Tim McGirk
November 25, 2008 - 8:00pm

IN Gaza, food's going fast.

As you sit down to a Thanksgiving feast, please spare a thought for the starving Palestinians of Gaza. There are 1.5 million of them, most of them living hand to mouth, or on UN handouts, because Israel has them under siege.

It's a vicious cycle, one that's being repeated every few months or so. The Islamic militants do something crazy, Israel strikes back, the militants fire missiles into southern Israel and then the entry points into Gaza slam shut. Food and the basic necessities of life are squeezed off to the barest minimum.

And who suffers? Not the militants, not Hamas nor Islamic Jihad. As usual, it's the people of Gaza who are dazed with hunger. My friend Azmi, who has diabetes, tells me he is running out of insulin, and he can't find any pharmacy or hospital that still has supplies.

Dialysis machines are breaking down in the hospital (the rare moments when there's electricity to run them) and there are no spare parts to replace them. Bakeries have run out of flour. “I've been to the Cairo zoo,” says Azmi, “and I swear those animals are treated better there than we humans are in Gaza.”

Many stories are written about the smugglers' tunnels that honeycomb Gaza's southern border with Egypt. We write about how the smugglers bring Viagra and tiger cubs through the tunnels, as though Gaza were some big exotic shopping mall, a Neiman Marcus on the Mediterranean. But the truth his, all the stuff coming through the tunnel is expensive because it is taxed by the smugglers, and beyond the reach of most Gazans.

In the Third Act of this sorry performance, the international community and the UN start complaining loudly, and Israel lets in a few dozen trucks of food, or turns the fuel spigot on for a few hours to reduce the international outcry and show what good guys they are. That's what happened today. The Israelis let in 40 trucks. It's hardly enough. At a minimum, says Chris Guness, an UNRWA spokesman, “We need to bring in 15 trucks a day, every day.” Adds UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian Territories Maxwell Gaylard, “This is an assault on human dignity with severe humanitarian implications.”

Then we have Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, obviously irritated by Gaza questions during his valedictory tour to Washington. He dismissed the near-famine in Gaza as nothing more than the whining of a few cry-babies, as if he expected them to make souffles out of sand, soups from stone.

Israel wants to draw a curtain around Gaza so nobody can see how it's punishing the Palestinians. That's why, for the past two weeks, they've barred the foreign press from entering Gaza. The reason, says the Israeli military, is that catch-all phrase “security”, and it is pronounced with arrogant solemnity as if to say ‘Take it from us, we have our very good reasons. Don't challenge us.”

Well, the foreign press did challenge the Israeli government. We took the matter to the high court, petitioned Olmert and got our editors to write letters of complaint. Some journalists talk of chartering a boat from Cyprus and trying to run the Israeli naval blockade. These are desperate tries, but this is a violation of the press's freedom, and the world's right to know. This is the sort of shameful attitude you might expect from Zimbabwe's Dictator Robert Mugabe, not Israel. Please.

Choking the life out of the Gazans isn't going to make them turn against their Hamas overlords. On the contrary, says my friend Azmi, “Everything that Israeli does isn't harming Hamas in Gaza. It's making them stronger.” Starving Palestinians and depriving them of medicine certainly isn't going to make them like Israelis, or their supporters in Washington, any better.

Happy Thanksgiving.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017