Still alive, the first Arab boycott. Or, how do Israeli planes fly east?…asks Clive Kessler

June 22, 2015 by Clive Kessler
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A London-based journalist, I recently saw, argues that we should refuse to refer to BDS.

Clive Kessler

Clive Kessler

We must refuse, he contends, to give it even the back-handed recognition that our adoption of that terminology covertly offers it.

We should refer instead, he says, to “the second Arab boycott”.

This is a point with which I can readily concur.

Not just for political or doctrinal reasons but on very real and practical grounds as well.

The central point here is not one that is immediately apparent or graspable to people living in England, Europe and the Americas.

It is a very “oriental” problem.

It can be identified by means posing a simple question: how do Israeli commercial aircraft fly east?

El Al maintains services to Southeast and East Asia, and these are the services through which travellers from Australia and New Zealand connect to its Israel-bound flights.

In earlier times El Al could fly east not directly over Jordan, Syria and Iraq, but a little indirectly over Turkey and Iran.

No longer. These routes have long been denied them.

This was a point that I made, and tried unsuccessfully to have published as an opinion column in our nation’s general press, at the time when argument was raging about Israel’s “blockading” of Gaza.

The point still applies and warrants making again, especially in the hope that people in London and Paris, New York and Buenos Aires, will begin to recognize the powerful, damaging effects and continuing grip of the original Arab boycott.

How it continues to affect us here in this part of the world, and blight our lives, in just this one part of how we live.

About five years ago, in mid-2010, I wrote about “the long blockade”.


THE LONG BLOCKADE by Clive Kessler

Recently, after a long absence, I visited Israel.

About that country and its people I care deeply. But for many years I have not found it an easy or simple country to visit.

There needs, I have long-held, to be a full, decent and honourable settlement, on a basis and in a spirit of mutuality, of the intractable old issues that both divide Israelis and Palestinians yet yoke them desperately together. Until there is, Israel is a place that can be just too upsetting to experience.

Hence, in me and others too perhaps, a pained avoidance, born not of not caring but of caring so deeply. A caring not only for Israel and its people, nor just for reconciliation and peace, but for the Palestinian people, and about their hopes and their losses, too.

Yet recently, after more than ten year’s absence, I visited Israel. An old relative whom I respect and hold dear in my heart had contacted me.

Between major medical operations she had written to ask, when will I see you again, will I ever see you again? To a frail eighty-five year-old lady you do not say, “well, next year perhaps, if I can manage it”.

So I went to Israel.

I had been a student there for a year in 1960. Since then, over the next fifty years I had, until, earlier this year, made just three visits totalling some six weeks. Last March and April I was there for another four.

Of those four recent weeks, of my aunt’s health (she’s doing pretty well, really), of my impressions and experience I won’t speak now.

Only about getting there. When I first went to Israel, in 1960, it had been a marathon flight from Australia over three days, with many stops and airline transfers en route.

But, despite those complexities, it had been a fairly direct flight geographically, in a more or less straight line, after Singapore, across West Asia, Iran and Turkey and then, from the western or Mediterranean approach, into Israel.

My later flights into Tel Aviv, in the 1960s and then in 1999, had all been from Europe, from London or Berlin. So I was quite unprepared for the ordeal of my recent flight there.

From Sydney to Bangkok and then over Bombay we passed. All quite predictable. Then we headed southwest. I wondered what was afoot. Then it dawned upon me. Access to Israel and its airspace had to be found through small, internationally protected fissures between hostile territory.

After several hours flying across the Indian Ocean, but well clear, on its western shores, of Yemen, we banked to turn right over the Horn of Africa, over the Ogaden and Eritrea. Then we flew northwest over the narrowing Gulf of Suez. On our left, or port side, we had to avoid the Sudan and Egypt; on the right or starboard, we looked out upon but kept clear of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and then Jordan.

As the Red Sea gulf narrowed further it was tricky feat. To maintain a course down its centre-line entailed a lot of micro-navigation. A slight tilt to the right, a sudden lurch left, a trim once more to the right. It was like riding pillion on a drunkard’s bicycle, so demanding was the piloting challenge.

Finally, a hard right. It was, in aeronautical terms, like threading a needle. We flew midway through the small aperture of Sharm El-Sheikh and then up the Gulf of Aqaba, Egypt to the left and Jordan to the right, until we entered Israeli airspace at the head of the gulf near the twin cities, Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan.

Why did we take this tortuous route and why do I now write about it? Because of the long-standing boycott and blockade against Israel that is maintained by the Arab League nations and their allies.

How much this crazily roundabout route added to the cost of my airfare and how much additional and unnecessary atmospheric pollution it caused I do not know. But it turned what would otherwise have been an eight-hour flight in to one of almost twelve.

The need to follow this roundabout route is not a post-1967 phenomenon. It is not prompted by any new-felt imperative to counter the “conquests” of that year with strong symbolic resistance. It is not born of any desire, nor is it part of a tactic, to ensure that Israel returns to its pre-1967 borders, within the so-called old Green Line.

This closure of Israel goes back to 1948, to the original and continuing Arab Boycott. It is a boycott, contrary to international law so far as rights of innocent passage are concerned, against the existence itself, established under international law, of Israel.

So yes, by all means, it would be good if the blockade against Gaza were ended. It would be good too if the far older blockade against Israel were also lifted. Perhaps both could be lifted at the same time, as part of a concerted initiative towards regional and world peace.

Meanwhile, it would also be nice if those who, with good reasons, get so upset and express such outrage at the blockading of Gaza would remain mindful of the more than sixty-year old blockading of Israel.

They might even be a little ashamed of their great silence on the matter. If they cannot do that, then the tactical nature of their moral concerns and the narrow, selective focus of their ulterior political motivation will be plainly exposed.

Footnote: My old aunt, Mrs. Ruth Dror (born Cohen, married to become Freier, a name which was later Hebraized as Dror) died a couple of weeks ago, on June 8. She had been a member of the religious Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Emek Bet Shean since its foundation in the mid-1940s. A gifted and dedicated schoolteacher, she had pioneered the development of the entire education system in the kibbutzim of the “religious bloc” in that part of the country. She was, in her own quiet and very grounded and practical way, an isha gedolah beyisrael, “a great woman in Israel”.


One Response to “Still alive, the first Arab boycott. Or, how do Israeli planes fly east?…asks Clive Kessler”
  1. Leon Poddebsky says:

    What does the longevity of the “long blockade” tell us about the roles played by morality, law, justice, fairness in international relations?

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