As Jodi Rudoren tells it today in the Times, the people of Gaza have a “sense of siege.” They also complain of “restrictions on travel, farming and fishing,” but that’s about it. A casual reader could assume that Gaza residents are a whiny lot or that they are plagued by bureaucratic red tape and not much else.
Her description comes in an online story about a two-state believer in Gaza, Ezzeldin Masri, who is something of an anomaly there for his support of the peace process. The article serves to give a benign face to Gaza, often passed off as a hotbed of rabid militants, but it also skews the reality of life for its 1.7 million residents.
Rudoren knows that the siege of Gaza is more than an uncomfortable feeling. The blockade has been in effect for seven years and has cost the residents dearly. Israel and Egypt prevent students from leaving to attend universities abroad, hold up patients seeking medical care, block the passage of produce from Gaza and prevent the entry of much needed materials for schools, water and sanitation projects, and housing and medical supplies.
This has prompted international agencies (see here and here) to refer to Gaza as a humanitarian crisis and to predict that it will have no potable water in two years. Yet Rudoren cannot manage even to note that Gaza is under blockade.
In mentioning “restrictions” on farming and fishing, Rudoren fails to say that Israel enforces these limitations with live bullets and Gazans have died tending their fields and crops.
Israel maintains a no-go zone within the border of Gaza, officially drawn at 300 meters. But as recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre states, “Farmers have regularly been shot at, and some have been killed and injured at distances much further than 300m from the fence.” It adds that “people [are] at high risk of being fatally shot as far away as 1.5km in some areas.”
Moreover, Israeli tanks often enter Gaza to level land with bulldozers and tanks. “All land within 300m of the fence has been leveled a number of times,” the report says, leaving not only damaged crops and buildings but also degraded and useless topsoil.
The 300 meter strip is not a small space in the Gaza scale of things, especially when the most fertile land is along the border. A UN report last year noted that Israel is denying access to “as much as 35% of Gaza’s agricultural land and currently more than two-thirds of its fishing areas.” This has led to an estimated loss of more than $76 million each year.
Although the Oslo Accords gave Gaza boats the right to sail 20 nautical miles from shore, Israel enforces a 3-mile limit most of the time, occasionally allowing fishermen six miles of access. Gaza fishermen are prevented from entering the best fishing grounds, but those who stray beyond this line or come too close face live bullets. Israeli sailors frequently arrest fishermen and confiscate their boats and nets.
The November 2012 ceasefire between Hamas and Israel was supposed to ease these limitations for fishermen and farmers, but the IDMC report states that in the first six months after the truce “Israel used live ammunition against Palestinians near the fence on at least 5 different occasions, killing two civilians and injuring 58.”
At sea the situation was similar. During the 12 months following the ceasefire, the report states, “troops opened fire on Palestinian fishermen 147 times, injuring nine and detaining 40. Twenty-five items of fishermen’s property, including boats and nets, were damaged, and a further 21 items were confiscated.”
The numbers are there for all to see. International organizations have been issuing reports and holding press conferences on the crisis in Gaza, but the Times dismisses it all in a few bland sentences: Gaza residents are annoyed, they face some restrictions, they suffer from a “sense of siege.”