|We spent some hours last month visiting the two (very) active Israel/Gaza crossings to see for ourselves what happens there, and taking pictures. This small forest of fridges awaiting shipment into Gaza from Kerem Shalom.|
So here, courtesy of a major article ["Gaza: A Way Out?"] by Nicolas Pelham in the current edition of the NY Review of Books, are some aspects of Gazan life that you might not be expecting.
- Propelling Gaza’s economy, Arab governments across the region, like Qatar’s, have been shifting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money from the PA to Hamas, signaling what may be a historic shift in Palestinian politics.
- Thanks to Gaza’s supply lines to Egypt, its GDP outpaced by a factor of five that of Hamas’s Western-funded rival, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.
- While international donors failed to deliver $4.5 billion in promised aid for reconstruction in protest at Hamas’s continued rule, tunnel operators have ferried in 7,500 tons of steel rods, cement, and gravel daily, supplying 90 percent of the enclave’s construction materials. According to World Bank figures, construction starts in the first half of 2011 grew by 220 percent.
- Even when they are open for business, however, the tunnels have their downsides. Some two hundred workers have been killed, many of them children, who are preferred, as in Victorian mines, for their slight frames.
- The economic effects have been remarkable: after notching 6 percent growth in 2008, the Gazan economy grew by 20 percent in 2010 and a whopping 27 percent last year; unemployment in the formal economy fell to 29 percent, its lowest in a decade and an improvement of eight percentage points in a year.
- A recent International Labor Organization report cited the emergence of 600 “tunnel millionaires”; many of them, seeking somewhere to park their profits, have invested first in land, and then in hundreds of luxury apartment buildings. [We blogged about this phenomenon - see "30-Aug-12: How close to hell is Gaza? Depends whom you want to believe"]
- After three summers of zealous patrols, the [Hamas] morality police withdrew from the beaches and began to let shopkeepers again garb unveiled mannequins in mini-skirts.
- Hamas licensed and sometimes invested in upscale beach resorts along the coast; last year Palestine’s most luxurious hotel opened, replete with a cocktail bar that is somewhat hopefully awaiting an alcohol license.
- In its rush to join the haves, Hamas began forgetting its former constituency of have-nots. Haniya’s government assigned only $14 million of its $769 million budget in 2012 to welfare.
- For the first time shantytowns are cropping up on the outskirts of Gaza City.
- In the shanty next to an abattoir, the only meat homeless Gazans can afford for Islamic festivities is a crippled horse bought from a knacker’s yard, slaughtered in the sand outside their shacks and fried in discarded wheel-hubs.
- Hamas’s dependence on smuggling has underlined its continued illegitimacy in the eyes of much of the world.
- So great is the demand that Gazans complain builders have to be booked months in advance, and decorators are never available.
- The UN, which previously warned that Gaza faces an imminent humanitarian crisis, has now concluded that it may be years off...
- The tunnels double as portals for smugglers trafficking drugs and weapons, and may, as Cairo alleges, offer Sinai’s militants an escape hatch from Egyptian patrols.
- The geyser of aid money has bought the new donors influence. The new Gaza offices of the IHH—the Islamist charity in Turkey that spearheaded the 2010 aid flotilla to Gaza intercepted by Israel—dominate Gaza City’s Katiba Square, newly grassed with turf hauled through the tunnels. The Islamic University has added Turkish to its curriculum.
- A new town funded by the United Arab Emirates will provide spacious free housing for 11,000 Gazans rendered homeless by Israeli offensives. The UN calls them “shelters” to avoid the impression that it is resettling refugees in suburban apartments. [Read the whole article here.]
Imagine that. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are worrying themselves sick about how to keep their families and homes safe from indiscriminate rocket firing. Meanwhile the fat-cat Hamas clique in Gaza City lose sleep over how to conceal the shiny new housing their people have acquired. The really horrible nightmare scenario from their standpoint is that people might start to think the lives of the Gazans have become materially better.