The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The starvation of Gaza

Yet another important article by the great Amira Hass. Here is all of it:

In the elections, Israelis will not be voting just for themselves. Not only will they choose parties that affect their own lives for four years, but also those of 3.5 million occupied Palestinians - as they have done for 39 years now. The winners in Israel will form a government that will determine the most minute details of every Palestinian's life.

This is the essence of occupation. One people casts its votes and thereby authorizes its democratic government to be a dictator in a place that it rules by military hegemony. In that place there lives a separate nation that is entirely excluded from any rights in this democratic game.

For the past two months the dictator democratically elected by the Israeli public has determined that Gaza's residents should go on a "diet," as Attorney Dov Weissglas advised the cabinet, immediately after Hamas' election victory.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided that Gaza's residents should eat less and less fresh produce and dairy produce, then less and less rice and then no bread.

By closing the Karni crossing to merchandise for prolonged periods, Mofaz intervened (as a cabinet representative) not only in the Palestinians' eating habits. He also sent tens of thousands of Gazan Palestinians on unpaid leave. Drivers, merchants, porters, sewing workshop workers, farmers, construction workers and contractors, whose materials are not arriving, are all out of work. The already large number of people dependent on charity in Gaza will grow. The chain reaction will affect every family's life and choices: the children's education, medical treatment, visiting relatives, building an additional room to alleviate the crowded conditions at home.

No elected Palestinian government, headed by Hamas or Fatah, has ever intervened in everyday life to such an extent, or had such an influence on it.

At Israel's order, the Palestinian security branches dug four tunnels with a total length of 1.5 kilometers, but did not find the suspected tunnel that served as the rationale for closing the merchandise terminal. On the day five kilos of explosive was found on Road No. 1 in a car carrying Palestinians - security explanations are all Israelis want to hear.

Since the disengagement Israel has claimed that "Gaza is no longer occupied territory," so whatever happens there is not its responsibility. This version is more palatable to Israelis than hearing that Israel's control over the Palestinians' life in Gaza has ended; that Gaza is only one part of the Palestinian territory and that its population, economy and health and education institutions are tied to those in the West Bank; and that the international community has decided that the Palestinian state would be established on both parts, Gaza and the West Bank.

But the Israeli voter scorns the international community's choices. It has decided that Gaza would be "returned" to Egypt. That is the logical meaning of closing the Karni crossing for a long time - after the number of Palestinians passing through the Erez crossing has already dwindled. Even if international pressure enables bringing "humanitarian" aid through the Karni crossing here and there - as though Gaza had been struck by natural disaster - Israel's leaders will probably close it again for "security reasons."

All this is intended to accustom Gaza residents and the international community to think that perhaps it is logical to direct Gaza's products, business and plans southward, to Egypt, which will not be able to remain idle while almost 1.5 million Arabs are being strangled under the Israeli siege.

Thus Israelis will not be voting only on the Palestinians' fate, but will also intervene in the lives of Egypt's citizens.
The trouble is on the Egyptian side there has been so little discussion of the long-term impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict people are barely aware (outside of Al Arish and other Sinai cities that "mainland" Egyptians seem to consider a periphery) of the consequences. We already saw that after the border opened, the movement of Palestinians between Rafah and Al Arish significantly affected the local economy -- and not to everyone's liking.

In the short term, even more importantly, Gazans are being starved. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says:

PCHR follows with utmost concern the deterioration in the economic and social conditions resulting from the total closure imposed by IOF on the OPT, especially the Gaza Strip. PCHR is concerned for the deterioration in food and health conditions of the Palestinian civilian population as bread and flour have almost run out in the markets of the Gaza Strip, where most bakeries have stopped working due to the lack of flour. Hundreds of Palestinians have been seen standing in long queues in front of some bakeries, which have continued to work but with minimum capacity, to buy bread for their families. This scene is unprecedented in the Gaza Strip.

According to information available to PCHR, since 14 January 2006, IOF have closed al-Mentar (Karni) crossing for 47 separate days completely and for 4 days partially. During partial closures, IOF allowed the importation of basic foodstuffs only into the Gaza Strip. Importation of construction raw materials, medicines and others goods through the crossing has been banned. As a result of the closure of the crossing, the local markets have run out of some foodstuffs, especially milk, flour, sugar, dairy products and fruits. Exportation of agricultural and industrial products from the Gaza Strip has been banned. Palestinian farmers and traders have sustained large losses due to the blockade of their products at the Palestinian side of the crossing, as the closure coincides with the season of exportation of strawberries, flowers, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Construction projects in the Gaza Strip have also stopped due to the lack of construction raw materials.

In addition, IOF have continued to close Sofa crossing, northeast of Rafah, which is designated for the importation of construction raw materials into the Gaza Strip, since 14 February 2006. They have also prevented Palestinian workers from reaching their work places inside Israel through Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, including newly elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and especially those from the Change and Reform list of Hamas, have been prevented from traveling through this crossing.
The World Food Program adds:

As a result of the blockade, flour mills have been unable to provide 8,000 metric tons of wheat contracted earlier by WFP. Wheat flour makes up 80 percent of the basic diet in Gaza. Other commodities, including sugar, baby formula and dairy products, are also in short supply, leading to food prices soaring by more than 30 percent since January.
Meanwhile, the fanatically Zionist AP State Department correspondent, Barry Schweid, writes of a Bahraini prince urging Hamas to recognize Israel. Of course no mention that Israel still does not recognize Palestine. (That Schweid has occupied this position for years is a minor scandal, considering his bias on the issue, well-known by anyone who's worked near the State Dept.)

On a related note, here is a fine essay by Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions on why Palestinians really voted for Hamas: not because of corruption, not because of the economy, but because they were the only group that was still fighting for their rights.