Sunday, 20 June 2010

Beware of pasta

The justification (or should that be "justification"?) for the blockade of Gaza has always been to preserve the security of Israel by keeping out dangerous materials. If pressed, apologists sometimes elaborate the justification from preserving security, to preserving Israel's very existence.

So, now that the announcement has come that the blockade is being eased after the public relations disaster of the storming of the Mavi Marmara and the detention of the aid flotilla on the high seas (footage of which, having been saved from confiscation, can be seen here)

it's interesting to have a look at the list of things which can not be brought into Gaza.

Sewing machines, razors and spare parts for tractors are a no-no. Fair enough. Ingenious people, Palestinians: one can see how tractor parts, blades and perhaps needles could be cobbled together to make some sort of cutting (or perhaps sewing, or harrowing) missile which would threaten the security of the most heavily armed country in the Middle East.

Flavourings and smell enhancers, A4 paper, and something called "industrial margarine" are also banned, possibly in case an attack of greased paper planes impregnated with vile smells is planned.

But, OK, flavour enhancers have got to be chemicals, haven't they, and there may be some fiendish method of engineering them into something even nastier and more vuirulent than pine air freshener. The same goes for pencils, also banned - the graphite in them must be dangerous, I think.

Clothing fabric cannot be brought into Gaza. Nor can baby chicks. Nor can seeds. Nor can dried fruit. Nor can sage, cardomom, ginger, nutmeg, halva and, until now, jam, although apparently the "easing" of the blockade will henceforth permit the import of jam.

Rejoice, for jam is going to be available to the Palestinians of Gaza... tomorrow. Halva too, though apparently chocolate remains on the banned list unless brought in by a humanitarian organisation: it cannot be imported by merchants to sell.

Pizza, macaroni, and biscuits are also banned, lest they threaten Israel's security or its very existence.

In 1990, as Saddam invaded Kuwait, I was in Naples watching Italians panic-buying tins of tomatoes and packets of pasta. I was bemused by this at the time, because the products being swept off the shelves were staples produced in Italy, not imports whose prices and availability depended on peace in other countries.

But seeing that macaroni is banned from Gaza makes me think that maybe those Neapolitan shoppers were onto something. They were not, as I had assumed, spurred by atavistic memories of 1944 in Naples when the warehouses were boobytrapped and the sea mined, when there were no cats to be seen because they had been eaten ("and frankly," said a friend, "there were no rats either."), when all the trees for a day's walk outside the city had been stripped of their bark which was boiled up for soup.

No, they were not stocking up on food as I had supposed, but cunningly preparing an arsenal to be used if Saddam, not stopping at Kuwait, had swept west, crossed the Meditterranean and landed in Calabria.

They were preparing to defend themselves with tomato-paste missiles and the macaroni of mass destruction.

And it's obvious from reading the partial list of items banned in the blockade (apparently the list changes almost daily, but numbers about 4000) that macaroni is as dangerous today as it has always been, along with baby chicks, olives and soft drinks.

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