When I saw the July 3 New York Times headline "Setting Sail on Gaza's Sea of Spin," I expected the worst.
Times reporter Ethan Bronner's analysis piece on the Gaza humanitarian flotilla starts off predictably enough, saying there's blame to spread all around:
Almost everything about the flotilla stuck in Greece and waiting to challenge Israel's blockade of Gaza seems to be a parable for something else, part of an unstated effort to recast the Israeli-Palestinian narrative in extreme terms. Instead of helping to clarify what Gaza needs and how it might build a future, the saga has merely brought out the public relations demons on all sides.
The first problem, according to Bronner, concerns the very purpose of the flotilla. As he sees it, there would seem to be no need for much relief in Gaza, thanks to Israel's generosity following the killings of activists on last year's flotilla:
The international outrage that followed helped force an easing of the siege. One result, largely unacknowledged by the flotilla leaders: far more goods have gone into Gaza over the past year, and while the 1.6 million people there still need many things, basic supplies are not among them.
This is something that Bronner seems to fixate on in his reporting– he had a June 25 report that touted the building boom in Gaza:
Two luxury hotels are opening in Gaza this month. Thousands of new cars are plying the roads. A second shopping mall –with escalators imported from Israel–will open next month. Hundreds of homes and two dozen schools are about to go up. A Hamas-run farm where Jewish settlements once stood is producing enough fruit that Israeli imports are tapering off.
As pro-Palestinian activists prepare to set sail aboard a flotilla aimed at maintaining an international spotlight on Gaza and pressure on Israel, this isolated Palestinian coastal enclave is experiencing its first real period of economic growth since the siege they are protesting began in 2007.
He went on to note that things were not progressing evenly, but his point seemed to be that things were much improved since the last flotilla, thus making the current efforts unnecessary ("For the past year, Israel has allowed most everything into Gaza but cement, steel and other construction material.")
But the evidence available from human rights observers tells a very different story. From the Oxfam report, "Dashed Hopes" (12/1/10):
Many in the international community, including Quartet Representative Tony Blair, expressed hopes that this would lead to a major change and alleviate the plight of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza. However, five months later, there are few signs of real improvement on the ground as the "ease" has left foundations of the illegal blockade policy intact.
While the Government of Israel committed to expand and accelerate the inflow of construction materials for international projects, it has so far only approved 7 per cent of the building plan for UNRWA's projects in Gaza, and of that 7 per cent only a small fraction of the necessary construction material has been allowed to enter for projects including schools and health centres. In fact, the UN reports that Gaza requires 670,000 truckloads of construction material, while only an average of 715 of these truckloads have been received per month since the "easing" was announced.
Although there has been a significant increase in the amount of food stuffs entering Gaza, many humanitarian items, including vital water equipment, that are not on the Israeli restricted list continue to receive no permits. Two thirds of Gaza's factories report they have received none or only some of the raw materials they need to recommence operations. As a result, 39% of Gaza residents remain unemployed and unable to afford the new goods in the shops. Without raw materials and the chance to export, Gaza's businesses are unable to compete with the cheaper newly imported goods. This economic development leaves 80% of the population dependent upon international aid.
And a March 2011 United Nations report found that
the easing of the blockade on the Gaza Strip since June 2010 did not result in a significant improvement in people's livelihoods, which were largely depleted during three years of strict blockade. Because of the ongoing restrictions on the import of building materials, only a small minority of the 40,000 housing units, needed to meet natural population growth and the loss of homes during the "Cast Lead" offensive, could be actually constructed.
Bronner argues that the improvement in Gaza goes "largely unacknowledged" by the flotilla activists. Actually, what they're saying is that the blockade has hardly been eased–which is almost the opposite of what Ethan Bronner is reporting.