Meanwhile, let's not forget Palestine…

… where things are not improving, to say the least. Unhappily experience has shown that even when the Democrats are in power in this country, there hasn’t been any noticeable change in relation to the Palestinian question — say a less blind pro-Israel policy (if policy is the term that describes the US Government’s whatever-you- do-is-fine-with-us attitude). Here is an article from Saturday’s The Guardian by Rory McCarthy in Gaza:

We are dead people’ – Gaza defiance grows as Israeli grip stifles economy

Restricted fishing, closed crossing points and refusal to hand over tax credits bring territory close to crisis

It was not long after dawn and only a handful of fishing boats from Gaza
city harbour were still out at sea. Some had come in earlier to offload the
night’s sardine catch, most hadn’t bothered going out at all. Nearly all
the small fleet’s wooden boats, their paint fading, lay anchored up in the
harbour, as they have for most of this year.

Abu Naim waited for his five sons to return aboard his boat. If the fishing
had matched recent days they would be lucky to haul in 200 shekels-worth
(£24) of sardines. Allowing for the cost of fuel that would leave 100
shekels between Abu Naim, the crew of seven and a worker waiting with him on the dockside. The fishermen made light of it and warmed their hands over a charcoal grill as one fetched more glasses of tea.

“We are laughing on the outside but inside, the sadness is very deep,” said
Abu Naim, 53. “We are dead people.”

The narrow Gaza Strip is already the most densely populated stretch of land
in the world, home to 1.4 million Palestinians, nearly two-thirds of them
below the poverty line. The territory is now spiralling down into economic
crisis.

Since the militant Hamas movement was elected to power this year, Israel
has refused to transfer the $60m (£31m) monthly tax revenues due to the
Palestinians, and the west has halted direct financial support for the
government. Since March 160,000 government employees, from doctors and teachers to security staff, have gone without their salary. Regular Israeli
closures and delays at crossing points out of Gaza have badly hit the
already fragile economy.

350 deaths

After militants captured an Israeli soldier near Gaza in June, Israeli
military operations have killed more than 350 Palestinians in Gaza, many of
them civilians. The attacks culminated in an artillery strike on Wednesday
on houses in Beit Hanoun, killing 18 members of a single family.

When the second Palestinian intifada started six years ago, the Israeli
military imposed limits on the fishing grounds, accusing some fishermen of
smuggling weapons. First they were confined within 12 miles of the coast.
Gradually that was reduced. For three months this year they were restricted
to the harbour and the beach – a huge blow to an economy in which fishing
is still important. Only recently have they been allowed out again, now up
to three miles offshore, the fishermen said. The fish are small and the
catches light.

Those who stray out too far risk running up against Israeli naval patrols.
Hani al-Najar, 27, a fisherman and a father of three young children, was
killed last month when the Israeli navy fired at his boat. “My son wasn’t a
fighter. There wasn’t a gun on his boat. He was just a fisherman from a
family of fishermen,” said his father, Ibrahim al-Najar, 48.

The outside wall of his house was still marked with graffiti yesterday from
his son’s funeral. “Welcome visitors to the wedding of blood and
martyrdom,” it read. “Goodbye Hani.” Inside the front room hung several
identical pictures of his son, young and smartly dressed in white shirt and
tie, his hair neatly cut.

Days of hope

After many years in exile in Egypt, Mr Najar had brought his wife and six
children back to live in Gaza in 1995, in the wake of the Oslo accords when
many Palestinians hoped for peace and statehood. “We were fishing, there
was money,” he said. Then once the intifada started the economy slumped.
“We’re in a miserable situation,” said Mr Najar. “When I came from Egypt I
thought the solution was peace. I still believe that. We want our children
to live like others.”

Further south, near the town of Khan Yunis, Isa Laham, 43, was trying to
repair the large, plastic greenhouses that shelter his tomato crop. Last
year he borrowed 7,000 shekels to plant cherry tomatoes. But with crossings frequently closed he couldn’t export his crop to Israel. It rotted on the branches. He had to pay workers to tear the plants down.

This year he has borrowed more than 14,000 shekels to plant another tomato crop, hoping at least to be able to sell it in the local market to recoup
some of the money he owes. “I’m taking a risk, but if I don’t plant
anything I haven’t a chance of making any money,” he said.

Last summer Israel pulled its settlers out of Gaza and many Palestinians
hoped for a new start. But Israel retained control over the sea, the air
and the land crossings and it has been the closure of crossing points that
has hit the economy even harder this year.

“We thought it would be like Singapore,” said Mr Laham. “But now there is
no comparison. We feel like Africans with our poverty.” He has yet to pay
his four farm workers for the past year. He has eight children at school
and two at the fee-paying Islamic University.

A few minutes drive from the harbour is one of the city’s biggest
electrical stores. Tareq al-Saqqa, 35, gave up his law degree because his
family couldn’t afford the fees. Now he imports televisions, fridges and
cookers. “Ten years ago we thought a change had come and we all tried to
expand,” he said. “Then we found it was not as we expected.”

Only three times this year has Mr Saqqa been able to get goods from the
Israeli port at Ashdod into Gaza. Two months ago he ordered heaters from
Turkey, enough to fill a 40ft container for winter demand. Within days it
arrived at Ashdod, but because of delays at the main cargo crossing into
Gaza at Karni he did not expect it to reach his store for another month and
may miss most of the winter. Six years ago, before the intifada, it cost
him 1,500 shekels to bring in a container from Ashdod. Today it costs
15,000 shekels.

Closure of the crossings is at the heart of the latest crisis. “Free
movement is the sine qua non for economic growth,” warned a recent World Bank report. Israel has failed to keep to an agreement on the crossings negotiated a year ago by the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. Karni crossing has been closed for 86 of the 300 days it was scheduled to stay open, while the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border has been closed for 120 of 350 scheduled open days, according to the latest UN figures. Israel cites security concerns for the closures.

“We can keep going for the moment,” said Mr Saqqa, “but if the situation
carries on like this, with internal rivalry between factions, closures,
killings, I’m going to start thinking about saving my life and my family’s
lives by emigrating.”

Mr Saqqa is a moderate who wants to see Hamas form a coalition with its
rival Fatah in the hope of retrieving the tax revenues Israel still withholds. Yesterday Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, suggested he
was ready to s
tep aside if it meant lifting the boycott, although
negotiations continually stall. But for all those in Gaza who speak of
moderation, there are many more who talk only of defiance and resistance.

On the 10th floor of a tower block in Gaza City, Ala’a Mortaja, 23, a
presenter on Radio Alwan, a small, independent station, was asking
listeners to call or send in comments on Beit Hanoun. He read out the text
messages. “Palestine, you are our home. We were born here and brought up
here and we will never forget you,” said one. “By our blood we swear we
will be martyrs for you,” said another. “We will have revenge. We are ready
for death in return for freedom. We are competing to be martyrs.”

A caller came on air giving his name only as Abu Jihad, and recited the
oft-repeated mantras of the militants. “Those martyrs died to keep us
alive. Their deaths empower us to believe in resistance, in jihad, in
smuggling. I am ready to be a suicide bomber.”

“What made you decide that, Abu Jihad?” asked the presenter. “Because the
Palestinian people are defeated by injustice and occupation,” he shouted
back down the phone line. Then his mobile signal faded out of range. The
station cut back to Arabic pop music and a little later more news headlines
about the deaths in Beit Hanoun.

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1 Response

  1. meika says:

    ah israel, heavily subsidised religious disneyland in a goat made desert,

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