It is not often that this site finds itself praising the actions of anyone associated with our present Government.
However the visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to Gaza last Thursday was a singular achievement.
This was the first visit of an EU minister to Gaza since the ‘war’ which devastated the ‘strip’ last January. It took place despite the trenchant opposition of Israel. Israel had turned down a request by Martin to visit Gaza last year and had also refused a number of requests from other EU ministers. The visit required a major diplomatic effort by Irish officials in Cairo, Ramallah and Tel Aviv. The Cairo link was especially important in persuading a reluctant Egypt to allow Martin to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt — the only entry point into Gaza not directly controlled by Israel.
The visit was strongly welcomed by most international organisations active in Gaza, none more appreciative than the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), the largest employer in Gaza, headed by former Irish Army officer John Ging. Martin correctly highlighted the unacceptable nature of the Israeli blockade on Gaza which has been in force since 2007 after Hamas defeated Fatah in a brief civil war. Israel had earlier imposed economic sanctions on Gaza when Hamas took power in Gaza after winning elections there in 2006.
In September 2009 a UN ‘fact-finding mission’ found the blockade to be in breach of international law as it ‘amounted’ to a collective punishment of the entire population and recommended that it be investigated by the International Criminal Court as a war crime or a crime against humanity.
Micheál Martin discreetly avoided all personal contact with Hamas officials in line with European Union policy. Martin avoided political comment and focused instead on the humanitarian crisis — in particular on the blocking by Israel of international aid allocated to Gaza which has so frustrated John Ging and his colleagues.
However while Martin’s visit was widely reported throughout the Irish and the Arab media, the response elsewhere was quite disappointing. Neither Sky nor the BBC appear to have picked it up. Even the French media who had widely reported Martin’s statement on the Dubai passports issue were relatively silent on the Gaza visit.
Martin’s visit does not provide any definitive answer to the problems of Gaza, Palestine and the wider Middle East. It doesn’t address the political and moral issues which exercised contributors to this site on the forged passports issue. However, it was an act of political courage which has highlighted the appalling conditions in which Gazans are now living. Israel has tried to minimise knowledge of this humanitarian crisis and Martin’s visit has briefly lifted that veil. This is a humanitarian crisis where avoidable human suffering can be alleviated. It is in the same category as the aftermath of hurricanes, earthquakes and famine.
The international community should be allowed to address it without prejudice to the emotive political disputes in the region. Indeed, a smart Israeli Government would do well to heed the advice of John Ging and Micheál Martin. Many individual Israeli citizens would agre, but with Bibi in charge now, and with international media apathy, it is hard to be optimistic.