Two luxury hotels are opening in Gaza this month. Thousands of new cars are plying the roads. A second shopping mall — with escalators imported from Israel — will open next month. Hundreds of homes and two dozen schools are about to go up. A Hamas-run farm where Jewish settlements once stood is producing enough fruit that Israeli imports are tapering off.This has been a meme in the media since last year when the Gaza Mall was publicized by bloggers and then reluctantly reported on. There is no humanitarian crisis - but there is despair, and there are problems, and (it is implied) those are just as bad, or even worse.
As pro-Palestinian activists prepare to set sail aboard a flotilla aimed at maintaining an international spotlight on Gaza and pressure on Israel, this isolated Palestinian coastal enclave is experiencing its first real period of economic growth since the siege they are protesting began in 2007.
“Things are better than a year ago,” said Jamal El-Khoudary, chairman of the board of the Islamic University, who has led Gaza’s Popular Committee Against the Siege. “The siege on goods is now 60 to 70 percent over.”
Ala al-Rafati, the economy minister for Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, said in an interview that nearly 1,000 factories are operating here, and he estimated unemployment at no more than 25 percent after a sharp drop in jobless levels in the first quarter of this year. “Yesterday alone, the Gaza municipality launched 12 projects for paving roads, digging wells and making gardens,” he said.
So is that the news from Gaza in mid-2011? Yes, but so is this: Thousands of homes that were destroyed in the Israeli antirocket invasion two and a half years ago have not been rebuilt. Hospitals have canceled elective surgery for lack of supplies. Electricity remains maddeningly irregular. The much-publicized opening of the Egyptian border has fizzled, so people remain trapped here. The number of residents living on less than $1.60 a day has tripled in four years. Three-quarters of the population rely on food aid.
Well, no, they aren't.
When Gazans are living better lives than a great percentage of the Arab world, it means that all the attention that they are getting for their problems is hugely exaggerated. It means that the reporters and NGOs are trying to justify, ex post facto, the ridiculous amount of money and time spent there.
But now that the New York Times has resurrected this meme, like all good news agencies, Reuters is compelled to copy it:
If pro-Palestinian activists unexpectedly manage to slip past Israel's naval blockade on the Gaza Strip in the coming days, they might be surprised by what they see in the Hamas-controlled enclave when they disembark.I don't think that it is a coincidence that Reuters employs the word "hope" prominently as what Gazans are lacking, when the American boat that is trying to get there is called "The Audacity of Hope."
Roads are being paved, houses are being built, new cars have taken to the busy streets and shops are full of myriad products. Even the longtime scourge of unemployment is easing marginally, boosting living standards for a lucky few.
"I have been without work since 2007. Now I can pick and choose," said construction worker Karem Hassoun. "Life has finally smiled on me and my seven children."
But look beyond the building sites and the handfuls of luxury vehicles and the grim reality of everyday life in Gaza is evident, with over 70 percent of people still below the poverty line following years of isolation, conflict and deprivation.
...While [Gazans] agree that there are many more goods on the shelves, the one thing that remains in short supply is hope for the future in a place where two in three of its 1.5 million people are from families of refugees.
"Gaza is essentially a prison, and while the conditions have improved, it remains a prison," said Omar Shaban, a well-known Palestinian economist.
"Therefore, people's hopes for a better future are crushed by reality and will remain on hold until the prison walls fall."