Boycott Israel (and a bloomin' big orange)

March the 30th 2011 is International Boycott Israel Day, when various apparently well-meaning organisations with all the supposed best intentions encourage You The Consumer to avoid purchasing anything made or produced in Israel. This, they claim, will deliver a message the Knesset simply can't ignore that the rest of the world has seen the human rights abuses carried out by Israel against the people of Gaza, the oppression under which the Arabs are forced to live and the general murderous unpleasantness of the Jewish state.

March the 30th is Boycott Israeli Goods Day. Is refusing to purchase Israeli goods and effective way to relieve the plight of the Palestinian people?

Now, anyone with any humanity and sense will be opposed to human rights abuses, and that's very obviously a good thing. But all too many of us fail to scratch below the surface of what is presented to us as Truth - there's an old saying that the best thing about the Internet is that absolutely anything can publish anything they want to publish, and the worst thing about the Internet is that absolutely anything can publish anything they want to publish. This means that of the enormous amount of literature out there on the Internet dealing with Israel and Gaza, the vast majority is written by people who either have hidden agendas - pro-Hamas or, sometimes, good old fashioned antisemitism (because many people appear to have difficulty in distinguishing "Israeli governmental policy" and "all Jewish people in the world from one another) or, more commonly, people who have little idea what's really going on and derive the bulk of their information from whichever voices can shout the loudest.

Now, we lefties are well accustomed to all the terrible policies governments hath wrought and equally as accustomed to supporting anti-government uprisings - the popular image of the Freedom Fighter is powerful and enduring, and the Hamas member with his stylish keffiyeh is an impressive figure as he faces IDF tanks armed with his trusty, rusty AK-47. But just as we attack Western beauty fascism by telling all and sundry that beauty is only skin deep, and below the epidermis that gorgeous supermodel is an ugly and confused mess of anorexia and body dismorphic disfunction churned up by the Fashion Industry, we need to remind ourselves that the same applies in this case: that uber-cool freedom fighter style is only skin deep, and what we have below it is a terrorist who thinks nothing of murdering innocent men, women and children. Last week, a baby was stabbed to death in a West Bank settlement. How did Hamas respond to this sickening, outrageous horror? They called it "a heroic operation." Stabbing babies is heroic? If Bonnie Tyler ever got that hero she was searching for, she can keep him - I'd rather have nothing to do with that sort of "person," thank you very much.

Similarly, we need to understand that the Israeli government is not the demon it is so often painted to be. OK, not all Knesset policies are above criticism. No government is perfect, and we need to make sure we always let them know when we're unhappy about something they've seen fit to inflict upon us - but the Israeli government is no worse than any other. Also, those who are considering taking part in the boycott would do well if they tried to ignore the loud anti Israeli rhetoric, suspend our indoctrinated prejudices and have a little look at some of Israel's policies. They make interesting reading.

Let's begin with what would happen if we all stopped buying Israeli products and, in doing so, removed the greater part of the country's annual income. Israel's gross domestic product (GDP) stood at $199,456,000,000 for 2010.

They'll have spent a fair chunk of that on the military, you may be thinking, and you'd be right - 6.9%, or $13,762,464,000 to be precise. That's a lot of money and yes, it would be wonderful and lovely if they spent it on schools instead. However, most of Israel's neighbours are somewhat less than neighbourly and have spent much of the last six decades calling for Israel to be destroyed and her citizens slaughtered. This means that she needs, absolutely requires, a powerful, well-equipped and well-trained military; otherwise there'll be a lot of corpses and no children to attend those hypothetical schools (incidentally, Israel spends 10% of its GDP on education, which explains why this tiny state with few natural resources has risen to become one of the world leaders in science and technology in less than 70 years of existence). You can't fault the Israeli government for wanting to protect the civilians it serves (unless you happen to be the most moronic type of antisemite who wishes for all Jewish men, women and children to be murdered - in which case, you may as well stop reading right now because we're going to be discussing human rights here, which is something your poisoned, poisonous little mind is incapable of comprehending). After all, that's what governments are supposed to do.

Operation Cast Lead brought widespread condemnation of Israel after it became clear that the IDF had used white phosphorous weapons. White phosphorous is nasty stuff - although it does have legitimate uses in warfare, using it against human beings, especially civilians, is considered reprehensible on the world stage if not actually in violation of international law. Following the operation, Israel launched an inquiry into its use, and army officers found guilty of irresponsible use or other human rights violations were punished.

One thing that may come as a surprise is that Hamas too has used white phosphorous - and is the subject of a huge amount of concern over its own human rights record - but to date hasn't even pretended to make any attempts to bring anyone to book over either. The difference here is that while Israel avoids deliberately targeting civilians - and despite anti-Israel accusations, has never been shown to do otherwise - that Hamas considers doing so a perfectly acceptable way to wage war. That's why civilian townships such as Sderot, just a kilometre from the Gaza border, has been hit by so many Qassam rockets.

It's beginning to look as though Israel values human life more highly than does Hamas, isn't it? Let's now look at healthcare expenditure. Israeli hospitals are first class, among the best in the world and far and away the best in the Middle East - many people who have experienced it have said that it compares favourably with that in the USA. Participation in a medical insurance plan is compulsory for all Israeli citizens, though all are guaranteed the same care regardless of financial wealth, combined with government expenditure equal to around 7.8% of the country's GDP - or, $15,557,568,000 if you prefer a long number. Note, if you will, that this is
$1,795,104,000 - more than one and three quarter billion dollars - more than is spent on the military. As the Israeli population is 7,653,600, healthcare expenditure per capita (total health spending/population) is just under $2,032 per annum. In Gaza, it's $138. You can argue all you want that Gaza suffers from chronic underfunding, but the fact is Gaza doesn't need a powerful army. Gaza's neighbours do not want to wipe it off the Earth, nor do they want to wipe the population out. In fact, the only neighbour with whom it has any argument is Israel, which voluntarily pulled its military out of the state and allowed it to establish self-rule in 2005, returning only when the Qassam rockets threatened Israeli lives.

Why, then, does Hamas need to spend money, when it has so little to spend on healthcare, on weapons? Is it because they need to keep the population of Gaza, who may have voted Hamas into power but would probably waste little time in getting rid of them again were it not for the fact that opposing Hamas tends to lead to one being thrown from the roof of a tall building as an example to anyone else who fancies a bit of freedom, need to be kept in their place? Hamas could divert what they spend on arms to healthcare - or perhaps they don't really have the general population's welfare at heart? Luckily for the Palestinians, Israel doesn't limit admissions to its hospitals to Israeli citizens - they're also willing to offer medical assistance to Palestinians.

Hmm. That reminds me - didn't Israel once offer to treat wounded Gaza residents in one of its field hospitals, as used to great effect in Haiti following the earthquake? Apparently, yes it did. And apparently, Hamas refused. Not what you'd expect from an organisation dedicated to ending Israeli tyranny over the Arab people, but quite consistent with anyone who doesn't want to the population to think "Hang on - remember when those IDF medics saved little Achmed's sight after he got hit by shrapnel? Maybe they're not monsters after all - in fact, I'm starting to wonder if Hamas might be nothing more than a criminal gang of thugs and whether we might not be a lot better off we booted them out and made friends with the Israelis."

Finally, let's take a look at another Israeli policy which for some reason doesn't seem to get much coverage in the global press - the provision of humanitarian aid to Gaza. We all know what happened in May 2010 when IDF commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, a so-called peace vessel carrying food and medicine.

We all know what happened as a result, too - Israel was demonised in the world press, who seem to have lost interest in what's going on off the shores of Gaza since then because with very few exceptions they entirely neglected to mention what showed up in the hold of the Victoria, a ship boarded 200 miles off the Israeli coast last week. Stashed away under sacks of lentils and fabric was a tasty selection of military hardware including ammunition, mortars, one coastal radar system, two hydraulically-operated missile launchers and a matching pair of computerised command stations and - the pick of the bunch - six Iranian C-704 anti-shipping missiles, all apparently put on board when the ship docked in Syria last Monday and heading for the eager hands of Hamas. It's true that Israel blocks the transport of certain goods into Gaza - some of them are admittedly a little strange, such as coriander - and expects the right to inspect all shipments into the the Strip. However, last week's discovery rather suggests they have every right to do so.

This brings us rather conveniently onto what Israel does allow into Gaza, and what it has provided. In the first quarter of 2010 alone, Israel provided the following among many other items:

40,000 tons of wheat (sufficient to bake 53 million loaves of bread)
2,760 tons of rice (about the same as 69 million servings from your favourite local Chinese takeaway)
553 tons of baby food and formula milk (3,100,000 days' worth for a 6 old month baby - or just over 8493 years - or, since this was for one quarter alone, enough to feed 33,972 babies for a year, which ought to have been enough since the total population of Gaza is less than half a million)
1,987 tons of clothes and shoes (not quite sure what that equates to in "real world" terms, but it's probably even more clothes and shoes than my missus owns)

To put this into context (and to enable us to line up a narrative device), think if you will of a juicy Jaffa orange. I've got one right here which I've just dissected and discovered to have a strangely-metric-for-Nature ten segments (I don't usually count orange segments, as doing so would probably be considered OCD). Right, now imagine that your mental orange is a little bigger than the average orange - in fact, imagine it's the Megaorange and weighs in at 45,300 tons. That's one big orange - and it's also equal in weight to the humanitarian aid listed above. Nine segments of the Megaorange are roughly equal to the wheat that Israel provided to Gaza in those three months. Around two thirds - 6% or the orange - are equal to the rice. A bit less than half a segment, 4%, is equal to the clothes and shoes. The rest - 1.2% - is equal to the baby food, which doesn't seem that much but babies don't eat very much.

Support Gaza! Buy Jaffa oranges! (You should also buy them because they're yum)

Think about it next time you eat an Israeli orange - you are not contributing to the oppression of the people of Gaza, you are contributing to their welfare. Don't accept everything you're told without question, because people with hidden agendas want to take advantage of you.

Question everything - and, on March the 30th, buy something produced in Israel and make sure you enjoy it. It's the simplest and most effective way you can help the people of Gaza.

Anyway, that Israeli Jaffa orange I dissected back there? It was my last one, so I'm popping out to the local grocery for some more. I'll buy them with pride and they'll taste even sweeter than they did in the past.

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