The Hamas government is carefully preparing for the possible arrival of a flotilla of 700 western activists seeking to break through the Israeli naval blockade, and Fatah leaders say they are being excluded from the organization efforts. Here’s the link to the article I wrote about this topic for the Jerusalem Post. I also wrote an article for the Palestine Note about the reaction of different Gazan political leaders to the possibility that Israeli activists are onboard the boats.
The flotilla story has ignited a fierce debate, particularly within Israel, about the extent to which Gaza is suffering a humanitarian tragedy. Articles about the elaborate menu offerings at a high-end Gaza City restaurant called the Roots Club widely circulated in the Israeli media this week. Today, I visited the Roots Club for the first time. It was nearly empty (except for five patrons, including me) at 7 p.m. on a weekend night and has not turned a profit in four years, according to co-owner Wael Al Shorafa (pictured above). “I believe we have the best food in Gaza—better than Ramallah and Israel—but we don’t have customers,” he said. “You can see that we have no customers. Most of the people who have money aren't [in Gaza] anymore. We pay our workers pocket money.”
Gaza’s economy has been devastated by two intifadas against the Israeli occupation, by the 2007 civil war between Hamas and Fatah, by last year’s war between Israel and Hamas, and by the continued Israeli blockade. I’ve met no one who is starving here (most Gazans receive staple foods from UNRWA) and many items forbidden under the blockade—including cement— come into Gaza through the tunnels.
Most Gazan families cannot afford the smuggled luxury items, nor can they afford a meal at the Roots Club. While the specific numbers are disputed, the unemployment rate is astronomical. Those who do work usually share their income with their extended families. Many, including children, have resorted to dangerous, back-breaking work ferrying goods through the tunnels or collecting rubble from destroyed, unstable buildings. Among the highest paying jobs are those with the alphabet soup of NGOs and development organizations currently operating in Gaza.
There is a housing crisis in Gaza. Everywhere I go, I meet people whose homes have been destroyed by Israel and not rebuilt. Some moved in with relatives and live in cramped quarters. Others rent apartments that they can barely afford. And many, including the three sisters pictured above, live in partially destroyed houses. And it should go without saying that there is a crisis of psychological trauma in Gaza, particularly following last year's war.
However, a minority in Gaza—including me—do live in comfortable apartments and dine in Gaza City's coffee shops. My one-bedroom apartment came with a fully furnished living room and bedroom, a satellite television, wireless internet, electricity, and a hot water tank. It had not been rented in over a year when I moved in, I signed no extended contract, and I pay only $300 per month. Since the power goes out in my building (and across Gaza) for at least eight hours per day, I’ve purchased an electric generator that gives me electricity whenever I need it. Most Gazans cannot afford these generators and have structured their lives around the electricity schedule. Some Gazan children have died when faulty electric generators smuggled from Egypt overheated and exploded.