One of the key targets of the “Great March of Return” protests in Gaza, which began six weeks ago and culminated Tuesday, is Israel’s brutal, decade-long blockade of the small territory, which is about the size of Detroit. The siege has caused Gaza’s economy to shrink by one-half, and the United Nations has warned that it will soon render Gaza literally “uninhabitable.”
For its part, Israel knows who’s to blame for the 100-plus Palestinians dead and the thousands wounded during the demonstrations: Hamas. “They’re pushing civilians – women, children – into the line of fire,” Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu claimed this week, with no evidence whatsoever. The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, tweeted that Hamas’s “tools for infiltrating Israel” include “children,” “disabled civilians,” and, most terrifyingly, “rope tied to fence.”
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But there’s a stupendous historical irony to Israel’s manufactured outrage: Israel itself claimed that a far less stringent embargo by Egypt in 1967 was a legitimate casus belli for Israel to attack Egypt (which led to Israel seizing control of Gaza and eventually imposing the embargo on it).
Israel opened fire first during the Six-Day War on June 5, 1967, with an air and land attack on Egypt. But, Israel declared, Egypt had actually started the war several weeks before, when it blockaded the Straits of Tiran, which prevented Israel from shipping goods through the Red Sea.
But if it were legal for Israel to bomb and invade Egypt in 1967 and then occupy Palestinian land for decades, it logically follows that Palestinians in Gaza have had the right to attack and occupy Israel ever since the Israeli blockade began in 2007. Fair’s fair. This absolutely doesn’t mean that Palestinians should do that, even if they somehow could, which they can’t. But the silent hypocrisy surrounding the issue is bleakly funny — Israel can fire missiles, drop bombs, and seize land when subjected to a blockade, but Palestinians are monsters when they throw rocks and burn tires in response to a much more suffocating siege.
Israel’s 1967 legal stance can be found in a speech at the U.N. by the country’s then-Foreign Minister Abba Eban. Here’s the key paragraph:
The blockade is by definition an act of war, imposed and enforced through armed violence. Never in history have blockade and peace existed side by side. From May 24 onward, the questions who started the war or who fired the first shot became momentously irrelevant. There is no difference in civil