Just how hungry is Gaza?
GAZA CITY - With its tastefully hung fairy lights twinkling above a patio bedecked with topiary, Roots is not your typical Gaza eatery.

Snazzily dressed waiters hover attentively; a speaker playing Tom Jones's She's a Lady provides a nod to western sophistication, while the waft of tobacco from hookah pipes adds an air of exoticism.

But Roots has another, less welcome, claim to fame: It is the only restaurant in Gaza to win a recommendation from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The endorsement came in a communique issued days before Israeli commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists last week in a violent melee on board the aid vessel Mavi Marmara en route to Gaza.

If the tenor of the communique, which encouraged prospective visitors to try the beef stroganoff, was facetious, its underlying intent was anything but.

Ever since Israel imposed its blockade of Gaza in 2007, the territory has become a byword for misery, stoking anger in the Arab world and concern in the West.

Israel insists that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, despite the claims of aid agencies to the contrary, and that the blockade's objective is to weaken Hamas, the territory's overlords, not its people.

The existence of restaurants like Roots has therefore become central to a narrative that Gazan life, in the words of one Israeli official last week, "is good and stable".

Step into a grocery shop in Gaza City, and you will find a variety of goods from pasta to chocolate - many of them banned by Israel but smuggled through tunnels that pass under the border with Egypt.

It all goes to show, argues Mr Gerald Steinberg, an Israeli commentator, that the perception of Gaza as a disaster zone on a par with parts of Africa is misleading.

"The entire humanitarian crisis claim, everything that comes out on the situation in Gaza is manipulated as political warfare against Israel," said Mr Steinberg.

Gaza is not eastern Congo, nor is its suffering comparable. Yet, by Middle East standards, its poverty is palpable. In a territory of just 360 sq km, 1.5 million people live in conditions close to squalor.

A landscape of ruined buildings, destroyed by Israeli forces, greets the rare visitor who crosses into Northern Gaza. Groups of men toil in the heat to load salvaged bits of masonry - a precious commodity after Israel banned all construction material entering Gaza - onto donkey-drawn carts.

Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2007 when Hamas violently wrested control of the territory from the more moderate Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas, the pro-American leader of the West Bank.

The blockade bans both material that could be used to make rockets and all but the most basic humanitarian supplies. Its aim, Israel says, is to create an austerity regime in Gaza while using the West Bank as a comparative "shop window" in the hope of convincing its people to throw off Hamas and choose the moderation of Fatah.

Across Gazan society, the effects of the siege have been deeply disconcerting.

More than one in three babies is anaemic, while nearly one in ten is malnourished, according to a survey sponsored by the Danish government.

The average income of adults meanwhile, has fallen by a third since the blockade began, says Mr Shaban, while the United Nations estimates that 80 per cent of all Gazans rely on it for food aid.

Yet there is no sign that the blockade is substantially weakening the position of Hamas as Israel had hoped.

Many Gazans say the movement is less popular than it used to be - in part because it is now seen as corrupt but also because it is blamed, in part for the blockade.

But even the disenchanted see Israel as the greater transgressor when it comes to the blockade and regard arguments that suggest otherwise as disingenuous.

"Israel can try to get us to blame Hamas, but it is a conceit most will not fall for," a Gaza entrepreneur said.

1 - 3 of 15 responses to "Just how hungry is Gaza?"
Buush Mo
well what do you expect from people who were almost wiped out from the Earth, we can only revenge what the nazis have done to us from the palestinians, the west is what is pushing us to do this otherwise what if palestine is independent, then there will be all out war between israelis, what is uniting us this war against palestine and it has to be maintained!
The atrocity of the Isreali military against the Palestinians is somewhat similar to the what the Jews went through under Hitler.

Before the existence of the kingdom of Israel and the fluttering of the star of David, skirmishes and hostilities there were unheard of. The Palestinian Arabs and Jews lived peacefully side by side.

Since the establishment of the Jewish state, we have what is known as modern history with more blood spilling out of the Palestinians than the Isrealis.

The blockage and killing of Turks at sea in international waters was totally unacceptable behaviour in the eyes of the international community and the UN. Isreal should seek international eye-witnesses in its inspection of ships, so as to be satisfied that no fire arms are on board. The Turks life is cheap I guess. Ironically, Turks and Jews have been recent friends, diplomatically.

To appreciate what's been happening there in modern history, one has to read the ancient history of the descendents of Abraham.
Oh Tham Eng

So, it is now very clear for all to see how the upside down 'peace' activists bloodied the Israeli commandoes who boarded their ship to check their cargo for hidden Iranian weapons intended to re-stock Hamas' arsenal.

But as Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes, the Israeli blockade is not just perfectly rational, it is perfectly legal.

Gaza under Hamas is a self-declared enemy of Israel -- a declaration backed up by more than 4,000 rockets fired at Israeli civilian territory. Yet having pledged itself to unceasing belligerency, Hamas claims victimhood when Israel imposes a blockade to prevent Hamas from arming itself with still more rockets.

In World War II, with full international legality, the United States blockaded Germany and Japan. And during the October 1962 missile crisis, we blockaded ("quarantined") Cuba. Arms-bearing Russian ships headed to Cuba turned back because the Soviets knew that the U.S. Navy would either board them or sink them. Yet Israel is accused of international criminality for doing precisely what John Kennedy did: impose a naval blockade to prevent a hostile state from acquiring lethal weaponry.

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