Gaza – an update, including opening of a Mall

Since the Flotilla incident of late May, several news reports have focussed on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. There is no doubt that conditions must be difficult for people living under the yoke of the Islamist movement, Hamas which seized total power in the enclave after a bitter and bloody power struggle with Fatah in 2007. Since attaining power, Hamas has continued its refusal to recognise the State of Israel and its terrorist wing has carried out attacks using thousands of mortars and short-range rockets on Israeli civilian targets and has also cultivated links with other terror organisations leading to the imposition of economic sanctions and a blockage by both Israel and Egypt. 

Despite Israel’s easing of the blockade in early July, reports claiming that Gaza is in the grip of a major humanitarian and economic crisis persist. One such report appeared on the Sky News website, where it was reported that the situation is still “dire”. The article quotes John Ging, head of the UN’s Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, “Now we have to focus on the economy. We have 800,000 refugees queuing at our food distribution centres. They can’t afford to buy cans of Coca Cola from Israel… We now have to focus on getting these people back to work, on starting an economy, and that’s all of course about bringing in raw materials, starting the construction industry and then exports.”

 Most of us would agree with Ging that for the betterment of the population of Gaza, the Palestinian people as a whole and their neighbours and for the sake of peace, there should definitely be a focus on building a strong and viable Palestinian economy. In the West Bank where the Palestine Authority remains in control, the economy is slowly building up and the people are benefitting from this in a significant way. In many ways, there is much that their brothers and sisters in Gaza can learn from them.

BUT … people like Ging need to be a little bit more honest about the situation in Gaza. Things might be tough but Gaza is not in the mire which Ging and others try to paint it and, in fact, living conditions are better in Gaza than many other parts of the Arab and Islamic world – certainly better than in many parts of Africa such as Darfur where the genocide of the black population continues with little more than background noise from the United Nations and the media.

On the same day that Ging was waxing lyrical about the “dire” situation in Gaza, a brand new shopping mall was being opened across town. Among other things, the well attended launch of this new shopping mall (and I’m surprised Ging wasn’t invited) tells us two things. Firstly, it tells us that building materials are getting in to Gaza, which is consistent will Israel’s commitment to allow in building materials for particular projects. The second thing it tells us is that there is the demand in Gaza for a shopping mall which stocks some expensive products. This is not consistent with the message that many reports emanating from Gaza are trying so hard to tell us.

I am not trying to assert that there is no poverty in Gaza – poverty exists there just as it does in Israel where the poor at least have some semblance of assistance from the state (and I’m not saying things are perfect on that score either) rather than the cosmetic one attributed to them by Hamas which is unpopular and rules the population by fear. The question however, is whether the situation in Gaza is as bad as the world media would have us believe?

I would suggest not if Tom Gross’s analysis and photos of shopping malls, restaurants and Olympic-size swimming pools is any guide. Gross shows us that despite what we are being told, there are positive things happening in Gaza. Not enough perhaps, but it is a good start.

The day after the mall opening, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton held a press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. She declared, “the position of the European Union is clear – the blockade is unacceptable, unsustainable and counter-productive, and not in the interests of any of those concerned,” (Agreed, but so is Hamas and its continued belligerent stand towards the Jewish State and its people). 

She also stated, ‘in terms of some of the economic issues that we have discussed, I am very keen that we are able to provide for the ordinary people of Gaza a better life than the one I saw today,” so I would be interested to know, as many other commentators have been asking (see here and here), which Gaza Ms. Ashton was shown on her visit? How did she miss the tens of thousands of Gazans that visited the site of the mall and other places highlighted by Mr. Gross?

Last week Israel made arrangements for medical equipment including a CT scanner and an X-ray machine to be delivered to the Shifa Hospital. It also allowed materials for three greenhouses as a part of a USAID project. 27 truckloads from last week’s Libyan aid ship were delivered in addition to the 35 truckloads transferred the day before. This is in addition to the 150 truckloads that come in daily (see more).

Therefore, as Lebanon, with the assistance of Hezbollah and Syria, attempts to send another flotilla next week in an effort to break the blockade, we need to continually ask the question, why? When there is so much aid going in each day, when Israel has already eased restrictions in a very significant way and all around Gaza we are seeing examples of a better standard of living than is constantly being portrayed on the news, is there a need to keep organising these flotillas? Do we need more flotillas with violent jihadist cutthroats on suicide missions embedded among those who claim to have peaceful intentions? Why, when the only people that would most benefit are involved in the very same Hamas regime (see its Covenant here) that is bringing this so-called “dire” situation upon the population of Gaza and its neighbours?

Surely, it’s time for world leaders and the world media to review what is really happening in Gaza. The only way the world can “Free Gaza” is to free Gaza from Hamas. Only then can we start thinking realistically about ways in conditions for people in the region on both sides of the divide be improved and the path to peace be truly paved.

Finally, please read this fantastic article, entitled ‘Palestinians in the Arab World: Why the Silence?’ by Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab-Israeli journalist who was in Australia in May.

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