Latest update: September 13th, 2012
Robert Turner, Director of Operations in Gaza for UNRWA, in his post on the Guardian blog, ‘Comment is Free’ (“Gaza: an early warning of disaster,” Sept. 9, 2012), expended approximately 650 words describing in great depth the many alleged socio-economic trends that, he claims, will turn the Gaza Strip into the world’s next Darfur.
Citing the “findings” of the just published “Gaza in 2020: a liveable place?” report – which Hadar Sela of CifWatch fisked recently – Turner pulls at his readers’ heart strings with a vivid portrayal of a Gaza on the brink of humanitarian disaster.
In the name of all that’s good and right, shouldn’t the international community come together in an effort to prevent this looming crisis?
Well, first, Mr. Turner tips his hand by referring to Gaza as “occupied Palestinian territory.” And in the final paragraph of his piece, Mr. Turner conflates the “avoidable” disaster in Gaza with the Israeli blockade of the Strip, demanding a “… a lifting of the blockade, which is costing the international community hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”
Blame the blockade.
Mr. Turner’s “prescription” for saving Gaza’s Palestinians is based on a severe case of historical myopia. For it’s the one word that Mr. Turner neglected to use in his anti-Israel screed that is in fact behind Gaza’s rapidly devolving state: Hamas.
Employing selective memory cannot serve to refute the fact that in 2005, Israel uprooted 8,000 citizens from Gaza in a significant policy change intended to give the Palestinians there a chance to begin real state-building efforts and to build a prosperous Gazan society that could live side-by-side in peace with Israel.
Further, Israel not only evicted its own citizens, but withdrew from the Gaza Strip in September 2005. And in 2007 Hamas seized power in Gaza, in a bloody fratricidal coup.
Let’s also not forget that between September 2005 and December 2008, over 8,000 rockets were fired into southern Israel. In an attempt to stop the incessant barrages of missiles and mortars, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched, on December 27, 2008, Operation Cast Lead against the Hamas regime in Gaza.
Additionally, the January 2009 naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was precipitated by two highly publicized interceptions of arms shipments that took place years earlier — both of which were said to have originated in Iran, but one of which was destined for Lebanon.
According to the report that Mr. Turner cites, education, health and social protection in Gaza have all unraveled since the blockade was imposed. This canard is a staple of pro-Palestinian organizations’ diet of half-truths and outright lies regarding Israeli responsibility for Palestinian mismanagement of Gazan affairs. In fact, in the year 2009 alone, Israel allowed for 703, 224 tons of humanitarian aid and 105,600,128 liters of fuel to be delivered into the Gaza Strip following Operation Cast Lead.
And beginning in June 2010, Israel and Egypt lessened restrictions that had resulted from the blockade. Israel announced that it would allow all strictly civilian goods into Gaza while preventing certain weapons and what it designated as “dual-use” items from entering Gaza.
Regarding the blockade’s legality, Mr. Turner’s oft-cited UN concluded in September 2011 that the naval blockade was legal.
However, a question still hovers in the air surrounding Gaza: who’s to blame for the misery?
While Mr. Turner assigns no importance to the authoritarianism that’s taken hold of the Strip over the last five years, many Palestinians in Gaza have lost all faith in an administration that has failed to live up to its promise of clean governance.
Hamas, recognized as a terrorist organization by the EU, the United States and Israel, has used its time in power to enrich senior members of the movement through investment in the dusty labyrinth of smuggling tunnels beneath the border with Egypt and taxes on imported goods. This money has been channeled into flashy cars and Hamas-owned businesses that only stalwarts get a stake in.
What a difference seven years makes. When Israel left the Gaza Strip back in 2005, the Palestinians had the opportunity to turn the coastal area into the Arab world’s Singapore. While Israel, the US, Canada and many other wealthy nations were prepared to help the Palestinians in Gaza, the Palestinians ultimately chose to turn the Strip into a laboratory for Islamist extremism.
With such radicals in power, there is no hope for the emergence of moderate forces that can facilitate the reforms needed to usher in an error of stability, prosperity, transparency and – just maybe – peace.
Mr. Turner, however, is evidently taking his cues from the Palestinian narrative. So enthralled is he by images of persecuted Palestinians and jackbooted Israelis that he seems incapable of objectively assessing the state of Gaza. How else can one explain his inability to not only hold Hamas to account, but to even acknowledge their existence in his piece?
Turner seems to suffer from bigotry of low expectations when it comes to the true masters of Gaza’s fate, the Palestinian people.
About the Author: Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer who left behind Hollywood starlight for Jerusalem stone. He maintains a blog, Jerusalem State of Mind. As a ‘returning resident’ to Israel, Gidon has vivid memories of playing hooky from Rene Cassin High School while strolling through Ammunition Hill. After serving in an IDF infantry unit for two-and-a-half years, Gidon returned to the United States, where he embarked on a twelve-year run of half-baked careers and wholly misguided educational pursuits.
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