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Jul 4, 2010

The most valuable gift a parent can give his child these days is a different nationality

Sunday July 4, 2010

Is Gaza just a diversion tactic?


Gaza is suffering, no doubt about that. But Palestinians say don’t be too pre-occupied with Gaza and neglect what is happening in East Jerusalem.

GAZANS can shock you into some truths. “Forget Gaza. Do you see any of us starving in here? No. Gaza is a diversion tactic,” states Ahmad Awda bluntly. Ahmad, the Arabic editor of Maan news, Palestine’s top news website, is from Gaza City; and no, he is not turning his back on his homeland. But as far as he is concerned, there is a bigger problem that is being shoved aside because of Gaza.

Starting anew: Others, however, are still waiting for help.

“The real issue is Jerusalem. But with the world media so focused on Gaza, Israel is getting away with demolishing Palestinian homes and building new settlements in Jerusalem. “And there is hardly any media coverage on that because everyone is so ‘busy’ looking at Gaza!” he points out. True enough, with so much attention on the Gaza Aid flottilla and pressure to end the siege on Gaza, Israel has started quietly to move in on East Jerusalem. They have sent troops to demolish 22 homes in Silwan, an Arab neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, to build a “much needed” archaeological park. Construction work too has just started at the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah, 3km away, for 20 apartment units for Israelis. Palestinians see this as a deliberate attempt by Israel to evict them from East Jerusalem and move Israeli settlers in; and tension has been rising there by the day. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab/Israeli war but this has never been accepted or recognised by the international community and the United Nations. Yet days ago, Israel released its Jerusalem Municipality Master Plans which spells out detailed plans for the expansion of Israeli settlement enclaves across the city.

Nasser Al-Najjar, who was born in Jordan but lives in Gaza, says people should never forget just how small Gaza is (360sq km) compared to the West Bank (5,860sq km). “So why focus on tiny Gaza,” he says, also voicing his concern for what is happening in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope will be their capital some day – if they get their own state. As for Gaza, Israel is right about one thing. There is plenty of food there. It is no secret that Gaza sits on fertile land and thanks to the farmers (who are forced to farm to feed their family despite the obvious danger if their lands are near the Israeli border), there are lots of vegetables and fruits in the markets. For those with money, there are enough eggs, chicken, lamb, beef and fish too. It is actually quite a shock to come into Gaza and find the shelves in shops and supermarkets fully stocked with all sorts of imported food stuff – from canned meat, soups, pasta, yoghurt, chocolates, biscuits, cheeses, jam, spices, nuts, ice-cream, all types of coffee, tea, Pepsi, Coke and juices to soaps, shampoos and body lotions. If some products are not allowed in through the legitimate Israeli and Egyptian borders, they are still making their way in through the illegal tunnels running under the Egyptian/Gaza border.And, yes, there are people buying.In fact, some prices have even come down!

These days, you can get three Mars bars for 10 shekels (RM8.40) and a can of Coke costs about 2 shekels (RM1.60) – thanks to stiff competition from the mushrooming of illegal tunnels and the easing of goods allowed in through the legitimate border crossings. Prices have been forced to come down. While the UN says that about 80% of the population is dependent on food aid to survive, the truth is, while most people might not have the money to spend, there is no-Africa type of starvation in Gaza. In fact, there are even posh restaurants, like Roots, the Lighthouse and al-Deira which serve up a good (and expensive) beef stroganoff, a fancy Lebanese chicken with almond, shish tawooks, kebabs, apple pie, cappuccino and latte. And there are a number of locals patronising these places. They may not be designer wear but there are lots of nice clothes, shoes, bags and belts too in the shops. They are from Israel and Egypt. For those who need a mobile phone, washing machine, camera or a laptop, these can be found easily enough (again thanks to the illegal tunnels) but they are more expensive because of the unusual mode of transport, and you also get no receipt or warranty for the product! Despite the three-year blockade on Gaza, you can see some 2010 cars on the roads in Gaza City – also smuggled in through the tunnels!

As for reconstruction, cement, steel and aluminium are brought in from Egypt and Turkey through the tunnels and those with money have re-built or are in the process of re-building their destroyed homes. But, as always, it is the vulnerable group – those without money – who suffer most. A number of donors and aid organisations are not willing to use illegal cement and construction material from the tunnels to reconstruct homes or buildings destroyed during Israel’s three-week military strike (Dec 27, 2008 to Jan 18, 2009) and are still waiting for these to come in legally through Israel’s crossings. It’s been a long 18-month-wait so far and a number of the poor are still living in makeshift shelters and tents. Yet, there are unexpected things that have come up in Gaza City – like a new water theme park and an Olympic-size swimming pool.

But for most, life is miserable.

When Hamas captured a young Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2006 and took over the Gaza Strip a year later, both Israel and Egypt closed their borders, caging 1.5 million people inside. Economic activity dried up with 95% of legitimate businesses shutting down and there are hardly any jobs. About 70% of the people are unemployed. (The remaining 30% run or work in the illegal tunnels, own small businesses, work with NGOs, are salaried civil servants paid by Hamas, or are ex-civil servants and ex-soldiers who still get their monthly salaries from Fatah for NOT working for the Hamas government, while some desperate others get some money by spying for Israel.) Before the siege, people in Gaza used to make good money (150 shekels to 200 shekels a day; about RM128 to RM171) working in Israel. But with the blockade, they no longer have that option. And it is a day-to-day battle to survive.

Take the case of Khayr Alsaweer. Four years ago, he had his own little construction business and employed 20 workers. But now he drives a beat-up 28-year-old cab. On good days he’s lucky if he gets 20 shekels (RM17). He bought the cab two years ago for US$5,000 (RM16,337), an astronomical price to pay for such an old car. But since there were no new or second-hand cars available at that time because of the siege (the tunnels for cars were not yet built), that was the going price. But his car is so old that it keeps breaking down and it is difficult for Khayr to find and pay for spare parts. “So sometimes I end up just sitting at home doing nothing,” he says in despair. Buying food is tough, too. Khayr used to need 100 shekels (RM85) for a week’s worth of shopping for the family. “But now prices have gone up so much. I need at least 250 shekels (RM213) a week and I have to keep borrowing money from people,” says Khayr, who still owes US$1,500 (RM4,901) for the rickety-old car.

Gaza too is facing a huge energy crisis. There are massive power cuts daily, lasting eight hours or more, so shops, offices and hospitals need generators to function. “It is a form of punishment. Israel does not give us enough fuel for the power plant so there has to be rationing,” says shoe businessman, Nabil. As Gaza’s sole power plant can’t get enough industrial fuel in, it is able to provide only 30 megawatts of electricity when it should have 80 megawatts to meet the needs of the 1.5mil people. So it is forced to ration power supply. Last week, that power blackout lasted 16 hours in parts of Gaza – all because of politics. The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company said with unemployment running at 70%, it is hard to get people to pay their electricity bill. But the (Fatah) Palestine Authority (which governs West Bank) refused to supply the fuel until it was paid for June. An annoyed Nasr says he has to fork out 150 shekels (RM128) a month for electricity despite the power cuts every eight hours. Before the seige, his bill only came up to 50 shekels (RM42) a month. “I am finding it hard to even breathe these days,” he adds.

The energy crisis has created havoc in not only people’s lives but also in hospitals. Surgeries have had to be cancelled due to blackouts; a patient hooked up to a ventilator died during a power cut because it normally takes a few minutes for the generator to start working (with critical patients, a few minutes make a difference between life and death). As it is (even without the power cuts), Gaza’s healthcare system is already in shambles due to the siege. There are countless difficulties and bureaucracy involved when bringing in essential drugs as well as spare parts for medical equipment. ICRC’s health co-ordinator Eileen Daly says healthcare in Gaza has never been in worst shape. It took the ICRC eight months just to get in spare parts for a mammograph machine, she says, and that heart monitors would be unusable in Gaza very soon – because the disposable electrodes necessary to monitor the heart rhythm of cardiac patients have not been able to get in despite a one-year wait.The sewerage system too is in a state of near collapse. Tonnes of untreated sewage are being flushed into the Mediterranean Sea daily. And as time passes, people are getting desperate.

Hanan and her family are just so tired of the situation that they plan to leave Gaza for good. Her father managed to get out to Norway, one sister is in the US, another in the UK, another is in Cairo and her brother just left for Denmark. “The most valuable gift a parent can give his child these days is a different nationality,” says Hanan, who is banking on a scholarship from Turkey as her ticket out. Observing the desperation among his fellow Gazans, Fadhi says the war on Gaza has been a resounding success for Israel. “Now the people are so distressed. They are scattered. They have no houses and are fighting to survive – to search for food and to live.

“So they are not pressing for Palestine’s national demands anymore. There is no more debate here about Jerusalem, the pre-1967 Arab-Israeli borders and Palestinian refugees’ right to return,” he says, letting out a sigh.


Will said...

Hi Alex.
If there are so many unemployed,why in gods name do they stay there?
I wouldn't stay in such bad and evil conditions.

Alexander Münch said...

Beautiful Question ,Vill !

To start answering this question, I'll have to open a new Blog !

I'll try to give you an idea in three short paragraphs.

1 - Palestinians have no passports! Never had ! And never will have ! Because Abu Mazen in Ramalla & his partner in Gaza are waiting for the "Yeast" to do its job so the cake will come out from the oven, "RESPECTABLE !" ( Arab Honor - "Sharifa", you know...).

2 - Lucky You ! People like you are most welcomed and most wanted in ALL the normal places on the planet ! Palestinians are HATED by their brethren in ALL the Muslim world ! Egyptians hate them! Jordanians can't stand them ! The Lebanese slaughter them! The Syrians lock them in camps ! The Bedouins (Saudis) Despise them ! For them, "a Palestinian is what comes out from the camel's ass !". The only place on earth, where a substantial group of Palestinian have managed to make the giant leap from the Gihiliya to the modern era in 62 years, is here in Israel !!!

3 - I was in Gaza in June 1967! I was on my way (With the 7th Armored Brigade) from the Suez Canal to the Golan Hights! I Remember Gaza of 67 ! This is where I saw for the firs time a "Palestinian Washing Machine" !... a woman in a puddle !!!
I would like to remind you, that until the first Intifada, 200,000 Gazans made their daily routine journey to Tel-Aviv area starting in Rafah at 03:30 and ending at 24:00!
Long convoys of all kind of moving junk staffed with 12-14 people clogged road #4 from Erez crossing to T.A. for hours! Until Sadam has decided to Fuck Kuwait!
In order to make it more fun, the spare Scuds he didn't use on Kuwait he dumped on T.A.!...
The Palis adored Sadam ! They cheered when the Scuds hit Ramat-Gan and danced hysterically their Debka dance! when the pictures came from Kuwaiti ! ( on Israeli roofs !...). Now, it took the Kuwaiti Sheik less then 24 hours to expel 250,000 Palestinian workers! Read the numbers again!

Now you understand why a "HUMANITARIAN FLOTILLA" is necessary?