Gaza: The good, the bad and the ugly

In recent weeks I have received numerous emails containing photographs of beautiful buildings and pristine neighbourhoods in Gaza but have refrained from sending them out because, in doing so, it might have created the wrong impression. You see, there are many parts of Gaza that are not beautiful and where living conditions for the population are difficult to say the least. However, by the same token, not all parts of Israel, particularly within its urban areas look like the neighbourhood of Savyon.

Still, there are many groups including parts of the media that go out of their way to create the wrong impression about Gaza. They claim that people are starving there, that the sick cannot get treatment, that the place is a pile of rubble and even more absurdly, that it is a squalid open air prison. I have previously noted the amount of humanitarian aid provided through Israel including food, clothing and medical care and that living conditions including life expectancy, literacy and numeracy in Gaza are superior to many other parts in the Middle East. It is not paradise out there but these facts have somehow seemed to get in the way of some very “tall stories” about life in Gaza.  

The pictures of Gaza’s beaches, its restaurants, shopping malls, sports arenas and theme parks all play a role in showing that this often talked about small strip of land ruled by Hamas since its bloody and violent takeover of Gaza in 2007 is not the complete humanitarian disaster area that the media might have you believe.

The problem is that Gaza is a political disaster area and this is due not to Israel and its blockade designed to prevent serious weapons from being smuggled into Gaza for use by forces determined to destroy Israel and commit genocide against its Jewish inhabitants (see The Hamas Covenant) but the result of the activity of Hamas and its associated terror groups and their supporters who cleverly manipulate the events taking place in this tiny part of the world.

Take this one image I came across a few months ago of the Crazy Water Park in Gaza, a place frequented by Gazan families (and not by out-of-towners or the Gazan elite as is the case with the Roots Club). After years of hearing unsubstantiated tall stories of how Gazan children are forced to play in sewerage puddles because Israel routinely blocks off the water to Gaza, this park was of particular interest to me. I was pleased to see that Gazan families were able to get out and enjoy a facility like this water park and that something was being done there to improve their lives.

The Crazy Water Park in Gaza, if nothing else, was a sign that clean water does exist in Gaza (a fact that backed up last week by the entry into the Gaza Strip of 250 tons of construction materials, including pipes and iron in order to upgrade the sewage treatment plan which will allow for the proper treatment of wastes for residents of Gaza and will reduce runoff into the Mediterranean Sea).

So you can imagine my dismay when I heard the latest news that the park was ordered to be closed down for three weeks by the attorney-general of the Hamas administration because the fact that men and women mix together means that the place violates Islamic tradition. Then, 40 unidentified militants stormed the area, setting fire to the restaurant and administration building, as well as vandalising other areas as well (see more).

Alladein al-Araj, the director general of the park said, “I’m astonished that there are fanatical people acting to obstruct the development of tourism in the Gaza Strip”.

I guess he has hit the nail on the head. While everyday Gazans are trying to move forward, earn a decent living and live a normal life, elements within the Hamas Government are attempting to stop any sort of progress in the region. For an area with so much manufacturing potential and capability, it is a shame that its rulers prefer to hold 1.5 million residents hostage for the sake of public opinion. Newly released statistics show “Real GDP growth in the first half of 2010 (compared to the first half of 2009) is estimated by the IMF at 9 percent for the West Bank and 16 percent for Gaza”(see more).

In the meantime, following the release of the list on controlled items into Gaza in late June, much has changed in terms of what is able to enter into Gaza as a part of Israel’s easing of the blockade. Just yesterday came the news that for the first time since the Hamas coup, Israel will allow the transfer of vehicles for the Palestinian private sector (see more). While the amount of vehicles has not been determined, hopefully there will be a supply and demand system in place.

With this in mind, I was interested to read about another “aid convoy” headed mainly overland organised by one of those groups that I mentioned above who are part and parcel of ensuring that Gaza remains a political disaster area.

I refer to “Viva Palestina” – an organisation headed by former British MP George Galloway (for those of you unfamiliar with George Galloway, please click here, though I do prefer to refer people to this video of Galloway for a greater understanding of the man!). According to Terrorism Info, the convoy will “pass through various European cities (including Turkey) where it will be joined by pro-Hamas/pro-Palestinian activists. It will then go to Syria and meet trucks from Jordan, leaving the Syrian port of Latakia and sailing to the port of El Arish. There the convoy will be enlarged by trucks from North African countries” (see more). According to the Viva Palestina website (which I will not be linking), around 150-200 vehicles will make up the convoy.

The group’s aim is ostensibly to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza and to end the blockade, a sentiment that has been echoed by other flotillas and convoys, despite the easing of the blockade by Israel in June. Its real aim is more sinister – to deligitimise the Jewish State and to strengthen Hamas’ grip on Gaza and its citizens.

Viva Palestina’s missions raise an interesting question that was posed by Israel’s Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem over the Rosh Hashanah period: Why is it that these people who are so obsessed with the humanitarian issue in Gaza are not concerned with the real humanitarian crisis that is happening right now in Pakistan as the country continues its struggle following the severe flooding in July?  At least 18 million people have been affected by the floods. UNICEF estimates that “About 105,000 kids younger than 5 are at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition over the next six months” (see more). The UN is launching an appeal to raise more than 2 billion dollars in aid. Where are all of these wonderful humanitarians who bravely got on boats and sailed to Gaza in order to deliver aid? Why are they not pooling their resources together and sending 150-200 trucks worth of aid to the people of Pakistan?

Perhaps these groups would not want to expose the fact that what they are carrying does not actually constitute aid given that most of it was either carelessly wrapped and/or out of date as was shown by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and verified by the BBC’s Jane Corbin in her “Death in the Med” documentary for the Panorama program (see here and here)? When a group’s real aim is not humanitarian aid, it would be difficult for it to step up to the plate and start delivering real aid to a place where it is actually needed.

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