If a second “flotilla” of vessels seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza ever manages to embark, Israel plans to block it from reaching Gaza. Currently, the IDF prevents the arrival of weapons by sea intended to buttress Hamas’ warfare against Israel’s southern communities. As the United States State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland indicated, “recent weapons seizures and periodic rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilians illustrated the ongoing necessity for Israel to screen Gaza-bound cargo.”
The flotilla claims to be addressing Gaza’s “humanitarian crisis.” Yet according to Mathilde Redmatn, deputy director of the International Red Cross in Gaza, there is, in fact, no Gaza humanitarian crisis. A recent New York Times story reported that “Two luxury hotels are opening in Gaza this month. Thousands of new cars are plying the roads. A second shopping mall will open next month. Hundreds of homes and two dozen schools are about to go up…. Hundreds of BMWs, pickup trucks and other vehicles have arrived in recent months from Libya…”
The Times, however, incorrectly implies that this type of affluence has been the norm in Gaza for generations. Based upon local interviews, Ethan Bronner concludes that “Gaza has never been among the world’s poorest places. There is near universal literacy and relatively low infant mortality, and health conditions remain better than across the developing world.” Bonner cites a Gaza-based World Health Association official, boasting, “We have 100% vaccination; no polio, measles, diphtheria, or AIDS. We’ve never had a cholera outbreak.”
This reporting leads to the assumption that industrious Palestinians in Gaza traditionally thrived with a high standard of living, challenged only by the 1967 Israeli “occupation.” In the words of Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi, “rarely has the human mind devised such varied, diverse, and comprehensive means of wholesale brutalization and persecution” as the Israeli occupation. If only Israel had never taken control of the Gaza Strip in 1967, we are led to ponder, imagine how magnificent Gaza’s level of education, health care, technology, and economy would be!
Yet when Israel took administrative responsibility for the West Bank and Gaza, it found conditions far from prosperous. Before 1967, malaria, polio, typhus, and the deaths of pregnant mothers and infants were rampant. Equivalent to the worst among under-developed nations, life expectancy was age 42. As a remedy, Israel introduced high standards of hygiene, health care, immunizations, and treatment for pregnant and post-partum women, newborns, and infants. Within 30 years, life expectancy rates in “the Territories” rose to 72, and the Palestinian population grew dramatically. In 1967, the combined population of the West Bank and Gaza was barely one million. By contrast, current-day numbers exceed four million.
Israel’s elevation of the Palestinian standard of living resulted in an influx of Arabs moving into Gaza and the West Bank from Jordan and from other Arab lands. As noted by British historian Efraim Karsh, “During the 1970’s, the West Bank and Gaza constituted the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world — ahead of such ‘wonders’ as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea, and substantially ahead of Israel itself.” Karsh notes that “Close to 2000 industrial plants, employing almost half of its [the Palestinians’] work force, were established in the territories under [the initial 20 years of] Israeli rule.”
Prior to Israeli administration, less than 25 percent of Palestinian homes had “electricity around the clock” or “running water inside dwellings.” Some 95 percent of homes lacked electric or gas ranges for cooking, refrigerators, televisions, or automobiles. Within two decades, possession of these amenities was widespread.
Additionally, access to educational institutions was transformed. Prior to 1967, over half of the West Bank and Gaza population had never attended school, nor did a single university exist. The Israeli administration implemented compulsory and free public education. As Karsh documents, “Illiteracy rates dropped to 14 percent of adults over age 15, compared with 69 percent in Morocco, 61 percent in Egypt, 45 percent in Tunisia, and 44 percent in Syria.” Increased rates of literacy resulted in the creation of seven college campuses instructing 16,500 students by the mid-1990s.
The majority of the citizens of the Jewish state fervently hope for a two-state solution to the conflict. They lament yet acknowledge the necessity of the security fence, checkpoints, and the naval blockade. They aspire to relinquish Israel’s residual administrative responsibilities upon the conclusion of a negotiated end to the conflict.
In the interim, however, false allegations that the Israeli “occupation” intentionally has suppressed Palestinian population growth, and has deprived the masses of health care and education, ought to be cast aside. One of the factors in successful peace talks must be turning away from hateful rhetoric and moving toward truth-telling.