More Bitter News from Gaza

6 Apr
The New York Times is reporting that the UNRWA, the relief agency which serves the Levant’s sizeable Palestinian refugee population, has “indefinitely suspended food distribution in the Gaza Strip after protesters angry over the cancellation of a cash assistance program for the poor stormed the agency’s main compound in Gaza City on Thursday”. It’s difficult to know how to respond to such a miserable situation. Ostensibly the aid-dependent people of Gaza’s ossified refugee camps are quite literally gnashing at the hands that feed them.

But note also that these protests have been orchestrated by the PLO.

Once the indispensable political front of the Palestinian national liberation struggle and still its representation at the UN, the PLO’s significance within Palestine has faded since the advent of Oslo and the establishment of the administrative body it controls, the Palestinian Authority. The PA has increasingly hemorrhaged legitimacy as the intervening decades since Oslo have brought unprecedented rates of Israeli settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories, few elections, and a steady terminal dimming of hope among the Palestinian people that they will ever see the establishment of an independent state.

Ascendant Hamas which currently governs Gaza has long been deliberately excluded from the PLO and in 2007 crushed a US-backed coup mounted by the PLO’s dominant party, Fatah.  Fatah was subsequently expelled from the territory but Hamas was expelled from the PA: PLO chairman and PA president Mahmoud Abbas immediately moved to formally dissolve the Hamas-led unity government and appointed ex-PA finance minister Salam Fayyad, a US-trained economist and banker formerly of the World Bank and IMF, to assemble a new coalition.

The schism has ensconced Fatah in the West Bank, where Abbas’s PA continues to govern under the discretion of the Israeli authorities, leaving Hamas in control of Gaza and Palestine divided.  These rival factions which effectively constitute the two main blocs of Palestinian political leadership have yet to seriously reconcile.

Of even greater contextual significance here than internecine Palestinian political strife is the context of Israeli occupation and international sanctions. Indeed, the stubborn absence of any substantive discussion of Israel’s relationship with Gaza’s desolate economy is the most striking aspect of Jodi Rudoren’s article.

Since the election of the Hamas government through free and fair elections in 2006, Israel, with the collaboration of its fellow US clients in Cairo, has subjected the densely populated Palestinian enclave to a devastating blockade, intermittent military incursions, political assassinations, an elaborate matrix of surveillance, severely curtailed access to arable land and fishable coastal waters, and several large-scale assaults by Israel’s state-of-the-art military apparatus upon Gaza’s largely defenseless civilian population and infrastructure.

In short, there is a clear and ever-present proximate cause behind the blighting poverty which pervades the Gaza Strip and gives rise to this kind of fractious tension between desperately insecure refugees and the squeezed UN agency charged with preserving what precarious economic life doggedly obtains among them. That such 800 lbs. apes escape mention in a story like this is both telling and inexcusable, and sure to nourish the narrative of smugly exasperated victim blaming so entrenched in the American (mis)understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

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