13 September '15..
The international press has bizarrely picked up — with credulity — a United Nations report from some time ago arguing that by 2020, the Gaza Strip might be uninhabitable. Here, for example, is the BBC:
The Gaza Strip will not be “a liveable place” by 2020 unless action is taken to improve basic services in the territory, according to a UN report. Basic infrastructure “is struggling to keep pace with a growing population”, the UN Country Team (UNCT) in the occupied Palestinian territory said. It estimates Gaza’s population will rise from 1.6m to 2.1m by 2020. Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Islamist movement Hamas seized power in the coastal territory in 2007.
What the report does not emphasize, of course, is the responsibility for the supposed calamity on the part of Hamas. After all, Hamas has chosen to emphasize terror over development, and has — often with the complicity of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) — diverted funds or co-opted relief supplies, schools, and hospitals to manufacture if not store weaponry aimed at killing Israelis indiscriminately. If Hamas cast aside its genocidal ideology and if the Palestinians ceased their governments’ endemic corruption, they might become like Dubai or Singapore. Then again, diplomats and analysts must exist in the realm of reality and not fantasy. Nor does the report acknowledge that the residents of Gaza enjoy a far greater standard of living in key respects than those living in other countries. Gazans, for example, enjoy greater life expectancy than Malaysians, Bulgarians, Thais, Egyptians, Turks, Brazilians, and dozens of other nationalities. Some have suggested infant mortality has risen under the territory’s Hamas stewardship, but even if such figures are taken at face value, then Gaza has a better situation for infant health than Tunisia, Mongolia, Egypt, and much of Central America. Perhaps Israel’s (legal) blockade — one in which all essential materials, food and medicine gets through, as well as many non-essential goods.
Not every location subject to a security crackdown is so lucky. Take the Turkish army’s ongoing siege of Cizre, a picturesque town (which I have frequently visited) near where Iraq, Turkey, and Syria converge. Earlier this week, I received the following email from a former Turkish official detailing the situation:
I do not write to you often. But I feel compelled now. There is a human tragedy going on now in parts of Southeastern Turkey. I want to tell you only about the town of Cizre, which has been under a 24 hour continuous curfew for 7 days now, with no end in sight. All day for seven days, the stores have been closed. There is no power, no running water, no health services, and no funeral services! No or little rare intermittent communication. Not only are the people not allowed to go out but they are also advised avoid being on their balconies and not to sit by windows in their own homes. No one can enter or leave the city of 150,000. Thirty or so members of Parliament together with two government ministers (of HDP) were stopped today, some 10 miles from Cizre by police. When their vehicles were not allowed, they wanted to continue on foot and started walking off the road on fields and hills, but were prevented again. There have been some people of Cizre, who ran away on foot. One who was wounded on his foot, arrived to civilization after walking for 12 ours. His leg had to be amputated, below the knee when he got to a hospital. There are different rumors on the number of deaths varying from eight to 20, several being children and women. Some are killed by single bullets by snipers on government buildings, some by artillery (!) fire making holes in house walls and killing people inside. Corpses cannot be buried. People are trying to prevent their dead from decaying, by ice if they can find it. One father had to keep his little girl in a freezer because he could nor bury her. The Interior Minister and the Prime Minister are not specific on what is going on. They say they are trying to establish law and order and that the curfew will be lifted when conditions allow. No one knows about the degree of food shortages. There are worries that infectious diseases may erupt. We on the outside do not really know what is going on in there. But certainly it is a human tragedy.
While the government has now announced that the blockade might be lifted tomorrow, it has often backtracked. Against the backdrop of all this, there has been a simultaneous crackdown on press and political opposition.
Make no mistake: By the standards of his polemics against Israel, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a war criminal. In international relations, though, such rhetoric is cheap and often counterproductive. What may be necessary, however, if the international community does not want to expose itself as completely hypocritical, is to ensure that Turkey’s government can no long blockade and impose collective punishment on either its Kurdish minority. Perhaps it’s time for the blue helmets to ensure that all towns and villages in Turkey, regardless of the ethnicity of their residents, receive food, and full access to medicine, water, and basic health and sanitary services. Surely, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would not want Turkey statistically to fall even further behind the residents of the Gaza Strip.