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the media

Gaza: What the Media Has Failed to Report

Hardly a mention of the root cause of the war

Why does Hamas insanely fire rockets into Israel only to bring havoc on their own people? With a reported 1,900 now dead, nothing can explain away this immorality, to be sure, but American media has done poorly by hardly making an attempt to explore reasons.

Not until a full two weeks into the fight, when the top Hamas leader inside Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said they would not agree to a cease fire until Israel ends
theblockade, did the media awaken to something called a blockade. “We cannot go back to the silent death of the blockade”, Haniyeh said. “This unjust siege must be lifted”.

The media has since realized that lifting the blockade, aka siege, is the key condition for Hamas to end the rocket barrage but has probed it no further. Nor do our politicians pay it much heed. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) referred to it as “what is called the blockade”, as if it might even be fictive. Netanyahu feigns innocence: “What grievance can we solve for Hamas? Their grievance is that we exist”.

cornered

Desperation drives Hamas. As recently as in 2012’s rocket and airstrike exchange with Israel, Hamas had Egypt’s support. Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood had been elected president of Egypt and Hamas is a Brotherhood offshoot. The Rafeh gate on the border with Egypt — the only above-ground passage in or out of Gaza not controlled by Israel — was open for the flow of goods. The tunnels into Egypt were used to bring in arms, money, gasoline, cows, goats, building materials, even cars dismantled in Egypt and reassembled in the Strip.

But that changed abruptly in 2013 when Morsi was removed by Egypt’s military commander and now president, Abdel el-Sisi. Thoroughly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, with hundreds slain or jailed in his own country, el-Sisi closed Gaza’s gate into Egypt and had the south-end tunnels destroyed. Hamas lost its essential access to outside supply.

Moreover, Sunni Hamas has been reliant on money and rockets from Iran by way of Syria, a link that was decoupled when Hamas broke with President Bashar al-Assad over his fight against the Sunni insurgency in Syria. Hamas foolishly allowed its ideological purity to spite itself.

This time, none of the surrounding Arab nations support Hamas. Islamic fundamentalism is anathema to monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, and we now have the irony of their wishing for Israel’s success in driving out Hamas.

So Hamas finds itself quite alone, and our media, reporting on daily bombings and death counts, has come up short of explaining the desperation that drives them.

the blockade

The seven-year blockade has made life nearly impossible for Gaza. Until 2005, Israel had occupied Gaza with military outposts and checkpoints in the same manner as in the West Bank. In a controversial move that year, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided Gaza was not worth the bother. He withdrew the troops and 10,000 Israeli settlers; settlers had inserted themselves even into Gaza.

Instead of attempting to put together a fledgling state, Gaza chose conflict almost immediately, intermittently launching rockets and mortar fire. When Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006, they fired fifteen rockets into Israel the day after a bomb killed seven members of a Palestinian family picnicking on a beach near Gaza City. Israel launched air strikes and over several months, 400 Gazans, six Israeli soldiers and four civilians were killed.

Hamas then took control in 2007, and an alarmed Israel imposed a blockade — customarily considered an act of war under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — a blockade that has continued ever since. Israel handed Hamas a cause, and government officials stated to aid organizations that policy would be a careful balance of “no prosperity, no development, no humanitarian crisis”. The first two are certainly in evidence; the last has not been adhered to:

Palestinians in Gaza are locked in, unable to travel even to the West Bank, much less anywhere else, except a few by special permission. Their confinement is enforced at a single gate into Egypt on the south and three gates into Israel, two of which are closed. There were about 4,000 exits a month through the Erez gate into Israel last year, about 1% of traffic in 2000. Egypt has opened its border crossing on only 17 days so far this year.

The blockade was intended to bring economic activity to a halt. “The term ‘economy’ is no longer valid in the Gaza Strip,” says Palestinian economist Omar Shaban. Nearly 30% of Gaza’s businesses closed up shop and an additional 15% laid-off 80% of their staff, says Oxfam, the international federation that fights poverty. Unemployment runs around 50%. According to the U.N. about 70% of Gazans live on the equivalent of a dollar a day. Nearly 10% of children under five suffer from malnutrition; 65% of the population were suffering from food insecurity by the end of 2013; 80% depend on donor aid, according to OCHA, the U.N.’s humanitarian agency.

Israel and the West Bank constituted 80% of Gaza’s exports before the blockade, but they are now banned, as is the shipment of goods via Kerem Shalom in the south, Gaza’s only commercial transit point. Annual exports are about 3% of what they were before the blockade began. Flowers are about the only export item permitted by Israel under a special agreement with the Netherlands.

The IDF maintains a buffer zone along the border half a mile wide, which puts off limits some 30% of the Strip’s arable land. Farmers report regular incidents of soldiers who guard the border shooting at them. Israel’s human rights group B’Tselem says that along the border about 55 civilians were injured on the border and four were killed in just the period between last December and March 2014.

Almost no building supplies are allowed in — cement, glass, steel, plastic pipe — the materials crucial for reconstruction of thousands of factories, government buildings, hospitals, schools, and entire neighborhoods that were damaged or destroyed in the 2009 attacks. Israel feared that these materials could be used to build weapons or bunkers. Gaza’s own concrete plants were all bombed or bulldozed in Operation Cast Lead. The only apparent building material is the rubble of destruction that boys pile onto donkey carts, and yet Hamas somehow managed to elude the prohibitions and build the tunnels. The media illogically shames Hamas for building tunnels instead of schools — 230 needed said a 2010 report — failing to realize building in the open with forbidden materials would reveal the smuggling.

Only about three dozen items can be brought in; the list changes frequently and has included at times computers, fruit juice, chocolate, coriander, cumin, jam, fishing rods, even toys and paper for children’s textbooks. Speaking of children, Gazans compound their problems with a birthrate of 5.1 per woman, one of the world’s highest.

Restrictions on spare parts insures that what breaks stays broken, and that can include water and sewage treatment plants. Millions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage flow into the Mediterranean daily for lack of fuel to operate the plants. Only 40% of Gaza's fuel needs were being met last year causing blackouts of 12-16 hours. Gaza normally has electricity for barely eight hours a day, Israel having cut off what is almost all the electricity that comes into Gaza. Repairs by the water authority are now falling even further behind. A Gaza resident said to The New York Times, “When the water comes back on,” he said, “the electricity goes off, and we can’t pump water to the roof tank.”

This map by the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs is from 2007 but most of its features endure. It shows vividly the constraints on Gaza — the walls and gates that keep the Palestinians penned in. It particularly illustrates the fisheries blockade that prevents Gaza from feeding its own people. Oxfam reports that since 2008...                    Text continues below
...the sea blockade has reduced the main fishing catch — sardines — by 90%. Fishing yield is 7,000 metric tons lower than before the blockade.

The Oslo Accords set a zone extending 20 nautical miles into the Mediterranean, but Israel’s IDF has unilaterally set its own limit, currently only three miles and sometimes a single mile. Even the six mile boundary cordons off the best fishing grounds. Gunboats patrol the waters and there have been incidents of their firing on fishing boats — 72 in 2011, for example. They often force the fishing boats ashore, arrest and interrogate fishermen. Israel completely controls Gaza’s air space (there is no airfield) and drones patrol the skies to enforce the fishing limits. “The fact that this coastal population now imports fish,” says a U.N. report, “speaks to the absurdity of the situation.”

shut-ins

That is what explains Hamas’ gamble that if Israel could be induced to go too far once again (a U.N. investigation of the 2009 war accused both sides of war crimes), international pressure would insist this time on Israel lifting the blockade. So we now see Hamas gruesomely sacrificing — at this writing — over fifteen hundred lives to this objective. A letter in the Times asked, “Would the United States respond any differently if hundreds of missiles were fired on its cities by terrorists?” A valid point — which leads to another. If Americans were penned into tight confines, disallowed from leaving, deprived of food, medicines, materials for building and commerce, children suffering from malnutrition, should Americans accept these conditions and not fight back?

Israel is of course concerned that lifting the blockade would merely allow Hamas to replenish its supply of rockets. But it has resorted to a humanitarian atrocity as the remedy — the “collective punishment” of an entire population for the actions of a few — the violation of the Geneva Conventions mentioned above. Besides, the blockade has been spectacularly unsuccessful, given hundreds — we are told — of sophisticated tunnels and the Israeli military’s estimate of some 12,000 rockets that Hamas has smuggled in or made.

The United States, having made no humanitarian demands for these seven years, is of course complicit in the subjugation of the Gazan population. As the carnage mounts, it continues to support Israel while voices elsewhere shout “genocide”. Israel says it has run short of ammunition and the U.S. says it will re-supply. And the facts of the blockade — the description of life in Gaza — are what go unreported by the U.S. media.

The wife of an elderly couple interviewed by the Times looked to the future: “Every family here has a son or a father or a brother who has been killed, and all of their children will grow up wanting revenge”. This is a war that knows no end.

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