Yesterday Ta’anit Tzedek hosted an incredibly powerful conference call with journalist/blogger Ashley Bates, who spoke to us from Gaza City. If you didn’t make the call, you can listen to it yourself by clicking here. Ashley’s personal testimony provided an extremely important antidote to the misinformation about Gaza that we’ve heard bandied about – particularly since the flotilla crisis.
At the opening of our conversation, I asked Ashley to address the claims of the Israeli government that “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza” and that no one is starving as result of Israel’s blockade. I also asked her to address press reports that cite the upscale Roots Restaurant and well-stocked market stalls in Gaza City as proof that things are not nearly as dire as critics are claiming.
Ashley validated the reports that these kinds of goods are indeed available in the more affluent areas of Gaza. She added, however, that the only ones who can afford them are internationals such as herself or a relatively small number of affluent Gazans. She pointed out that the Gazan economy has completely collapsed as a result of the blockade, causing widespread unemployment and poverty for an overwhelming number of citizens. Ashley herself can afford to live a relatively comfortable life in a rented Gaza City apartment. Unlike most Gazans, she could purchase her own electric generator – so she is unaffected by the daily eight hour blackouts that are a familiar part of life in Gaza.
Ashley said that she saw no signs of starvation, but it was clear to her that the nutritional needs of Gazans are not being met. Eight out of ten Gazans are on some form of international aid. In the refugee camps, Gazans are essentially living on diets devoid of fruits and vegetables. As a result, anemia and malnutrition is on a sharp rise – particularly among children.
She also witnessed considerable numbers of homeless Gazan families, whose homes were destroyed during Israel’s military assault in December 2008. The majority of them have moved in with relatives or friends and live in very cramped quarters. Others rent apartments they cannot afford, relying upon the largess of landlords. Still others are forced to live in unstable, partially destroyed residences or in tents next to the rubble of their former homes (see pic above).
Ashley said she was not qualified to to comment as to whether this all constitutes a “humanitarian crisis.” She did, however, call it “a crisis of human dignity” – and it is clear to her that these circumstances are a direct result of the blockade.
It is also becoming clear to me that the world is becoming less and less inclined to buy the Israeli government’s calculated misinformation campaign about the blockade. Yesterday, blogger Richard Silverstein posted an extremely telling e-mail missive that the Israeli PR org The Israel Project recently sent out to its members:
Subject: In the “messages that fail” department, please see this…
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2010 13:36:40 -0400
From: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
To: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
As to research on saying that there isn’t a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza and that no one is starving, we will have that on what Luntz and Greenberg are testing next week. But you don’t need that data to know it is a complete dead-end of a message. Reporters and leaders all over Washington are complaining about this and some say they see Israel and cold and heard hearted. Given that 6 more flotillas are headed to Israel (including one of Jews from Germany and one of Jews from the UK) we need to make sure we understand this well.
Watch this from Jon Stewart. Watch to the end and listen to how they react to when Krauthammer uses the message…ouch!
Clearly we need to be saying that “While no one is starving in Gaza because Israel delivers so much aid, there IS suffering in Gaza. We want the suffering to stop. That is why Iran-backed Hamas must stop using supplies for rockets and Hamas must release Gilad Shalit. Hamas must be accountable for their actions and for the suffering they are causing their OWN people.”
On a good note, the topic in the US tonight will shift to energy. Alternative energy is obviously a great topic for Israel as Israel has much to say that could help on this.
Spin notwithstanding, it’s an amazing admission. (You know, it’s often occurred to me that if Israel spent just a fraction of the time and energy it spends on public relations to actually own up to its responsibility for this crisis, we might see some real progress toward a resolution).
In the meantime, thank God for sane witnesses such as Ashley Bates. Please listen to the call.