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In Al-Ahram, Egypt’s largest daily, journalist Ashraf Abu Al-Houl wrote (translated by MEMRI) on July 18:
I was last in Gaza in mid-February. Returning three weeks ago, I found it almost unrecognizable…. A sense of absolute prosperity prevails, as manifested by the grand resorts along and near Gaza’s coast. Further, the sight of the merchandise and luxuries filling the Gaza shops amazed me.
Abu Al-Houl goes on to make an admission of sorts:
The reality [in Gaza] proves that the siege was broken even before Israel’s crime against the ships of the Freedom Flotilla in late May; everything already was coming into the Gaza Strip [through smuggler tunnels] from Egypt. If this weren’t the case, businessmen would not have been able to build so many resorts in under four months.
Though clearly taken with what he sees, however, Abu Al-Houl later asserts that it is no egalitarian paradise:
The Gaza resorts paint a picture of prosperity enjoyed by only a few groups, most of which have become rich from the blockade, because they either own tunnels or else work for the many international organizations in Gaza, headed by UNRWA…. Most of [the resorts] are owned by members, or associates, of Hamas. In addition, the Hamas municipalities [also] charge high fees, in Gaza terms, for the use of public beaches.
Finally Abu Al-Houl complains that “this huge investment in the leisure industry is taking place today in Gaza at a time when 80% of the residents depend on aid from UNRWA and other organizations, and unemployment is at 45%….”
In other words, after his initial enthusiasm about “absolute prosperity” and “merchandise and luxuries filling the Gaza shops,” Abu Al-Houl is saying the wealth is only enjoyed at the top by professional smugglers (i.e., tunnel owners), UNRWA people, and Hamas itself.
That portrayal was further buttressed by an AFP report appearing a few days later, on July 25, called “Hamas thrives in Gaza’s besieged economy.” It opens:
The tranquil lawns of the seaside Garden Resort are a high-end oasis in the impoverished Gaza Strip – and a source of income for the Hamas-linked charity that owns it.
The beach club, one of several commercial ventures recently launched by groups and individuals linked to Hamas, illustrates the Islamist movement’s growing dominance of an economy crippled by a four-year-old Israeli blockade.
The article goes on to claim:
Israeli and Egyptian border closures imposed after the capture of an Israeli soldier in June 2006 and tightened when Hamas seized power a year later have devastated Gaza’s private sector, sending unemployment above 40 percent.” And yet, “the sanctions have had little visible impact on Hamas, which taxes and regulates a thriving trade carried out through hundreds of smuggler tunnels beneath the Egyptian border that supply most of Gaza’s daily needs.
Hamas economy minister Ziad al-Zada is cited as “attribut[ing] Hamas members’ growing role in the economy to the ouster of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority led by the rival Fatah movement…in June 2007,” and as saying, “The sons of Hamas were prevented in the past from working and participating, but today there are opportunities for them.”
The article ends by quoting some ordinary Gazans complaining about the prices charged at Hamas-run resorts.
A few things are worth noting here.
One is that when Westerners have railed against the “humanitarian crisis” caused by the “Israeli siege” of Gaza, they generally have neither known nor cared very much what they were talking about. Both the Al-Ahram and AFP stories depict opulent scenarios of beach resorts and malls while decrying – Abu Al-Houl less consistently – a wider context of unemployment but not of severe deprivation. Abu Al-Houl says at first that the siege conditions had, thanks to the smuggling, already ended even before Israel relaxed its blockade.
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