27 May, 2010
According to the Israeli government, life in Gaza is pretty luxurious. On the same morning that the air force bombed Gaza, wounding 22 people (who were probably all Hamas voters, which means they totally deserved whatever happened to them), the army, the Government Press Office (GPO) and the Foreign Ministry launched a three-pronged propaganda attack, all on the same day.
First, the Foreign Ministry sent out an email to the foreign press with a link to a Maan News report about the opening of Gaza’s first Olympic-sized pool.
The implicit message being, of course, that if they can afford to build a whole Olympic-sized pool for 1.5 million people, things couldn’t be that bad in Gaza.
In the same mail, the FM included a photo of a market in Gaza. See? There’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza! Note to the Foreign Ministry: true, there is no humanitarian crisis. But that is not because COGAT (the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, a branch of the Ministry of Defense) allows sufficient aid to come in through Erez and Kerem Shalom Crossings. The goods in the photo below were smuggled in through the tunnels from Egypt.
Then Colonel Levy, head of the Gaza section of COGAT, called a press conference and announced that the Free Gaza Flotilla, a blockade-busting ship of international activists currently sailing from Turkey to Gaza with a storage hold full of supplies that Israel won’t allow into Gaza, is an unnecessary provocation. Gazans don’t need the aid, Col. Levy told the assembled reporters.
"I don’t see the need for any ship with these materials. We allow these materials into Gaza," Colonel Moshe Levy told reporters at the Kerem Shalom crossing in reference to the 10,000 tonnes of building materials and other supplies the activists say are aboard a flotilla headed towards Gaza.
"The sail is a provocative act that is unnecessary in light of the figures, which indicate that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is good and stable," said Levy, who heads the Gaza coordination and liaison office.
In fact, as Israeli NGO Gisha has documented, Israel does not allow in any of those items Col. Levy claimed were regularly sent into the besieged territory. Gaza now has a parallel economy, with tunnel owners employing 30,000 workers and paying official taxes imposed by Hamas. Around 4,200 items are smuggled in through the tunnels – from cattle and cars to sanitary napkins and clothes – while COGAT allows only a few dozen items.
The items forbidden by Israel include coriander, notebooks, jam, chocolate and children’s toys. OCHA has more information in its detailed reports about USAid goods that COGAT prevented from being transferred into Gaza. These include blankets, white tehina, tomato paste and recreational sports equipment for children. COGAT also forbade Gazan strawberry farmers from exporting their crops this year. And, of course, anyone who comes within 700 meters of the security fence gets shot at, so if you’re a farmer with fields near within half-a-kilometer of the Green Line, you’ve got a problem.
And then, the piece de resistance: The Government Press Office, headed by one Danny Seaman, sent out the following email to all the foreign correspondents on its mailing list.
GPO Recommended Restaurant in Gaza
In anticipation of foreign correspondents traveling to Gaza to cover reports of alleged humanitarian difficulties in the Hamas run territory, and as part of efforts to facilitate the work of journalists in the region, the Government Press Office is pleased to bring to your attention the attached menu and information for the Roots Club and Restaurant in Gaza.
We have been told the beef stroganoff and cream of spinach soup are highly recommended. You may wish to enquire of a possible discount upon presentation of a valid press card.
There is also the possibility of an enjoyable evening on the Greens Terrace Garden Cafe, which serves "eclectic food and fresh cocktails".
Booking in advance is advisable, and as the website states, the Roots Club is fully equipped for hospitality and corporate events.
Correspondents may also wish to enjoy a swim at the new Olympic size swimming pool as reported in the Palestinian media to have been opened last week.
The email includes the following video clip, showing the opening of the restaurant. Looks lovely, yes? You can see gorgeous, unveiled women wearing pantsuits. And there’s PA President Mahmoud Abbas and former Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahlan… Wait. They were both kicked out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007, which makes you wonder when that video was shot. So you call an acquaintance in Gaza and you ask him, and he says the grand opening was in 2005, which is two years before Israel imposed its blockade. Hmmmm…..
So anyway, it’s true that foreign correspondents with expense accounts can afford to eat beef stroganoff made from tunnel-smuggled ingredients at the Roots Club. So can a tiny percentage of Gazans who still have money – reporters and fixers who work for the international press, for example. But, given that 80 percent of Gazans live off international aid, and 1.1 million (out of 1.5 million) live with "food insecurity," I’m guessing that not many can afford the beef stroganoff or the cream of spinach soup at the Roots Club.
The thing is, I don’t really understand the government’s message. It’s confusing! On the one hand they’re telling us that things are not that bad in Gaza (which could be true if your measure for comparison is Zimbabwe or Congo, I suppose), even though they neglect to tell us that the smuggling tunnels are pretty much all that’s standing between COGAT and a full-blown humanitarian crisis. But on the other hand, they tell us that the siege is imposed in order to make the situation so bad that Hamas will be forced to surrender power and release Gilad Shalit. But if the situation is really as wonderful as the government claims, then how do they expect to bring Hamas to its knees?
I mean, if Gaza were really as lovely as the government would have us believe (except for the bombings, of course), then perhaps it would not be so upsetting to read comments on my blog that advise me to go live there. If the government would let me into Gaza, of course. Which they wouldn’t. Because Israelis are not allowed into Gaza. Which is why we really have no way of knowing if the food at Roots is any good.