this conversation (it appeared in your feed even though it’s not strictly a blog entry) but had to open it again to make sure that link really did point to the same thing.  Your CSS doesn’t distinguish visited from unvisited links (another small wrist slap is in order) but it’s easy to revert to default colours.

    Brian writes: Thanks, Ed. Dave has helpfully replied about the Royal Navy (see below).

    My UberWebmeister says he will fix the URLs to change colour when they are used. I didn’t realise that this was so important to anyone. Apologies.

    I don’t see any harm in treating new website pages the same way as new blog posts, even if it isn’t strictly speaking consistent. It means new pages can be read on feed aggregators, and that links to them are in the right-hand panel in the list of new posts. So I have decided to leave it. My new web pages are very few and far between.

    Long versus shortened URLs: I used the long URL in the first link where the link is attached to a short word (“here“) but then the short one ( lower down where I spelled it out for the benefit of those — and they do exist in the real world, you know — who don’t necessarily recognise hyperlinks from the colour and underlining, and who may be defeated by a long hyperlink such as which may run over into a second line and require copying and pasting into the browser’s address box to make it work. I know good and intelligent people who read my blog but who can’t cope with that. So I remain unapologetic and shall continue, where appropriate, to use the facility.

  2. Dave says:

    About the Royal Navy involvement, the closing words of the following extract from the BICOM newsletter of 18 Jan 2009 are in point:-
    A US-led NATO commitment to prevent Hamas rearming in the Gaza Strip.
    Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a memorandum of understanding in Washington on Friday in which the US committed to:
    “work with regional and NATO partners to address the problem of the supply of arms and related materiel and weapons transfers and shipments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, including through the Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and eastern Africa.”

    The following day, in what appears to be a coordinated step, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received a letter from the leaders of the key NATO allies Britain, Germany, Italy and France expressing their commitment to ensuring that weapons do not continue to reach the Gaza Strip. Speaking on Saturday Gordon Brown expressed his readiness to commit British naval force to stop smuggling to Gaza.”

    I thought I’d seen something more concrete but cannot trace it at present.

  3. Ed Davies says:

    Thanks Dave re the Royal Navy involvement.  Humph, maybe Britain should stay at home for a few decades rehabilitation after the last few centuries.

    The colour change on visited URLs is a long-standing web convention which is useful rather than terribly important.

    I, too, don’t see any harm in including new website pages in the feed.  I only commented on this page being there as an explanation of why I’d already read it and in case it was not what you intended.

    As to the short links, I’m afraid we’ll just have to agree to disagree.  Given that you normal links are in pretty much the same style as, for example, those on the BBC News website it’s difficult to see that there can really be a problem which needs fixing with awkward and opaque short URLs.

  4. robin says:

    The pieces by Dave’s friend are well worth reading, and taking into the information mix: I have no cause to question their factual accuracy, and the embedded comments are, at least relatively, not inflammatory. But is it not just a little ironic that comments on Israel’s legal right to control its own borders should come from an Israeli living, it appears, under the protection of Israel in territory outside those borders, occupied and controlled by Israel on, at best, dubious legal grounds?

    Legal rights, in a civilised society, cut both ways, and those who claim the protection of the law should live by it.


    Brian writes: You make, as usual, Robin, an excellent and telling point, if I may respectfully (and without irony) say so.

  5. Dave says:

    Pace Robin’s comments, A’s position is internally consistent whether or not you agree with him.  I recall from emails of some years ago that he believes Jewish settlements in the West Bank are lawful, relying on arguments similar to those of the late Eugene Rostow, former Dean of Yale Law School: <> . 
    I concede that Rostow’s opinion differs from that of many, if not most, other eminent authorities.
    The particular community where A lives existed prior to 1948, on land purchased bona fide from Arab landowners, and was  designated for inclusion as a Jewish community within the Arab state proposed under the 1947 Partition Plan. A number of such areas were overrun in the 1948 war and held by the Jordanians until recapture by Israel in 1967.  Btw there were also Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip prior to 1948.
    Under the Oslo Agreement of 1993 settlements were, of course, one of the issues earmarked for permanent status negotiations.

  6. John Miles says:

    Just had a vaguely relevant email from son David (  – currently working in Africa:

    “On a different note, I was wondering if Dad is still in touch with Oliver and possibly Brian Barder because of something that came up in an after dinner conversation recently. Several of us realised that we couldn’t really explain the USA’s unquestioning support for Israel, especially given that Israel was largely supported by the Soviets in their initial wars of independence in the late 1940s. Do you know the answer to that, or anyone else who might know it?”

    My own view is that any the influence of Soviet support my have had is long gone, but that David”s basic question is interesting and important.

    Any answers?
    Brian writes: Rather a big topic for debating in comments! But it’s a big and fair question. I suppose a starting-point might be the celebrated (or notorious) LRB article by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, and the many comments and alternative views that it prompted. One preliminary point perhaps worth making is that US policy towards Israel is by no means dictated solely, or even perhaps mainly, by Jewish Americans, a goodly number of whom are actually strongly critical of it. Fundamentalist Christians also form a large body of emotional support for Israel in the US. It’s also perhaps worth remembering that for many years Israel, with its socialist-style kibbutzes, was the darling of the British left, which has now apparently turned against it big time. That too needs some explaining. But others will have much more to say, I’m sure.

  7. robin says:

    I am grateful for Dave’s elucidation, having been unaware that there were such settlements as he describes on the West Bank. Perhaps the tangled historico/legal position of A’s place of abode, and other more recent West Bank settlements, demonstrates the futility of attempting to analyse the Istraeli/Arab affair in terms of law when what is clearly required is a political solution. But how to achieve that is a mystery………….


  8. Dave says:

    For partial corroboration of what A says about movement and checkpoints: International Herald Tribune article:-
    Gazans want open borders, not handouts
    The Associated PressPublished: March 2, 2009

    “In Gaza City, car parts dealer Nayef Masharawi, 60, said he was encouraged by the fact that top officials were meeting at all to talk about Gaza’s future. He said the blockade has been bad for business, noting that a gallon of Egyptian motor oil bought from tunnel smugglers costs nearly twice as much as the superior product he used to import from Israel. His last shipment from Israel arrived in May 2007, a month before the Hamas takeover.
    The elderly shopkeeper said he had fond memories of the 1970s when he would drive from Gaza City to his Mercedes supplier in the Israeli port city of Haifa, without borders or checkpoints.”

  9. Dave says:

    Concerning the points raised by John and David Miles, the Walt and Mearsheimer LRB article has been expanded into a book.  There was also an article by Michael Lind on the subject in Prospect even earlier than W and M, which gave rise to some controversy.
    Supporters of the Zionist entity have also published material with a considerable amount of information – their opponents would say misinformation – eg Mitchell Bard’s paper on US Middle East policy .  In a perfect world one would read the arguments of both sides.
    From what I can recall the USSR supported the creation of Israel in the UN in 1947 to twist the British Lion’s tail.  The Czechs, not the USSR, supplied weapons to Israel in the 1948 war.  Others may know whether that was before or after the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia.
    The USSR had no interest in supporting Arab rulers such as King Farouk of Egypt but saw opportunities when the Baathists and Nasserists came to power and by 1956 had armed Nasser to the teeth.  Zhores Medvedev has said that a tactless speech by Israel’s first ambassador to Moscow, Golda Meir, in which she invited Soviet Jews to settle in Israel, started a wave of anti-Semitic persecution in the USSR.  This came to an end, at least in its most extreme form, on the death of Stalin.  I haven’t heard that the Meir speech caused the USSR to support the Arabs, but who knows?
    I remember reading an article by Clark Clifford in a dentist’s waiting room, claiming that US support for the 1947 UN partition plan was by no means assured.  It was opposed by SoS Marshall but CC managed to persuade Truman to support it.
    There are things one reads over the years that may or may not be reliable and the source is forgotten, eg:

    Israel withdrew from Sinai in 1956 after Eisenhower threatened to bomb her.
    Eisenhower subsequently declared that his greatest mistake was not to support Israel, Britain and France in 1956.
    The US found Israel was a valuable intelligence source and this played a part in the decision to supply weapons: Mossad managed to get hold of the most advanced Mig 21 in 1966, studied it, and passed it on to the US a month later; years later they did something similar with the USSR’s most advanced radar installation.

    Some Israel supporters have contended that the US does not consistently support Israel.  For example, the supply of AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia took place despite Israeli objections.  It has been said that Israel was bounced into negotiating with Arafat unexpectedly at a time when the First Intifada had more or less burnt itself out and progress was being made in negotiations with local Palestinians.  Also, there were objections to the Roadmap on the basis that it required Israel to perform its obligations regardless of whether the Palestinians kept up to speed with theirs; however, I’m not aware that this has happened in practice.

  10. John Miles says:

    Whatever the explanation, it seems to be the case that the US has given – not sold – given to Israel billions – literally billions – of dollars’ worth of military hardware.
    Many people think this is true, thoogh of course it may not be.
    But this perception is one of the main reasons why so many Arabs hate both the Israelis and the the Americans so cordially.
    I’m inclined to agree with Amnesty that nobody should sell (or give) arms to either Israel or Gaza any more.
    Have I got it all wrong?

    Brian writes: As so often, I’m driven into what is bound to appear as a blindly partisan pro-Israeli position by propositions that strike me as leaning much too far the other way. I can’t see any justification for an arms embargo against Israel, which is surely the only sovereign state in the world whose continued existence is under constant threat from neighbouring countries whose régimes have openly and repeatedly declared their intention of destroying it by any available means, including terrorism and military action. It seems to me inconceivable that any future Israeli government would use imported weapons for unprovoked aggression against another country, or for internal repression, although I recognise that one man’s military action in self-defence is another man’s aggression. However, none of these defences of Israel’s right to import arms from abroad can be applied to (e.g.) Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, probably Syria, or other elements in Lebanon. Rockets and increasingly long range launchers continue to be smuggled into Gaza for Hamas: what possible use are they going to be put to if not the continued killing of innocent civilians in Israel?

  11. John Miles says:

    Is it really “inconceivable” that Israel would ever use imported weaponry for internal repression?
    Or for occupying other people’s territory?

    It seems to me that Israel and and its friends should ask ourselves exactly why the Israelis are so uniquely – as you point out – virulently hated by so many of their neighbours, and what they should try to do about it.
    At the moment the policy is dear old Oderint dum Metuant – Go ahead and hate me, I’m bigger than you are and much, much stronger.
    In the long run this never seems to work, and they may be stoking up a dreadful whirlwind for their children to reap.

    On the other hand it’s hard to see what might work any better; reconciliation takes an awful lot of time. If I were a Middle Easter of either persuasion I think I’d emigrate to somewhere I could make a decent life for myself and my folks. I can’t see peace breaking out there in my lifetime, or even in that of my as yet unborn grandchildren.
    Let’s hope I’ve got it all wrong.

    I know it’s not an exact parallel, and maybe modern people have shorter, more forgiving memories.
    But don’t forget there were around four hundred pretty nasty years between the Plantation of Ulster and the Good Friday Agreement.

    Brian writes: I don’t think that Israeli behaviour is a major cause of Arab and wider Muslim hatred of Israel and indeed of Jews generally. It goes back a lot further than the time when Israel started acting in ways likely to incur hatred. A lot of it obviously stems from the conviction that the existence of Israel itself constitutes unacceptable occupation of what should be Arab/Muslim land. The only way for Israelis to shed that kind of violent resentment and animosity would be to commit national suicide — or move Israel to Madagascar, one of the sites once considered as a possible Jewish homeland instead of part of Palestine. Of course the illegal settlements on the west bank, the dispute over Jerusalem and the remaining Arab refugees, the closing of Israel’s border with Gaza and the brutality of Israeli retaliation against attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas, taken together, don’t do much to reduce Arab hatred, but even if all these factors had never existed or had been amicably settled, it seems obvious that the virulent hatred would still be there.

    So I agree with your pessimistic conclusion. I can’t identify a critical mass of Palestinian or other Arab or Muslim opinion willing to co-operate with a secure Israel under a two-state solution, and anyway the future of Israel as a distinctively Jewish and liberal-democratic state is terminally threatened by the higher birth-rate of Israeli Arabs. Demography is a ticking bomb; if only the Arabs would be more patient….

  12. Dave says:

    The virulent hatred Brian refers to antedates the foundation of Israel.  In 1929, for example, in Hebron, where there had been a Jewish community for hundreds of years, 67 Jews were killed in a pogrom.  The remainder were driven out when the Arab uprising began in 1936.  Hebron now has one of the most assertive religious Zionist communities on the West Bank, founded post-1967.
    In January 1948 Sir Alexander Cadogan, addressing the UN C omission on Palestine on behalf of the British government, stated, “The Government of Palestine fear that strife in Palestine will be greatly intensified when the Mandate is terminated, and that the international status of the United Nations Commission will mean little or nothing to the Arabs in Palestine, to whom the killing of Jews now transcends all other considerations.”
    This perhaps lays me open to a charge of selective quotation.  The full paragraph reads, “”in the present circumstances the Jewish story that the Arabs are the attackers and the Jews the attacked is not tenable. The Arabs are determined to show that they will not submit tamely to the United Nations Plan of Partition; while the Jews are trying to consolidate the advantages gained at the General Assembly by a succession of drastic operations designed to intimidate and cure the Arabs of any desire for further conflict. Elements on each side are thus engaged in attacking or in taking reprisals indistinguishable from attacks…The Government of Palestine fear that strife in Palestine will be greatly intensified when the Mandate is terminated, and that the international status of the United Nations Commission will mean little or nothing to the Arabs in Palestine, to whom the killing of Jews now transcends all other considerations. Thus, the Commission will be faced with the problem of how to avert certain bloodshed on a very much wider scale than prevails at present.”
    As to the demographic time bomb, I have more than once read suggestions by Zionist commentators in recent years that a convergence of birth rates is developing, with a lessening of the Palestinian birth rate and an increase in the Israeli one, notably among the immigrants from Russia.
     All in all, though, I agree there are scant grounds for optimism.

  13. John Miles says:

    As I understand it, there were many Jewish communities throughout the Middle East which don’t, by and large and over the years, seem to have got on too badly with their neighbours; all this came to an dismal end with the establishment of Israel.
    Seems hard to believe it now, but I was once friends with a Jewish family who hailed from Baghdad.

    I don’t know much about Arab anti-semitism in the twenties and thirties, but feel that the threat of Zionism may well have played a part in bringing it about; David ben Gurion certainly went out of his way to excuse the Arabs’ behaviour, or anyway to look at it from their point of view.
    “We come from Israel, it’s true,” he said, “but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism – the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault?”
    You say, quite correctly, that some Arabs hated Jews well before the coming-to-be of Israel, but does it necessarily follow that they did so for the same reasons as so many of them hate the Israelis today?  

    I’d clean forgotten people once thought of Madagascar as a possible Jewish homeland.
    Whose bright idea was that?
    Did anyone see fit to ask the people of Madagascar what they thought of it?
    If so, what did they say?

    I also seem to remember once reading that Cyprus was once on offer, part of some shady deal between us and the Greeks during World War One?
    Or did I dream this?

  14. Dave says:

    John Miles raises more aspects than I have time to deal with adequately pro tem for various reasons.  

    The Madagascar idea was conceived by Ribbentrop but discarded.  I’m not aware he consulted anyone other than Reynhard Heydrich. 

    Cyprus I suspect is a red herring.  Jews caught by the British attempting to enter Palestine irregularly were frequently transferred to Cyprus. 

    The harmony between Jews and Arabs in the pre-Zionism era has been generally overstated.

    Per Martin Gilbert there were about 129,000 Jews in Iraq in 1948.

    The number of Jews driven out of Muslim lands in the years following 1948, according to the Israeli narrative, exceeded the number of Palestinian Arab refugees.  The Palestinian narrative contests this and asserts that most of the Jews left voluntarily.  Of course, the relevant Arab population is now far greater because of the higher birth rate. 

    I have been told that ca half the population of Israel consists of descendants of Jews from Arab lands, despite the Russian immigration.  Some of the Jewish communities had been established before the Arab conquests, eg in Morocco.

    Unfortunately, some of the Israelis in question, having been among the Arabs for about 2000 years, and often speaking Arabic, think they have a deep understanding of the Arab world…

  15. John Miles says:

    Who overstates the harmony between Jews and Arabs in the pre-Zionism era?
    Why do they do so?
    Who – if anyone – understates it, and why?

    Why is it unfortunate that “some …  Israelis … having been among the Arabs for about 2000 years, and often speaking Arabic, think they have a deep understanding of the Arab world?”

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