Are Gazans starving or on a “shopping spree”?

After the wall separating Gaza from Egypt was blown up in several places last Wednesday and thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt to stock up on the basic commodities they have been denied by the Israeli blockade, most of the news coverage is reporting on the awkward Egyptian attempts to close the border. The New York Times coverage features a photo essay showing attempts to lift a cow, a camel, and a motorcycle over the border wall. As though to further insinuate the absurd and frivolous nature of the exchange across the border, the Times refers to it as a “shopping spree.” The NY Times article also says that with an estimated 200,000 Gazans entering Egypt, “the trade is becoming increasingly commercial.”

It’s hard to know what to make of such phrasing; it seems to hint that Gazans are just budding entrepreneurs and pleasure-seeking tourists — not at all victims of an Israeli blockade that has cut electricity and prevented basic food and medical supplies from reaching Gazans. Indeed, it is not until the end of the NY Times article that you even hear any information about the effect of the recent blockage, and even then, all it says is that “Israel decided to cut off shipments into Gaza, including fuel for the local power plant, in response to rocket attacks from Gaza.”

As ever, what is interesting to contemplate is what the NY Times does NOT say: that as of Sunday, electricity from the Gaza power plant has been cut in the dead of winter, and that the wall breach was prompted by an Israeli decision to completely block humanitarian shipments of medicine and basic food supplies.

In response to an editorial in the Washington Post, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has written an open letter disputing the Post’s claim that “no one is starving in Gaza,” and reminds us that the World Food Programme and the UN Relief and Works Agency are calling for immediate aid to be sent to the impoverished Gaza Strip to “urgently prevent a humanitarian crisis.”

Similarly, Uri Avnery writes in Counterpunch that

“Large areas of Gaza remained without electricity – incubators for premature babies, dialysis machines, pumps for water and sewage. Hundreds of thousands remained without heating in the severe cold, unable to cook, running out of food.”

Finally, an editorial in the Boston Globe by Eyad al-Sarraj and Sara Roy provides concrete details about how the blockade has progressed and reminds us that

In 2007, 87 percent of Gazans lived below the poverty line, more than a tripling of the percentage in 2000. In a November 2007 report, the Red Cross stated about the food allowed into Gaza that people are getting “enough to survive, not enough to live.”

It is a very different perspective from the New York Times’ image of frivolous tourists hoisting camels over walls.

(My thanks to the superbly well-read Asli Bali for keeping me up to date with news coverage of Palestine.)

L.L. Wynn

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