The headline from the New York Times made for a simple summary of a UN report: “U.N. Sees Bleak Outlook for Gaza Unless Services Are Improved“
The UN describes how this narrow fertile strip of land, which has been run by Hamas since 2007, may not be fit for habitation by 2020. Education, health and other basic services are on the point of collapse. Unemployment is high. It is sandwiched between geopolitical tensions of Egypt and Israel. Life is very difficult.
To emphasise the point, Maan News service, based in Ramallah, reports that yet again Palestinian Authority (PA) employees in Gaza may not be paid their salaries. The background appears to be a combination of reasons; lack of funds within the PA and also a dispute between the Palestinian Government and its supposed Hamas allies in Gaza.
So how does one reconcile this gloomy picture with new investigative journalism from Arab sources that of the 1.6 million people in Gaza, there are at least 600 millionaires. In fact, on the ground witnesses reveal a very different kind of Gaza than the one depicted in the UN report.
Informed Palestinian sources revealed that every day, in addition to weapons, thousands of tons of fuel, medicine, various types of merchandise, vehicles, electrical appliances, drugs, medicine and cigarettes are smuggled into the Gaza Strip through more than 400 tunnels. A former Sudanese government official who visited the Gaza Strip lately was quoted as saying that he found basic goods that were not available in Sudan. Almost all the tunnels are controlled by the Hamas government, which has established a special commission to oversee the smuggling business, which makes the Hamas government the biggest benefactor of the smuggling industry.
So what’s the truth? The bottom line of the UN report is that 99% of Gaza’s troubles are the fault of Israel. Well, nobody can argue that Israel finds Gaza a welcome neighbour. Daily rocket fire from the Hamas territory did not cease even as schools started up again this week. The problem was that this context was omitted by the authors of the UN document.
The UN also sw correct to underemphasise the large role that Egypt plays in the Gaza economy, such as providing much of its electricity. More recently, because of the increasing terrorism in Sinai, of which Hamas affiliated groups have a significant part, Egypt has been clamping down on its border with Gaza. Only 24 hours ago, CNN detailed how many smuggling tunnels, a core of Hamas’ revenue stream, have been shut down by Cairo.
For the record, I was talking to a journalist last week, who had recently been through some of these tunnels. He described what seemed to be large and growing centres of commerce, which would do proud any transportation highway around the world.
At the end of the day, the economies of Gaza and Ramallah may share a common trend. Life may not be comfortable for all, while there are still many who are doing well – in fact, really well. However,for the UN to argue that life is unbearable in the Palestinian territories and that is all the fault of Israel’s reminds one of those who print such racist tractates as the “Protocols of Zion”. Both contain the same level of hatred and distortion.