Sunday, July 05, 2015

05-Jul-15: A tale of two Gazas: concrete evidence that keeps being buried

Above the ground: Gazan misery, unrepaired
destruction. For Hamas, it's win/win [Image Source]
The thuggish groups that hold sway over Gaza's miserable population have never hesitated to exploit for political purposes the third-world conditions in which life is lived there.

And why should they? Simply put, it's a strategy that works, arousing pity and sympathy for the ordinary people living in filth and destruction, with the military might of heartless Israel to blame. And done the right way, it can just go on and on, cycle after cycle, year after year, giving the inner circle of Hamas opportunity after opportunity to keep trying to inflict damage on the enemy without ever themselves paying a price.

A key element in avoiding the price: ensure the fattest of the privileged Hamas fat-cat insiders don't ever live anywhere near the fighting.

Qatar, the spectacularly rich enclave nourished by one of the world's largest gas resources, offers a pretty good choice: Khaled Meshaal and a group of his most trusted deputies are ensconced there, living in the lap of luxury. (Reports emerging this past winter suggested they were being kicked out ["Report: Qatar expels Hamas leader to Turkey", Haaretz, January 6, 2015] but these were soon exposed as disinformation. When the BBC interviewed Meshal in April, it was in Qatar.)

There has been a flurry of news and analysis in the past few days reflecting on what has and has not changed since last summer's intensive Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and the massive Israeli response:
This week marks one year since Israel's devastating war with Palestinian militants in Gaza, and despite a tacit ceasefire that has largely held, there has been little reason for residents caught up in the conflict to believe their suffering will soon end. ["Little Hope in Gaza Ruins a Year After Devastating War", AFP, today]
Though most of the Gaza Strip looks, and is, reasonably intact, there are specific quarters whee Israeli bombing of rocket launch sites - cynically emplaced in residential buildings - caused serious destruction. And these along with the puzzling shortage of new building materials, get plenty of heart-tugging media coverage, like this report typical of the genre:
[D]istribution of cement is limited to 19 warehouses approved under a United Nations-brokered arrangement that provides careful oversight over Israeli-imported cement. On a recent afternoon, 650 tons of cement sits stacked on pallets in the Shemaly Company warehouse in Shejaiya, with a UN monitor present to make sure it only goes to customers approved by Israel. When one such man comes in to pick up his allotted bags, however, he is turned away.
No deliveries are allowed today, says owner Hatem Shemaly, who adds he was previously blocked from distributing cement for 50 days. Why?
“That’s the problem, I’m really confused,” he says, unsure whether it’s Israel or the Palestinian authorities who are blocking him.
If the customer is desperate, he can go to a smaller warehouse nearby dealing in black-market cement. These bags also were imported according to the UN arrangement, or “mechanism” as it's referred to here, but then sold by homeowners who need cash for rent or food. Now anyone willing to pay three to four times the normal price can circumvent UN oversight – including Hamas.
There are 20 black-market warehouses in Shejaiya alone, says dealer Abu Muhammed, and they operate openly.
“The authorities know the reality – people are in bad need,” he says, as a man negotiates the price for his five bags with an employee. They settle on 70 shekels ($17.50) for a bag that usually costs in the vicinity of 20 shekels ($5).
Most Palestinians blame Israel for the lack of cement, since it controls the sole commercial border crossing into Gaza. It has restricted the flow of goods and people since Hamas – which it deems a terrorist organization – seized power in 2007. But Israel says it has fully cooperated with the UN on supplying building materials.
“Israel has an interest to promote the reconstruction, and it’s very important to us,” says a spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli civil administration responsible for implementing Gaza policies. “There is no delay on our side.”
Source: "Gaza in ruins: why money, cement, and leadership are scarce", Christa Case Bryant, CSM, March 30, 2015
So on a superficial view there are some puzzling threads here: cement is being allowed into Gaza, but it's not reaching the people who want to rebuild their homes. There's an open black market in the stuff, and no one seems in a hurry to clamp down on it. And as usual, people with money are doing fine.

Below the ground: This screen shot comes from a a video
posted last Sunday on Iranian television showing a Gazan tunnel
made entirely of concrete. The men in the image are quoted saying
"they intend to use the tunnel to carry out attacks against civilians"
in Israel [Source: Jerusalem Post]
So in Gaza, who has the serious money? A report yesterday published by Ma'an, a Palestinian Arab news channel with claims to being independent, offers a peek:
Egypt destroys 1.5 km smuggling tunnel near Rafah | Ma'an News Agency, July 4, 2015 | Egyptian forces on Saturday discovered and destroyed a 1.5 kilometer smuggling tunnel beneath the Gazan border, the Egyptian army said. Egyptian security sources told Ma'an that the tunnel was found by Egyptian border guards in the Dayniya area south of Rafah. They said that eight sacks of explosive TNT material and a half-ton of C-4 -- another explosive material -- had been found inside the tunnel. Both the tunnel and the explosive material were destroyed by the army... [The Ma'an editors seem to have no problem headlining the story as being about a smuggling tunnel, and casually including a reference to colossal quantities of explosives. Ho hum]
Bottom line: there's no problem securing enough cement in today's Gaza to construct a 1.5 kilometer long, underground cement tube, if you're Hamas. And if ordinary Gazans can't get their hands on cement, it's because that's the way Hamas wants it to be.

And why, looking at the world through Islamist terrorists' eyes, would you want it to be any different?: keep the stuff to yourself to build your own aggressive capabilities, and keep the reporters and photographers busy chronicling the suffering of cement-challenged ordinary folk. Win/win, it's called.

A Bloomberg report last summer ["Gaza's Next Disaster: No Cement for Rebuilding", July 31, 2014] quoted estimates that every one of the scores of Hamas tunnels on Gaza's periphery "required 350 truckloads of building supplies". A previously uncovered Hamas tunnel on the scale of the one just destroyed was estimated by IDF sources quoted in a Washington Post article ["How Hamas uses its tunnels to kill and capture Israeli soldiers"] a year ago to have taken about two years of work, $10 million of capital, and some 800 tons of concrete. In a different world, that could have produced a substantial number of new homes, medical clinics and upward-facing lives.

By the way, did Friday's report of the massive concrete-lined Hamas tunnel found and destroyed along with the explosive materials stored inside it, make it to the news reports in your community?

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