The international community is sticking to the line that the Gaza Strip is a land of destitution where famine grips nearly every family. Comparisons with World War II concentration camps are popular.
But one of the results of the recent failed "humanitarian aid" flotilla to Gaza is that more and more journalists and researches are looking into the Gaza situation and finding it doesn't really reflect what is being written about it.
We already wrote last month about how National Post correspondent Tom Gross discovered gourmet restaurants and Olympic-sized swimming pools in Gaza. Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs has compiled a comprehensive report on the situation in Gaza including several quotes from the mainstream and Arab press that acknowledge Gaza is not starving, and is no worse off than anywhere else in the Middle East.
In a June 3 report, Janine Zacharia of the Washington Post wrote, "If you walk down Gaza City's main thoroughfare - Salah al-Din Street - grocery stores are stocked wall-too-wall with everything from fresh Israeli yogurts and hummus to Cocoa Puffs smuggled in from Egypt. Pharmacies look as well-supplied as a typical Rite Aid in the United States."
Earlier in the year, the Palestinian Bethlehem-based news agency Ma'an reported that "Gaza markets are saturated with goods."
To drive home the point, Halevi included a list provided by Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territoris of what Israel sent into Gaza in 2009 (in addition to what was smuggled in or brought in by private business concerns):
- Health: 4,883 tons of medical equipment and medicines entered Gaza that year in coordination with the Palestinian Authority and international agencies;
- Electricity: Israel continued to supply electricity to Gaza from its power plant in Ashkelon. In addition, 41 truckloads of equipment were transferred for the maintenance of the electrical system in Gaza. Between April and October 2009, Siemens carried out maintenance work on the power system in Gaza, to which more than 100 million liters of diesel fuel were delivered for its operation.
- Communications: 45 truckloads of communication equipment were sent to Gaza at the request of the Palestinian Authority.
- Water and sewage: 95 truckloads of equipment for water and sewage systems, as well as 3,720 tons of chloride for water purification, were transferred during 2009.
- The private sector: 77 percent of the contents of trucks sent into Gaza in 2009 were for the private sector. 257 Palestinian businessmen exited Gaza to Israel, the West Bank, and abroad. 10,871 head of cattle were transferred to Gaza, mainly for the Ramadan and Eid al-Adha holidays. In preparation for winter, 3,607 tons of glass for windows was transferred to Gaza.
- Money: Over NIS 1.1 billion (approximately $300 million) was transferred to Gaza in 2009 to fund salaries and the activities of international organizations. In addition, NIS 40 million (approximately $10 million) in worn banknotes were replaced.
- Humanitarian aid: 141,390 tons of humanitarian aid were transferred by the international community through Israel, including 115,043 tons of food and 2,990 tons of medicines and medical equipment.
- UNRWA: 3,282,000 liters of fuel and diesel were transferred for use by UNRWA. In addition, special equipment for summer camps, including swimming pools, ice cream machines, musical instruments, and sports equipment were transferred to UNRWA.
- Agricultural export: The export of flowers and strawberries was approved as part of a joint project with the government of the Netherlands. Since the beginning of the project, more than 7 million flowers and 54 tons of strawberries were exported.
Israel does indeed maintain a firm blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to deny its Hamas rulers goods that could be used in the manufacture of weapons of war. But Israel is not restricting the entry of other goods, and is in fact facilitating the transfer of massive amounts of humanitarian aid every day - goods that the residents of Gaza are receiving for free, that is if Hamas would stop stealing them.
Halevi also responded to claims that even if Israel's blockade is not causing starvation, it has essentially created a well-stocked prison for 1.5 million Palestinians. Halevi noted that the border crossings of Gaza are not nor have they ever been closed to either the exit or entry of local Palestinians. Of course, since foreign nations sit on the other side of those crossings, coordination with their authorities is required, but that is not different than the citizen of any other nation requiring a visa to visit a neighboring state.
Over the past five years, Israel and Egypt have approved 98 percent of permit requests to cross the Gaza border. In 2009, 10,544 Palestinians left Gaza for medical treatment in Israel, 147 students went abroad for studies, 374 Christians left Gaza to celebrate Christmas in Israel and Bethlehem, and Gaza-based members of the Palestinian soccer team regularly exited the coastal strip to participate in matches with foreign teams. The very few rejections are the only cases that receive media coverage, however.
Read Halevi's full report here: http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DBID=1&TMID=111&LNGID=1&FID=377&PID=0&IID=4123