PDA

View Full Version : Nat'l Security Gaza Reality


HonestChieffan
06-08-2010, 07:27 AM
Dispatch: Just how hungry is Gaza?
Despite its blockade, Israel insists Gazans are not starving and there is no humanitarian crisis. The enclave's poverty is not as bad as the worst parts of Africa but a people struggle to cope amid the rubble left by cross-border strikes.

Adrian Blomfield in Gaza City
Published: 6:59PM BST 05 Jun 2010


On Saturday, Gazans crowded round their television sets to watch the progress of the MV Rachel Corrie, pictured, named after the dead activist, as it steamed towards their coastline with the Israeli navy in pursuit Photo: REUTERS
With its tastefully hung fairy lights twinkling above a patio bedecked with topiary, Roots is not your typical Gaza eatery.
Snazzily dressed waiters in starched aprons and red-bow ties hover attentively; a loudspeaker discreetly playing Tom Jones's "She's a Lady" provides a nod to western sophistication while the waft of scented tobacco from the hookah pipes of its patrons adds an air of eastern exoticism.


Its local reputation aside, Roots has another, less welcome, claim to fame: it is the only restaurant in Gaza to win a recommendation from the office of Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The unusual endorsement came in a communique issued days before Israeli commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists last week in a violent melee on board the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel of an international flotilla attempting to bring aid to Gaza.
If the tenor of the communique, which encouraged prospective visitors to try the spinach soup and beef stroganoff, was facetious, its underlying intent was anything but.
Ever since Israel imposed its blockade of Gaza in 2007, the territory has become a byword for misery, stoking ever greater anger in the Arab world and growing concern in the West.

With the deaths on the Mavi Marmara bringing Gaza's tribulations into renewed relief, Britain and its European allies this week stepped up their calls on Israel to lift a blockade widely seen as causing an unacceptable amount of human suffering.
Such an assessment is seen as unfair and "hypocritical" in Israel, which insists that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, despite the claims of aid agencies to the contrary, and that the blockade's objective is to weaken Hamas, the territory's Islamist overlords, not its people.

The existence of restaurants like Roots has therefore become central to a narrative that Gazan life, in the words of one Israeli official last week, "is good and stable".
Step into Hasan Hasuna's grocery shop in Gaza City, the territory's main city, and you could be forgiven for thinking that Israel has a point.

Mr Hasuna's shelves boast a surprising variety of goods, many of them banned from entering Gaza by Israel, from pasta to chocolate. There was even a box of Cadbury Creme Eggs, hard to come by in the Middle East, placed strategically at the check-out counter.
Slightly dishevelled from their journey through the smugglers' tunnels that pass under Gaza's southern border with Egypt, they nevertheless tasted like the real thing.

It all goes to show, argues Gerald Steinberg, an Israeli commentator, that the perception of Gaza as a disaster zone on a par with parts of Africa is deeply misleading and one that has been deliberately fostered by "pro-Palestinian" employees of the UN.

"These UN reports are simply political propaganda," said Mr Steinberg, whose NGO Monitor seeks to redress what it claims is anti-Israel bias by some western aid agencies. "The entire humanitarian crisis claim, everything that comes out on the situation in Gaza is manipulated as political warfare against Israel."

Yet restaurants like Roots, an anomaly in Gaza, exist even in Africa's most benighted spots. The Shamo Hotel in Mogadishu served up lobster on its rooftop restaurant even when thousands were dying of famine in Somalia, while you could wash down a Carbonade Flamande with a decent Burgundy at The Orchid in Bukavu when eastern Congo was suffering the world's worst humanitarian crisis since 1945.

Gaza is not eastern Congo, nor is its suffering comparable. Yet by the standards of the Middle East, the poverty is palpable. In a territory the size of the Isle of Wight, 1.5 million people -- 1.1 million of them refugees from previous conflicts with Israel -- often live in conditions close to squalor.

A landscape of ruined buildings, destroyed by Israeli forces, greets the rare visitor who crosses into Northern Gaza through Israel's Erez Checkpoint. Small groups of men toil in the heat to load salvaged bits of masonry, a precious commodity after Israel banned all construction material entering Gaza, onto donkey-drawn carts.

Further south, dilapidated, ramshackle buildings separated by narrow and often fetid alleyways stretch all the way to Rafah, on the border with Egypt. The stench of rotten rubbish, and sometimes sewage, regularly assaults the nostrils.

Occasionally, the monotony is broken by groups of makeshift tents, inhabited by those made homeless by an Israeli military offensive 17 months ago that destroyed or damaged 5,000 houses. The UN's Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) would like to rebuild those houses but Israel has largely prevented cement from entering Gaza, saying it could be used by Hamas to make homemade Qassam rockets.

Mr Netanyahu's government says the persistent launching of those rockets and Hamas's creed of violent resistance has left it with little choice but to adopt such drastic measures.
Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005, but imposed its blockade two years later when Hamas violently wrested control of the territory in a civil war with the more moderate Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas, the pro-American leader of the West Bank.
Unlike Fatah, Hamas refuses formally to recognise Israel's right to exist or to negotiate with it, and has fired thousands of rockets towards Israeli towns, causing about 30 deaths. Israel retaliated with a massive counter-offensive in December, 2008, killing over 1,200 people, many of them civilians.

Although it insists it is not engaged in "collective punishment", Israel's blockade bans both material that could be used to make rockets and all but the most basic humanitarian supplies. Its aim, it says, is to create an austerity regime in Gaza while using the West Bank, with its comparative prosperity, as "a shop window" in the hope of convincing its people to throw off their Islamist masters and choose the moderation of Fatah.
Hamas officials concede that the blockade has not caused a humanitarian crisis in its classic sense.

"There is no starvation in Gaza," said Khalil Hamada, a senior official at Hamas's ministry of justice. "No-one has died of hunger.
Even so, People have been forced to subsist rather than to live. There is no development.
"It is an inhumane siege by any standards, even a brutal one, for it imposes collective punishment on an entire people, whether they support Hamas or not."
Across Gazan society, the effects of the siege have been deeply discombobulating.
Roots might serve up sole meuniere and steak au poivre (a better bet than the rather disappointing beef stroganoff), but fewer people can afford to eat there.
"Before the siege you needed a reservation to eat here," said the restaurant's proprietress, Mona Ghalayini. "Now look at it. On the busiest night of the week, we are half empty."

Like the patrons of Roots, the middle class has shrunk dramatically as ever increasing numbers of Gazans fall into penury. Unemployment has doubled to more than 40 per cent. Before the blockade, for instance, there were 35,000 employed in the industrial sector; today there are 860.

Ahmad Barakat's story is typical of Gaza. Before the blockade, he had a good job as an electrician in the Israeli town of Ramle which brought him GBP 1,000 a month, enough to build a new home and lead a good life.

Jobless now that he can no longer cross the border, he relies on food handouts from the UN to feed his 25 children and grandchildren who share cramped accommodation in the same house in Rafah.

Mr Barakat is a man whose dignity has been hurt as much as his wallet -- and the pain is shared by his family.
"What affects my husband affects me," his wife Sana'a said. "When he stays at home and doesn't work he is angry all the time because he cannot provide for us. It makes life doubly difficult for me."

The crisis has also produced peculiar economic distortions. A Gazan entrepreneur told of how his aluminium door company had ground to a halt (no raw materials) as had his hotel (no guests). But his food and detergent distributor was breaking even, despite stiff new competition in one of the view viable segments of Gaza's economy, while his chemist's was doing very well -- largely because Gazans seem to be sicker than they used to be.
"Nowadays we get men as young as 40 needing pills for blood pressure and as young as 30 on Diabetes medication," he said. "You never saw that before."
What makes Gaza's crisis unique, according to Palestinian economist Omar Shaban, is how fast living standards have declined in a territory that until relatively recently had a functioning economy.

The crisis may be more an economic one, yet there are clearly humanitarian aspects to it.
For children, hunger is beginning to bite. More than one in three babies is anaemic, while nearly one in ten is malnourished, according to a survey sponsored by the Danish government. For their older siblings it is increasingly hard to find a place in school as none have been built since the blockade began.
For their parents, life is equally tough.The average income of adults has fallen by a third over the same period, says Mr Shaban, while UNRWA estimates that 80 per cent of all Gazans rely on it for food aid.

As their suffering grows, Gazans increasingly feel they have been abandoned by the international community. Western aid might alleviate their plight, but it is only foreign pro-Palestinian activists like those who sailed on last week's flotilla that draw attention to their misery, they believe. Attempts to break the naval blockade such as the one led by the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish vessel, are therefore seen as more important for the publicity they bring than for the relatively insignificant amount of aid they carry.
Because of Israeli restrictions there are just six western activists, all members of the International Solidarity Movement, presently in Gaza. Often derided in their home countries as batty at best, pro-terrorist fanatics at worrst, such activists are often regarded as heros in Gaza.

Three days a week, they march with farmers into an exclusion zone close to the Israeli border that has effectively stripped Gaza of one-third of its agricultural land. It is a dangerous business. In April, a Maltese activist was shot in the leg; in 2003, an American activist, Rachel Corrie, was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer attempting to raze houses in Gaza.

Restricted in their ability to farm, fish and manufacture, deprived of electricity for much of the day and reduced to effective beggary by their dependence on foreign charity, the deprivations suffered by the Palestinians of Gaza are self evident.
Yet there is no sign that the blockade is substantially weakening the position of Hamas as Israel had hoped.

Talk to Gazans in private and many will say the movement, once praised for bringing law and order to their territory, is less popular than it used to be -- in part because it is now seen as corrupt but also because it is indeed blamed, in part for the blockade.
Yet at the same time Hamas is perceived as more invulnerable. Its spies are everywhere; its rule is often ruthless -- it recently hanged two Israeli "collaborators" -- and few dare publicly oppose it.

But even those disenchanted with Hamas see Israel as the greater transgressor when it comes to the blockade and regard arguments that suggest otherwise as disingenuous.
"It's like trying to convince a child to take a half-shekel coin instead of a one-shekel coin because the half-shekel coin is bigger," the entrepreneur said. "Israel can try to get us to blame Hamas, but it is a conceit most will not fall for."

In many ways, Hamas has actually grown stronger since, unlike many Gazans, it profits from the smuggling tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt that were built to circumvent the blockade.

The tunnels, which bring in a huge array of consumer goods, are the reason Mr Hasuna can sell creme eggs -- but they are also the reason fewer people can afford to buy them.
Wares that come through the tunnels are expensive, often double their true market rate and Gazans must therefore be selective in what they purchase. Gaza's shops may be full, but for many of its people the shelves are out of reach.

Hamas, on the other hand, makes a tidy sum by charging each smuggler who opens a tunnel GBP 1,900 for the privilege and exacting a levy thereafter.
Many Israelis, even on the right, are increasingly convinced that the "shop window" strategy is not working. In the aftermath of the flotilla incident, which was widely seen as strengthening Hamas, even Mr Netanyahu has hinted that the blockade may be eased, though his apparent change of heart probably has much to do with American pressure.
Critics in Israel also point out that although Hamas has largely stopped firing rockets onto Jewish territory, the blockade has not stopped it using the tunnels to smuggle in large quantities of weapons. By some reckoning, the movement's arsenal is as strong as it ever has been.

"The blockade has been a failure even if you measure it by the narrow question of whether Hamas has fewer rockets," a leading Israeli columnist, who asked not to be identified so he could speak frankly, argued.
But other Israelis, while conceding that things will have to change, predict that a total easing of the blockade, particularly at sea, would "open the floodgates" to much more sophisticated weaponry that cannot be transported through tunnels. Echoing Mr Netanyahu, they warn that Gaza could become a Mediterranean base for Iran, which sponsors Hamas, that threatens Europe as well as Israel.

"At the end of the day, we are dealing with a ruthless enemy," said Yehuda Avner, a former diplomat and adviser to three Israeli prime ministers. "It is also an existential matter, because of the Iranian element, which casts an enormous shadow over the region."

For Israel, there is a feeling that time is running if it wants to ensure that the blockade is maintained on its terms.
The raid on the Mavi Marmara is widely seen as having shifted the way the international community views Israel's policy towards Gaza and the prospect of greater international pressure on the Jewish state has sharply raised the hopes of its people and emboldened Hamas.

On Saturday, Gazans crowded round their television sets to watch the progress of another aid ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, named after the dead activist, as it steamed towards their coastline with the Israeli navy in pursuit.

Previous attempts to break the sea blockade rarely attracted such excitement in Gaza. But now there is growing recognition that the Mavi Marmara's expedition may have given Gaza an unexpected opportunity to have the blockade lifted in a manner that can be interpreted as a defeat for Israel rather than as a unilateral gesture of compassion by the Netanyahu government.

That this possibility, which a week ago seemed so remote, is now tangible is almost universally attributed in Gaza to the efforts of Turkey, whose nationals died on board the ship and whose government was seen as the flotilla's sponsor.
As daylight broke in Gaza on Saturday, the Turkish flag was raised along the territory's beaches. For the people of Gaza it was more than just an acknowledgment of Turkey's perceived sacrifice -- it was a salute to a new and powerful regional patron with the clout, they hope, to take on the Israeli enemy.

Direckshun
06-09-2010, 02:56 AM
This is easily the finest piece you've posted in the time I've known you, HCF.

Great read. Heartbreaking, and unflinching, and nuanced. As all reporting on the conflict should be.