The Israeli government's easing of the siege on Gaza was approved by senior cabinet Ministers on Sunday days after Jerusalem had issued a non-binding declaration supporting such a move last week; whether the siege itself will end is another question.
No one knows if Palestinians will have freedom of movement -- a question that remains to be answered by anyone with authority. Hamas and its spokespersons are celebrating "victory" already and becoming a lot more stubborn about Palestinian unity talks . This week Israel said they will allow 130 truckloads of items into Gaza that, until recently, have been banned. The trucks will be carrying school supplies, kitchenware, mattresses, towels, and toys. There is still no explanation as to why these items were denied in the first place. In addition to many consumer products, here are four basic things that Gaza and its people need right now and will likely not receive despite the so-called easing of the siege.
- Raw Material--Due to the blockade on Gaza, many food plants in the Strip discontinued production of or scaled back on many of their operations due to the limitations on goods allowed in. Needless to say this contributed to the already high percentage of unemployment, as those food plants used to employ hundreds of workers that now sit at home because their jobs no longer exist. Sugar, flour, cooking oil, and dairy products were only allowed in for humanitarian aid, so food processing in Gaza was largely shut down. The people of Gaza turned to Egyptian made food goods, as the local factories were unable to produce their own, let alone compete against goods smuggled in through border tunnels . Gaza's wealthy few indulge on Hostess cakes, chocolate bars, sodas, and cheeses that are made in Egypt. If Israel's easing of the siege is real, then those food operations will resume and ultimately undercut tunnel products. Gaza's three largest food processing factories (Al-Badr mill, Al-Wadiya group, Al-Awda) have either shut down production or are close to it. They have also suffered major damage due to Israel's cast lead operation. Gaza's largest private fish farms suffered either from the Israeli attacks on their property or from the lack of goods allowed in Gaza. That a coastal strip like Gaza, with a long fishing history, relies on land-based fish farms for seafood speaks to the absurdity of the blockade. Another casualty of the siege is the price of cars in Gaza. Due to the blockade, car parts are banned from entering Gaza. Even humanitarian groups are unable to import new cars to help them carry out their missions. This should not happen, especially at time when car manufacturers are looking for new markets.
- Electricity and Fuel--You cannot run an economy if you do not have power to run it. Israel has used electricity and fuel to play politics with the people of Gaza. You cannot have a health care system or education without it either. Of course, not only do average Palestinians' homes suffer from the lack of electricity, especially during the hot summer days when their produce goes bad, the entire Gaza economy suffers. Take, for example, the Al-Awda food factory, Gaza's largest snack food producer. This summer Gaza's shops and grocery stores have stopped purchasing ice cream products due to their inability to keep them frozen. This comes as a result of the frequent electricity outages; keeping ice cream frozen is all but impossible. I know this is a challenge. I found that out trying to make smoothies in Gaza last summer. It is a daunting task to say the least. Not just that, Gaza's small textile shops also are unable to finish whatever orders they have. It's not unusual to see young men wearing knee lengths shorts lurking in the streets doing nothing but waiting for the electricity to turn on. If Israel's main concern is banning weapons, then there should be no reason why people should be prevented from rebuilding their economy. According to the Palestinian Trade Center, "By June 2008, all but 90 of Gaza's 3,900 industrial enterprises had ground to a halt, laying off 97% of their 35,000 staff. Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians energy company all provide Gaza or parts of it with power. But due to shortage of fuel and damage to the Gaza electric company, Gazans still have to put up with power shortage.
- Internet Bandwidth--The bandwidth of the internet is very low in Gaza due to Israel's ban on communication devices. This is a huge problem because the internet has become so important in the life of many. Students in Gaza can now take exams and submit assignments online, journalists use it to keep in touch with their peers, NGOs also use it. Others use it to listen to music, play games or catch the latest headline. Regardless of what the need is, the Israeli ban on equipment has led internet providers in Gaza to complain of the overused servers and outdated technology they are working with. Due to their inability to upgrade their network, many subscribers have to put up with a lousy internet connections that more often than not fail its users. The internet is especially important to the people of Gaza, as the confined space and lack of freedom of movement under the blockade make it hard to do anything but exist. The internet provides that window for many young Palestinians. The US just gave Iran a bigger bandwidth to promote freedom and democracy, so why allow the Israelis to choke the Gaza Strip's internet connection? Due to the lack of equipment a basic internet line costs a lot more in Gaza than anywhere else in the world. Hardware such as modems and internet cables are hard to come by, making them out of reach for many students. Most internet cafes, however, do have power generators to keep their computers running. The internet economy might provide Gaza with a real opportunity to develop into an IT hub for many Arab countries, as there are no shortage of IT savvy Palestinians who come at a low price.
- Law and order--In order to provide Gaza with law and order a number of things have to happen. Hamas has shown that it can and will take effective control of Gaza, and to a large extent they have. What they also have done is enforce a number of laws and regulations that Gaza needed for a long time. For example, Hamas has done a better job of managing the Gaza traffic and maintain better beaches. On the other hand, they have been brutal in punishing those who insist on defying them. For some reason, on the local government level and in providing basic services, Hamas has had success in enforcing law and order on the people of Gaza, though some might say at a high cost. Hamas has officially executed five individuals accused of various crimes. To Hamas this action serves as a deterrent to others. They have largely succeeded in containing other smaller Palestinian groups and stopped them from launching homemade rockets at Israel. Israel has also returned the favor by not targeting Hamas figures, although Palestinians in Gaza frequently see Israeli drones flying over them, fishermen get fired upon at sea, and farmers in border areas have to submit to constant Israeli intimidation. For the most part both Hamas and Israel have honored their unspoken ceasefire.
No one expects Israel to provide these things for the Palestinians, but as you know Gaza is still as an occupied territory and that makes Israel accountable for what goes inside it and therefore they ought not to undermine the efforts of Palestinians and their friends who want to have a decent life. Some Palestinians might equate the latest Israeli effort to easing the siege with putting lipstick on a pig, but I am not sure if lipstick are allowed into Gaza. Hamas is a militant group and remains so, but their officials now have to make payroll, provide services, and run a government. For now they do not seem to be interested in another round of violence. Hamas might celebrate victory for a day, but then they have to answer the "what now?" question. Thanks to a new poll we know that the majority of the Palestinians want peace. I believe that people with opportunities make great neighbors and the people of Gaza are no different.
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