Sunday, October 28, 2012

28-Oct-12: What lies behind ongoing efforts to paint Gaza as a region under Israeli siege?

We snapped this during a September 2012 visit to the Kerem Shalom crossing. A truck laden with
steel reinforcing rods for construction purposes leaves Israel and enters the Gaza Strip. Reports that Israel
prevents the entry of construction materials continue, despite the abundant evidence that disproves it.
We have commented here time and again about the persistence of the quiet inaccurate notion that Gaza is a region under siege. Over the past several years, we have seen campaigns that blame Israel for the shortage or absence or unreliability of electricity in the Hamas-controlled mini-state ["21-Jan-08: Electric wars - a sad tale of two realities"]. We have seen Gaza described as a huge open-air concentration camp ["30-Jul-10: Once again, from the world's largest 'prison camp'"]. Gaza's children have been portrayed as starving, uneducated, deprived of medical care and oppressed ["30-Aug-12: How close to hell is Gaza? Depends whom you want to believe"] and the blame for all of it is laid at the feet of Israel.

Perhaps things will get a little better now, in the wake of the flying visit to Gaza this past week by one of the world's wealthiest individuals, the Emir of Qatar.

Haniyeh: Qatar visit breaks Gaza siege
Published in Maan News Tuesday 23/10/2012 (updated) 25/10/2012 11:12    GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Tuesday said the visit of Qatar's emir to the Gaza Strip had helped lift Israel's blockade of the enclave. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on Tuesday was the first head of state to enter Gaza since 1999 in a visit that broke the isolation of its rulers Hamas.  "You are today, by this visit, declaring the breaking of the unjust blockade," Haniyeh told the Qatari leader in a speech at the site of a new town to be built with Gulf money. "Today we declare victory against the blockade through this historic visit," he said. "We say thank you, Emir, thank you Qatar for this noble Arab stance ... Hail to the blood of martyrs which brought us to this moment." [More]
That visit, and the huge financial gift that Qatar says it is going to hand over, represents a potentially important turning point in the way Gaza is perceived. Two of the more influential writers at Haaretz, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, offered an analysis in the newspaper's Friday edition that has not gotten the exposure we think it deserves.

Myth of a siege
Haaretz - Oct.26, 2012 | 2:05 PM
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
For a moment last weekend, a small ship called Estelle shook up the international media. Once more a handful of peace activists demonstrated the brutality of the Israeli occupation, which is denying food to the starving residents of Gaza. And if that were not enough, after the forcible interception at sea, the hard-hearted Israeli government threw the pursuers of justice, among them a few Israelis, into jail.
The trouble with this story is that the activity to remove the supposed siege is not compatible with the facts on the ground − to put it mildly. The siege of Gaza has long since become a myth, promoted by the Hamas government with the aid of a few left-wing international organizations. In practice, the festive declaration on Tuesday by the Hamas prime minister that the siege has ended − during the visit by the Emir of Qatar − let the cat out of the bag.
Still, the activists’ spin made its way successfully into the international media. After the interception of the Estelle, CNN reported this week that the Israeli siege of Gaza has been going on for the past five years. The simple truth is that there is no longer an Israeli siege of Gaza.
Restrictions remain on exports from Gaza and on the free movement of people from Gaza to the West Bank (20,000 people a year move from the Strip to the West Bank). Gaza does not have an active airport or maritime port, and Israel blocks ships from docking there. Gaza has only a land crossing to Egypt and a limited crossing to Israeli territory. But a siege, in the plain sense of the term, does not exist.
Under pressure of the Mavi Marmara affair in May 2010 (when nine Turkish activists died after the Israeli navy boarded the ship), the Israeli government revised its policy and greatly eased the entry of goods from the West Bank into Gaza. There is currently no shortage in Gaza of food or construction materials. Gazans can enter Egypt through the Rafah crossing, and from there proceed to any destination in the world.
In fact, an average of 1,200 people a day are doing just that, according to statistics released by the Hamas government itself. Those who are prevented from crossing officially by the Egyptians (for security and other reasons) cross through the tunnels. This is no longer a tough trek between Palestinian Rafah and Egyptian Rafah through a dark, narrow tunnel. A taxi service, effectively a form of public transportation, now plies the Gaza-Egypt route via the tunnels.
The markets are overflowing with fruits, vegetables, the latest iPhones and much more. A major real-estate boom is underway in Gaza, and the projected growth rate for 2012 is 9 percent, according to the World Bank. (By comparison, the probable growth rate in the West Bank will be 5 percent.) For the first time in years, West Bank residents who are asked about this in opinion polls claim that they are economically less well-off than the Gazans (though they are wrong).
Israel allows almost free entry of goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing, apart from those which Hamas itself doesn’t want as it hopes to keep the tunnels flourishing and because the price of some goods from Egypt is cheaper.
This week’s visit by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, was a historic occasion. A Hamas honor guard awaited him on the Palestinian side as he arrived via Rafah. He dedicated a huge rehabilitation project worth $400 million − a donation the likes of which the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank can only dream about. If even Haniyeh is talking about the end of the siege, maybe it’s time for left-wing activists from Israel and abroad to stop engaging in cheap PR stunts.
Given its usefulness to those who propagate it, we're not expecting the powerful 'Poor Gaza is a victim of Israeli cruelty' meme to go away anytime soon. But we do expect that more people will become sensitive to the cold-blooded manipulation by ideologically motivated media and political figures that keeps it alive.

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