As the Freedom Flotilla sails towards Gaza, the Israeli propaganda machine is working at full bore. In its frenzied effort, message discipline seems to have gone out of the window.
10,000 tons of supplies being carried in the nine-ship flotilla are, the Israelis suggest, superfluous to Gaza’s needs when Israel itself is delivering 15,000 tons a week. Still, if the human rights activists insist on completing their mission, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it would be more “efficient” if the flotilla, instead of docking at Gaza City, docks at an Israeli port where everything can be transferred to Israeli trucks. Then everyone can say a prayer as they wait to see how much gets confiscated at the land crossing into Gaza. Why take a direct route when you can take a longer less certain indirect route?
Not surprisingly, The Freedom Flotilla organizers have declined Israel’s “offer.” Israel’s police and prisons service are now on standby, ready to deal with the potential arrest of hundreds of activists in the event that the Netanyahu government decides to block the flotilla’s passage. I imagine some kind of internment camp may need to be set up for holding and interrogating the peaceful activists prior to their deportation.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials are citing a Financial Times report that the 200 to 300 smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Gaza “have become so efficient that shops all over Gaza are bursting with goods.”
In effect, the Israelis seem to be saying that the combination of supplies that it delivers, along with those coming through tunnels, means that for all practical purposes Gaza is no longer under siege.
The siege isn’t working — don’t break the siege!
While Israeli officials selectively cite reporting by the Financial Times, here is part of the same report which makes it clear that under siege, Gaza’s economy has effectively been crippled — in spite of the availability of goods coming through the tunnels.
“Everything I demand, I can get,” says Abu Amar al-Kahlout, who sells household goods out of a warehouse big enough to accommodate a passenger jet.
However, Mr al-Kahlout regards his suppliers in Rafah with distaste. “The tunnel business is not real business. They [the tunnel operators] are not respectable: if they were able to cut off your skin and sell it, they would do so,” he says.
His criticism is echoed by other business leaders in Gaza, who insist that the smugglers are creating a false sense of economic improvement while damaging the territory’s battered private sector.
They concede that the tunnels are providing essential goods, yet the smugglers are also bringing in precisely the simple consumer items that could be manufactured in Gaza, especially if sanctions were eased.
“We are just replacing legitimate businessmen with illegitimate businessmen” says Amr Hammad, a Gaza-based entrepreneur and deputy head of the Palestinian Federation of Industries. Flush with cash, the tunnel operators will soon “govern the whole economy of the Gaza Strip”, Mr Hammad predicts.
For most Gazans, the period since the end of Israel’s three-week offensive in January last year has brought little improvement. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the number of “abject poor”, who depend on food aid, trebled to 300,000 – or one in five of all Gazans – in 2009.
One western official says the tunnels act like a “humanitarian safety valve”, but cautions that they offer no solution to economic decline. As Mr Hammad says: “An economy cannot just depend on tunnels.”
Over 60 percent of Gaza households are food insecure as a result of the ongoing blockade Israel imposed on the coastal enclave, leading to a collapse of its formal economy, the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) said Tuesday.
AIDA, which represents over 80 NGOs, called on Israel for “full and unfettered access into and out of the Gaza Strip for materials and exports necessary for the revival of the agriculture and fishing sectors.”
As Gaza’s population becomes increasingly dependent on aid, the organizations urged Israel to implement immediate measures which include the entry of agricultural input materials such as plastic irrigation piping, quality seeds/seedlings and veterinary drugs into Gaza “needed to jumpstart the agricultural sector and allow the export of produce” and the lifting of access restrictions on farming and fishing areas.
In the name of “security” — the catchall phrase used so often to justify brutality — through its siege on Gaza, Israel has engaged in a systematic campaign not merely to deprive a society of its physical needs but in order corrode, undermine and ultimately destroy the society itself.
Israel has vandalized Gaza in every possible way in a calculated effort to try and drive this society rip itself apart — to disarm Hamas by making Gaza implode. Gestures of solidarity and support for the people of Gaza from the Freedom Flotilla and elsewhere around the world are a way of saying that we can speak out even while our governments remain silent.