On October 20 Israel intercepted the latest in a series of vessels seeking to break its maritime blockade of Gaza. This ship, the MV Estelle, carried five European parliamentarians and a former Canadian member of parliament. The ostensible purpose of these visits, mostly by European “activists,” is to draw attention to the horrendous, horrible, impossible isolation and the desperate humanitarian conditions there, all imposed by the Israeli blockade.
This week The New York Review of Books, a fashionable left-wing periodical, told a different story. Nicolas Pelham, who writes primarily for The Economist and The New Statesman, noted the recent visit of the Emir of Qatar (bearing $400 million in gifts) and described Gaza this way:
Thanks to Gaza’s supply lines to Egypt, its GDP outpaced by a factor of five that of Hamas’s Western-funded rival, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. Further propelling Gaza’s economy, Arab governments across the region, like Qatar’s, have been shifting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money from the PA to Hamas, signaling what may be a historic shift in Palestinian politics….According to World Bank figures, construction starts in the first half of 2011 grew by 220 percent….after notching 6 percent growth in 2008, the Gazan economy grew by 20 percent in 2010 and a whopping 27 percent last year; unemployment in the formal economy fell to 29 percent, its lowest in a decade and an improvement of eight percentage points in a year. A recent International Labor Organization report cited the emergence of 600 “tunnel millionaires”; many of them, seeking somewhere to park their profits, have invested first in land, and then in hundreds of luxury apartment buildings. So great is the demand that Gazans complain builders have to be booked months in advance, and decorators are never available.
Pelham does not suggest there is no poverty: “for the first time shantytowns are cropping up on the outskirts of Gaza City.” And he discusses the complex relationships between Hamas and the new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, the Gulf donors, and even more extreme Palestinian groups.
But his article demonstrates the remarkable blindness of the “activists” going to Gaza to help alleviate its imagined isolation and non-existent humanitarian disaster. In fact there is a humanitarian disaster in the neighborhood, in Syria. I am still waiting for the ships full of European “activists” and parliamentarians heading into Tartous and Latakia to express solidarity with the Syrian people.