The Israeli army recently posted an entry entitled “What Happened to the Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza?” on its official blog, claiming that in Gaza, just like everywhere else in the world, the summer is about “sun, beach, shopping”. The post features photos of a Gaza shopping center, a luxury hotel and people playing volleyball on the beach. The image that made the post notorious was of a huge mall which turned out to be in Kuala Lumpur.
Once it became clear the image was indeed not from Gaza, it was quickly removed from the blog post and the IDF Spokesperson apologized for it, saying it was an honest mistake. The mistake may well have been an honest one, but frankly, the mistake isn’t as interesting as the post itself.
Why? Two reasons:
a. Yes, Gaza has a few nice hotels, fine-dining restaurants, picturesque markets and a beach. It’s all true, and we could provide the IDF Spokesperson with some nice photos we’ve taken ourselves if he needs them. One might think the lives of the few millionaires in Gaza are enviable, but they are hardly representative of residents of Gaza in general, much in the same way that the lifestyle of Donald Trump says nothing about the existence of poverty in the United States. So instead of pictures, here are some figures: 70% of Gaza’s residents receive humanitarian aid and Gaza’s unemployment rate in the second quarter of 2013 was 27.9%. One of the major contributors to these grim statistics is Israel’s policy forbidding the sale of goods from Gaza in the West Bank and Israel, once the Strip’s primary markets. As a result, there is almost no export from Gaza at all. Last month, four truckloads of goods left the Gaza Strip. A population of 1.7 million people exports less in a month than an average kibbutz does in a day.
b. But one does have to admit that the IDF Spokesperson is faced with a true dilemma. Many people still believe that Israel prevents entrance of goods into Gaza and that there’s a widespread humanitarian crisis there. This was in fact the policy between 2007 and 2010 and though things have changed somewhat and Israel does allow goods into Gaza (with the exception of construction materials and goods it defines as “dual-use”), the myth persists. There’s a lesson in this for those who believe that exaggerating the hardship felt in Gaza serves the interests of its residents: all you need in order to shatter a myth is facts. The attempt to claim that Israel does not allow goods into the Gaza Strip draws attention away from the real issues facing Gaza’s residents. But there’s also a lesson here for the army itself: if it still has to deal with scathing criticism of its policy more than three years after goods were allowed into Gaza, it might be better, instead of posting photos of some rich people in Gaza, to change the policy and enable real economic development. We happen to have some practical suggestions in order to do this.