As the second “Freedom Flotilla” to Gaza attempts to overcome the various obstacles in its way, the Israeli security establishment is busy trying to confuse people about the economic situation in Gaza. There’s just one big problem with their strategy: a cable written by a U.S. diplomat about the Gaza blockade makes any Israeli propaganda claim about the Gaza Strip moot.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently said that the flotilla of ships set to sail to break the Israeli naval blockade was unnecessary because “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.” Similarly, Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz told a group of Israeli reservists that Palestinians in Gaza are “importing televisions and plasma screens, and exporting agricultural products to the entire Arab world.”
The message, in so many words, is that life in Gaza is just fine, and that there is no need for flotillas to challenge the Israeli blockade.
But this State Department cable, published by WikiLeaks and written in October 2008 from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, should put the kibosh on Israel’s claims about the economic situation in Gaza (my emphasis):
Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis…
While the [Israeli government] believes that maintaining the shekel as the currency of the Palestinian Territories is in Israel’s interests, it treats decisions regarding the amount of shekels in circulation in Gaza as a security matter. Requests by Palestinian banks to transfer shekels into Gaza are ultimately approved, partially approved, or denied by the National Security Council (NSC), an organ of the Israeli security establishment, not by the Bank of Israel (BOI). As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to econoffs on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge
What the cable reports–that Israel is deliberately keeping Gaza’s economy “on the brink of collapse”–is exactly why the “Freedom Flotilla” is seeking to break Israel’s blockade.
It hasn’t gotten any better since that cable was written. This June 2011 report from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency details the human cost of the Israeli siege on Gaza:
As the Gaza blockade moves into its fifth year, a new report by the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, says broad unemployment in the second half of 2010 reached 45.2 per cent, one of the highest in the world. The report released today, finds that real wages continued to decline under the weight of persistently high unemployment, falling 34.5 per cent since the first half of 2006.
“These are disturbing trends,” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, “and the refugees, which make up two-thirds of Gaza’s 1.5 million population were the worst hit in the period covered in this report. It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution.”
Those facts–Gaza’s dire unemployment and Israel’s deliberate strategy to keep it that way–are why Israel will have to keep facing flotilla after flotilla until the blockade of Gaza is no more.