Monday, October 26, 2009

The Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

Melanie Phillips
The Spectator
26 October 09

Those who still think Gaza is starving under the tyrannical Israeli blockade (sic) will not be interested to read this by Taghreed el Khodary in the New York Times, under the headline
Goods Flood Gaza’s Tunnels, Turning Border Area Into a Shopping Mecca

RAFAH, Gaza — Dusty sacks filled with cans of Coca-Cola were being loaded onto trucks by young boys, headed for supermarkets in Gaza City. Thousands of motorcycles were lined up on display in a nearby stadium, ranging in price from $2,000 to $10,000.

At Nijma market, refrigerators, flat-screen televisions, microwaves, air-conditioners, generators and ovens filled the tents, all at inflated prices, having been spirited into this town on the border with Egypt through tunnels under the sand. Some Gazans have even purchased cars smuggled in parts into the isolated Palestinian enclave.

The tunnels emerged as an essential lifeline for Gaza two years ago, when Israel imposed a political and economic embargo after Hamas took over the area. Israel did its best to obliterate them during its three-week military offensive in Gaza last winter, saying they were being used for smuggling weapons and explosives.

But the builders set to work immediately after that, and with little hope of the border crossings with Israel opening anytime soon — and rich profits to be harvested — there are more tunnels now than ever, and Rafah has turned into a shopping mecca where the tunnel owners are kings.

‘If the siege were to be lifted,’ said Osama, 22, a tunnel owner, ‘I would end up in intensive care.’

And if he did, we all know who would be blamed.

Osama started out as a day laborer, digging tunnels from the age of 16. He graduated to running drugs and TNT through the tunnels into Gaza. Though he is a supporter of Fatah, the secular rival of Hamas, he says he supplied both parties. He was young but intimidating enough. He says he used to eat in restaurants in Gaza City and leave without paying. ‘Now it is different,’ he said. ‘We fear Hamas.’

For the same reason he no longer smuggles drugs or weapons, though the money he made from that illicit trade helped set him up in legitimate business. He says that each of his three tunnels cost about $300,000 to build, and that four friends helped him finance the enterprise.

By night he brings in live animals, motorcycles, potato chips, Coca-Cola and clothing for women and children. But the most lucrative import is fuel, which he pumps through a pipe fixed on the ceiling of a tunnel more than half a mile long and collects in a large tank on the Palestinian side. Like any smart businessman, Osama does most of his pumping after Israel has blocked fuel supplies from its side or has bombed a few competing tunnels, lifting prices in Gaza.

The tunnel owners, Gaza’s nouveau riche, say they make on average more than $1 million a year from each tunnel.

Quick -- call for Amnesty or Christian Aid to investigate these shocking accounts of destitution, malnutrition and extreme poverty in Gaza.

And what else apart from live animals, motorcycles, potato chips, flat-screen televisions, microwaves, air-conditioners, generators and ovens is coming in through those tunnels?

We can all guess.

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