Posted tagged ‘flotilla’

The real poverty in Gaza

July 1, 2011

One year after Israel naval commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza, a second flotilla is now setting off with the same aim.

Last year’s attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza ended in farce, each side with their own spin. Did Israel break international law? On the other hand, why were some of the participants up for a very violent fight and why was much of the so-called aid out of date? Strange.

As for this time round, let’s move past the rhetoric and ask if Gaza really needs an armada of aid. Was David Cameron correct when he said earlier this year that Gaza is a “prison camp”?

Israelis will argue that Gaza is not what the BBC or New York Times try to portray it as. While not exactly the Bahrain of the Near East, neither is Gaza totally a basket case. For example, the Hebrew newspaper “Yediot” had a 2-page feature with colour photos, detailing how Gaza is developing. The beaches look full and the shops are busy.

The Israeli army issued a video this week of a typical convey of luxury goods passing into the Gaza Strip from Israel. Similarly, a snappy 80 second utube clip clearly reviews how many parts of Gaza have long since abandoned poverty levels quoted by politicians. (You have to wonder who posted the original video.)

OK, so for more objective reporting, I turned to overseas correspondents. A Japanese writer had observed a few months ago that “Gaza and the West Bank are the only places in the world where I have seen refugees drive Mercedes.”

This week, a syndicated article from Ethan Bonner looked in depth at the emerging tunnel economy of Gaza. A powerful opening paragraph observes how: –

Two luxury hotels are opening in Gaza this month. Thousands of new cars are plying the roads. A second shopping mall – with escalators imported from Israel – will open next month. Hundreds of homes and two dozen schools are about to go up. A Hamas-run farm where Jewish settlements once stood is producing enough fruit that Israeli imports are tapering off.

Kevin Myers in a brave analysis in the Irish Independent asks: –

how can anyone possibly think that Gaza is the primary centre of injustice in the Middle East? According to Mathilde Redmatn, deputy director of the International Red Cross in Gaza, there is in fact no humanitarian crisis there at all. But by God, there is one in Syria, where possibly thousands have died in the past month.

After all, if the Palestinian news agency, Ma’an, is to be trusted, there is no shortage of cars in Gaza. The reason for the lowish number of new items is due to the local tax regulations imposed by Hamas.

An interesting blog summed up the forked approach to Gaza’s economy very succinctly:

While violence continues in Syria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, there is one place in the Arab world where stability is growing as factories and farms multiply, construction booms and unemployment drops.  Ironically, that place is Gaza – the place singled out for international attention as the next flotilla prepares to sail, staffed by leftist loonies bearing solidarity, love and concern for people who are better off than many Americans living in Newark, Detroit, Washington D.C. and New York.  These pusillanimous rescuers are not floating off to Darfur, Congo or Sudan where photo-ops are hard to come by and marauding thugs are unfazed by such concerns as respect for interfering faux do-gooders.  They are not trudging to Afghanistan where sick people and the medical staff who tend them are marked for murder, nor will they insist on seeing Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas for five years without a single visit by the Red Cross.  Their outpouring of compassion exists only for the purported victims of Israeli aggression – there is no credence given to the barbaric tactics of Hamas planting its military operations in the midst of their own civilian populations, or murdering its own domestic opposition, much less targeting Israeli children on school buses for demolition.

So is the latest flotilla designed to help the people of Gaza or satisfy the dubious ranting of those people claiming to be supporters of peace?

Has Hamas given Israel’s local economy a boost?

July 25, 2010

The fall out from the Turkish flotilla, originally sent to bolster the Hamas regime in Gaza, continues to reverberate in the commercial world.

There is no doubting it. Until June 2010, bilateral Turkish-Israel trade was continuing to reach new heights – over US$1.5 billion annually. And the defense sector was one of the main beneficiaries.

Today, Israeli and UN led commissions of inquiry fill up the news print. On the ground, 10s of thousands of Israeli tourists have abandoned Antalya and other Turkish resorts in droves – replacing them with the hotspots of Crete, Cyprus and Eilat. Several Israeli supermarket chains have declared that they will order less products from Turkey.

Britex is a small Israeli importer and distributor of textiles. As their Turkish suppliers have raised prices, the company has responded by moving to other sources. According to their CEO, orders are up 30% ever since.

Negev Textile Ltd is located in southern Israel near Sderot, which has seen thousands of missiles land on the town from Gaza in the past decade. The company dyes textiles and has suffered from Turkish price competition in recent years. Suddenly, its all change and the clients have started to storm back.  

When Fatah launched the Intifada in 2000, little consideration was given for how the local population may suffer economically. Much the same can be said for the Turkish government, where its support for the flotilla has been followed by a down turn in parts of its own economy. 

And in the meantime, the tactics of Hamas has resulted in a micro boom for some Israeli manufacturers.

Gaza after the flotilla – what’s changed?

June 13, 2010

It is over 2 weeks since Israel launched its raid on the Gaza bound flotilla. It would seem that the diplomatic fall out, especially in Europe, has not gone the way of Jerusalem. Spain for one is asking that the EU secure a change in the so-called blockade procedures by Israel.

Israelis argue that Gaza is full of food and common resources. Over 7,000 truck loads of goods were delivered in 2009 alone plus countless smuggling efforts. To that, you can add the fuel paid for by the EU, electricity and telephone services supplied by Israel, the falling price of cement, and so on.

One Israeli blogger, David Frankfurter, has described this scenario as “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” Elsewhere, he gives expression to what many Israelis feel. If the world wants a new attitude to Gaza, then writes Frankfurter: –

…..rules need to be formulated, which are simple, straightforward and easy to understand. Whatever Gilad Shalit (kidnapped by Hamas and not seen for nearly 1,500 days) has free access to, this will be allowed into Gaza….  Whatever he is denied will also be denied.  That includes visiting Red Cross staff. And access to medical care in Israel.  And guns.  And bullets…. Let Hamas draw up the list.

But there is another side to this argument. Check out what the Palestinians are saying about Gaza. For example, leading journalist Abu Khaled Toameh has commented how Hamas will ban the intended forthcoming municipal elections.

This is no isolated policy move. The May 2010 report from the Palestinian Independent  Commission for Human Rights documented 20 Gazan deaths in one month alone related to suspicious circumstances or the result of undue force. Similarly, there were 12 reports of torture, harassment of journalists, attacks of private property including UN facilities, and so on.

I was personally informed about the ransacking of the Sharek Youth Offices, where daily raids from government supported entities have resulted in destroyed and confiscated equipment. As a Sharek press statement observed in commenting on the flotilla incident: –

We do not accuse any particular party but stress that armed groups have taken these actions in the name of national security.  Nevertheless, the government in the Gaza Strip has not taken any significant action and has continued to disregard the violations experienced by Sharek and indeed all civil society institutions.  Given that those who carry out the violations do so in the name of the government in the Gaza Strip, we would like to highlight the following:

  • The government of the Gaza Strip is responsible for providing for the security and safety of its citizens and institutions, in particular against direct violations against them.
  • The fact that a group uses a name other than that of the government does not absolve the government from liability in these matters even if the groups are not related to the security or armed forces of the government in Gaza.
  • The efforts by international activists in the Freedom Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza and the attention of the world’s media on the siege has been used as a distraction and a cover to settle scores with any individual or organization arguing for unity, reform, development, freedom and justice in the Strip.  Such an action is a flagrant violation of the rights of the citizens of Gaza who remain steadfast in the face of the siege and Israeli aggression.

With all the efforts being made by our supporters abroad to break the Israeli siege, we believe we must also draw their attention to the ‘internal’ siege, imposed upon us from within through confiscations and the daily withdrawal of freedoms.  

We do not accuse any particular party but stress that armed groups have taken these actions in the name of national security.  Nevertheless, the government in the Gaza Strip has not taken any significant action and has continued to disregard the violations experienced by Sharek and indeed all civil society institutions……… 

You have the feeling that much of this abuse was around before the flotilla incident and will sadly continue in the months to come. So why is Israel to blame? Plus ca change, n’est ce pas?


Gaza’s floating economy

May 24, 2010

As I write, at least 9 ships are heading towards Gaza laden with humanitarian aid, activists, European politicians and soundbites. The aim is to help the population of Gaza, which continues to suffer from poverty and high unemployment. In addition, the voyagers and their supporters wish to protest against what they see as Israel’s irresponsible behaviour towards the territory.

If you google the phrase “Gaza economy”, you end up with very few serious analyses of what is the true situation in this tiny fertile strip of land. The Financial Times of London, a leading media beacon in international money matters and no friend of Israel, observes that

…the tunnels below Rafah have offered a unique lifeline to Gazans, who are otherwise deprived of all but the most basic humanitarian supplies. They have also allowed Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Strip, to replenish its coffers and rebuild its military arsenal, making the tunnels a target for Israel……Branded products such as Coca-Cola, Nescafé, Snickers and Heinz ketchup – long absent as a result of the Israeli blockade – are both cheap and widely available. However, the tunnel operators have also flooded Gaza with Korean refrigerators, German food mixers and Chinese air conditioning units. Tunnel operators and traders alike complain of a saturated market – and falling prices.

This is not an isolated piece of reporting. If you pop into the Roots Club in Gaza, according to Lonely Planet, you can dine on “dine on steak au poivre and chicken cordon bleu”. Tom Gross documented the “after effects” of a previous flotilla, when the arrivals were seen purchasing souvenirs in well stocked shops.

Earlier this month, I wrote that:

According to the World Bank, the Palestinian economy is booming. During 2009, growth in the West Bank reached 8%, although Hamas controlled Gaza saw a more modest development of 1%.

 In fact, the World Bank had previously noted that up to the beginning of the Intifada in September 2000, the Palestinian economy grew at over 5% pa in real terms since 1968, shortly after the beginning of Israel’s control of the region. So, while Israel’s current restrictions cannot help economic growth, you have to wonder if the cause of the poverty lies elsewhere.

Ironically, it was the singer Elvis Costello, who indirectly pointed out the true fallacy. This pop icon has just cancelled a two-date performance tour of Israel in protest at Jerusalem’s continued humiliation of Palestinians. On the day of the announcement, Hamas authorities executed three Palestinians…in front of their own families. Who’s humiliating who?

Similarly, who’s starving who? As one Israeli blogger observed, the Palestinians are the recipients of billions annually in aid. We know the shops are full. The UN confirms that Israel sends in tons of aid near daily.

And then there is the housing issue. According to UN stats, just over 20% of Gazans live in refugee camps. Israeli towns in the Gaza Strip were closed down in 2005. Since then, not one person has been allowed to move out of the camps and into these former settlements. Why?

The flotilla will probably be stopped by the Israeli navy. The passengers will be off loaded, and in turn they will channel their vitriol towards the waiting microphones of the world’s media. And the people of Gaza will continue to buy a plethora of goods under the watchful eye of their fundamentalist Hamas masters.