Daily Israel Report

Gaza Suffering under Siege – but Not Israel's

No more Kentucky Fried Chicken for Gazans, who are under an effective siege you may not have heard about, because it's not Israel's fault.
By Gil Ronen and AFP
First Publish: 11/19/2013, 8:39 AM

UN in Gaza
UN in Gaza
Flash 90

Gaza is suffering from a shortage in fuel and other commodities, but you may not have heard about this, because it is not Israel's fault.

Since the Hamas-friendly Egyptian government of Mohamed Morsi was toppled in July, Egypt's military has destroyed hundreds of the tunnels leading into Gaza, sending Gaza's economy on a steep downward spiral. Egypt is not as benign a neighbor as Israel, Gazans have learned, and while Israel has kept crossings into Gaza open for trade even when terrorists launched murderous attacks on Israelis, or bombed the crossings themselves, Egypt's approach to Gaza's Islamist terrorism is less nonsensical.

To illustrate the change, AFP reminds its readers of “the publicity stunt of the year” in Hamas-ruled Gaza, in which Kentucky Fried Chicken from a branch in Egypt was delivered to Gaza through a tunnel under their shared border, in May of this year.

The Egyptian crackdown on the tunnels “has sent the takeaway orders into free-fall with the rest of Gaza's economy,” writes the news agency, while the importers of the chicken say it was Hamas itself that shut down the business.

One thing is undisputed: in Rafah, the sprawling city which straddles the Gaza-Egypt border, the dust raised by hectic smuggling activity has settled in the wake of the Egyptian army's campaign against the tunnels.

Just a few scattered diggers are working under tarpaulins covering the entrances to abandoned tunnels, excavating "for the future".

“Is there a future for tunnels? Not with Sisi," sighs a Gazan border police officer, referring to Egyptian military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The flow of state-subsidised Egyptian fuel to Gaza has all but dried up since July ouster of Morsi, dwindling from about a million liters a day in June to 10,000-20,000 liters a week now, according to the latest report of the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The shortage caused the shutdown on November 1 of Gaza's only power plant, which provided about a third of its electricity.

The closure has resulted in power cuts for 16 hours a day.

Without electricity, water treatment stations have stopped working, and last week sewage began spilling onto the streets of several neighborhoods in Gaza City.

Now the Al-Yamama delivery company is looking back nostalgically on its days of delivering Egyptian KFC.

“Despite the high prices because of transport costs, people paid to have something that does not exist here," said Haitham al-Shami, a 29-year-old partner in the business.

"It was a challenge," he said, "to show that Gaza is not only war and death. We love life, but we have nothing."

His subterranean fast food service, largely conceived to promote Al-Yamama's business, lasted only a month before being banned by Hamas "for public health reasons" even before the tunnel crackdown, Shami said.

According to Palestinian economist Omar Shaaban, Gazans had developed a taste for small luxuries, which have recently been taken away again.

“Gaza is a modern society. People in Gaza know Nescafe and capuccino and these products," he said.

"Now we have become a relief society -- we depend on international humanitarian assistance for food."

Shaban, director of local think-tank Palthink, said: "We're not suffering because of a lack of rain or because we don't have food. It's a man-made catastrophe, because somebody decided to make our life difficult."

However, he did not name Egypt as a culprit.

“We are a hostage by four kidnappers," he said, naming Israel, Hamas, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority which rules Judea and Samaria, and the international community.

Palestinian Authority negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh also blamed Israel for Gaza's predicament in an article he penned last month in leftist Israeli daily Haaretz.

"In recent years, some international parties have tried to convince the world that solutions begin by removing a roadblock or allowing ketchup and mayonnaise into Gaza," he said. "What Palestine needs is ending the Israeli occupation, which is the only way for Palestine to reach its full economic potential."

No one wants to blame Egypt, it seems. The severe fuel shortage in Gaza will not lead to international campaigns of the kind that were launched when Israel could more easily be blamed for Gazans' plight.

An exception to this rule is the Turkish IHH organization, which used the famous Mavi Marmara flotilla to launch a brutal attack on IDF soldiers, has issued a report on the situation in Gaza, in which it said that Egypt has embarked on a campaign of “collective punishment” against Gaza residents. It said that Egypt has an obligation to “open the Rafiah passage for free transit of individuals and merchandise, and especially for fuel.”

IHH spokesperson Zahir Birawi said that Egypt's actions were “worrying. Anyone who identifies with the Palestinian cause must immediately contact Egyptian government offices around the world and demand that they relieve the blockade of Gaza and halt this collective punishment.”