is there a humanitarian crisis in Gaza? not the point
Israeli hasbara and the nincompoops who repeat it in the West have been pointing to the presence of an economy and food in Gaza as evidence that the boats are unnecessary. No crisis, no goods needed to resolve crisis. No goods needed, no boats needed. For those who take comfort in the simple cruelty of such a silly justification for abusing 1.5 million people, they can stop reading. For the rest of the planet, the situation is more complicated.
Almost without fail, every Gazan I speak to tells me that they do not want charity, they do not want humanitarianism, they do not want gadgets or aid convoys. What they want is justice, and an end to the siege. What they want is an opening of the borders so that they can manage their own economy and their own lives. The Free Gaza Movement has admirably insisted from the outset that the boats aren’t just a humanitarian effort.
They’re a political intervention aimed at breaking the siege. The problem is that this sort of freedom-from-occupation doesn’t quite capture the liberal imagination so well. A good portion of people outside the solidarity movement think that putting brown people under foreign occupation is OK.
Usually, such dusky folk are abusing their women, and when they’re not abusing their women, they’re shipping their children off to madrassas, erecting minarets, reading the Koran, voting for fundamentalists, and generally being quite offensively Islamic. As long as they’re engaged in such silliness, collective punishment–state-terrorism–is OK, and occupation is OK. But it should be done responsibly.
So the organizers have to pitch their efforts in two keys: humanitarianism and freedom. Israel has no good answer to the claim that the territory is under siege, and when pressed, insists, as Avigdor Lieberman did, that “Israel will not allow a violation of its sovereignty at sea, in the air, or on land.”
Everyone will forget this statement and continue claiming that Gaza is not occupied a few days after Israel (tries?) to commandeer the boats. But the humanitarian situation will continue to abrade liberal sensibilities. So prong two of the propaganda effort is to say that there’s no humanitarian crisis.
And they are right: there are quite a few nice restaurants in Gaza City. Maybe a few thousand of the people living here can afford them. Food does come in. But children are still stunted. There is power. Just not all day. There is clean water. It just comes from bottles and purification devices. There are stores stocked with electronics.
Just, most of the population is effectively excluded from meaningful participation in the cash economy and can’t buy the goods in them. Yes, people have toilets. They’re just not hooked up to an adequate or functional sewage system. Yes, there is concrete and iron and glass to build homes. It just costs far more than it would cost if there weren’t supply constraints, so many people cannot afford them, either, and building projects are stalled.
Gaza isn’t a humanitarian crisis only because people are not starving to death, and when you define humanitarian crisis as post-earthquake Haiti, you arrive at the understandable conclusion that there’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. What would be more correct to say? That Gaza is a carefully managed political crisis, modeled after a concentration camp, complete with per-person calorie allotments adjusted for height, weight age, and the rest, a crisis managed through UNRWA food distributions, with the assistance of a tenuous tunnel economy.
You can’t manage an urban population of 1.5 million people on an ad hoc emergency basis in perpetuity. Is it a “humanitarian crisis” that Gazans feel despondent and hopeless, that they think the world does nothing while Israel imprisons them? Is it a humanitarian crisis that young men and women feel that they will die without seeing the world? Or that they go to die in forays beyond the border because they feel that life isn’t worth living?
A humanitarian crisis when cancer patients die because there’s inadequate treatment in Gaza for cancers? Are we suddenly nutcase dictionary lawyers, debating what the appropriate slot for Gaza is just because there are a couple nice restaurants in Gaza and the lucky-ducky Gazan upper-class has nice food in the bin?
Even my cynical friends get optimistic and hopeful about the boats, especially these boats–not because of the wheelchairs, although those are needed and I hope they get in, but because they represent the possibility of freedom. “We will not let this flotilla get through. It harms Israeli security,” Israel TV’s Channel 10 quoted Danny Ayalon as saying. When the goal is the denial of political possibility, that makes sense.
You don’t interrupt a lab experiment on how to warehouse a people and foreclose any possibility of liberation. Except that’s exactly what Free Gaza continues to do. Here’s Greta Berlin: “”They can do whatever they want, but they can’t stop us…There are ships full of civilians who want to break the blockade on Gaza, to make people in Gaza as free as anyone else.” That’s what Israel and those who support its policies oppose. What is wrong with them? Rhetorical question. What’s wrong with them is Zionism.
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