The Distorted Gaza Debate: It's About Hamas, Stupid

Another important point, generally forgotten now, is that U.S. and European strategy has been to pour money into the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank so that Palestinians could draw the comparison. People in the West Bank, relatively peace-oriented and moderate, would have much higher living standards than those in the Gaza Strip. The lesson: if you had a non-radical government that abandoned terrorism and was willing at least to talk about peace with Israel, you’d be better off, too!

Now, at least in terms of public discourse, this plan has been abandoned. Instead, living standards in the Gaza Strip should be raised as high as possible. The lesson: having a terrorist, etc., etc., regime will cost you nothing at all. Why should you turn against Hamas? You might as well support them!

It is also useful to compare the current embargo on the Gaza Strip to that put in place against Iraq from around 1992 to 2002. We now know that the campaign conducted by Saddam Hussein and his supporters had three paramount features: it lied about the effects of the sanctions (there were many false claims that millions of children were dying as a result), when more money and goods were available they were used to benefit the political elite rather than the masses, and funds that were supposedly for humanitarian purposes were used secretly to buy arms.

All these factors apply to the situation in the Gaza Strip today.

Perhaps the most important single scam to date was over electricity. Gaza’s electricity came from Israel, Egypt, and local generators. Israel continued to supply electricity for a long time despite the attacks against it coming from Gaza and the fact that Hamas did not pay the bills to the Israeli electric company. Shipments of fuel to the generators also continued. When it was discovered that the fuel was being diverted by Hamas for military purposes, Israel announced it would make big cuts in the shipments.

Even before the cuts were implemented, the Los Angeles Times reported that the non-existent cuts were causing severe hardship in Gaza. Their source? Hamas, its supporters, and those intimidated by the regime. Once the cuts were made, there were various public relations stunts, including, memorably, the conduct of a Palestinian parliament session in the dark.

This received widespread coverage -- though it was pointed out that, in fact, the meeting was held during daylight hours, with darkness provided by merely closing all the curtains.

The Gaza flotilla is a similar publicity stunt. Certainly, part of the supplies were useful, including wheelchairs, crutches, and hospital beds. But a lot of the material was in the form of used clothing and medicines past their due date. When Israel offered to transship the supplies after inspection, and Egypt made clear it would do so even without inspection, these offers were refused. After all, the goal was not to help the Gazans but to break the embargo.