“This tractor does two things - it turns the land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people were driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this."
- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Chapter 14
"If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears."
- Mahmoud Darwish
As a new Gaza Flotilla gets ready to set sail, despite numerous criminal acts of sabotage and a never-ending barrage of Israeli government propaganda, the New York Times' Ethan Bronner (with the help of his trusty sidekick Fares Akram) has been doing his best to divert attention away from the suffering in Gaza by publishing articles showing how wonderful and luxurious life is in a besieged open-air prison.
On June 28, Bronner published a piece entitled, "A Bountiful Harvest, Rooted in a Former Settlements Soil." The Times online header read: "Gaza Establishes Food Independence in Former Israeli Settlements." Beyond the obvious agenda inherent in these banners, the piece itself peddles age-old Zionist tropes of historical revisionism, land redemption and blooming deserts.
Hundreds of acres of watermelons, orange saplings and grapevines stretch in orderly rows out to the horizon. Irrigation hoses run along the sand, dripping quietly. Apple trees are starting to blossom nearby. Avocados and mangoes are on their way.What Bronner leaves out is the extent of the aid dependency and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Earlier this week, Chris Gunness, senior director at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), put it this way:
Gaza, cut off by Israel and Egypt for the past four years and heavily dependent on food aid, is expanding an enormous state-run farm aimed at gaining partial food independence. Most striking is that the project sits in the center of the coastal strip on the sites of the former Israeli settlements whose looted greenhouses and ruined fields became a symbol of all that had turned sour in the Israeli withdrawal six years ago.
Let's look at the basic humanitarian facts on the ground. Ninety five percent of water in Gaza is undrinkable. Forty percent of disease is waterborne, it's caused by poor water. 45.2 percent of the labor force is unemployed. Eighty percent aid dependency. A tripling of the abject poor since the blockade. There's clearly a crisis in every aspect of life in Gaza.A recent report by the World Food Programme revealed that only 20% of Gaza's population could be classified as "food secure," while "the prevalence of Gaza household food insecurity remains very high at 54 percent with an additional 12 percent of households vulnerable to food insecurity." The report also found that 38% of Gaza residents live below the poverty line, noting that "[w]ithout social and humanitarian assistance, nearly half of the Gaza population would be under the poverty line (48.2 percent)."
Bronner writes of Israel's removal of "9,000 settlers and all of its soldiers from Gaza in 2005," at which point "[t]he settlers’ high-tech greenhouses, which were bought for the Palestinians with $14 million in donations, were left unguarded and within days were stripped of computer equipment, irrigation pipes, water pumps and plastic sheeting." He omits the fact that Gaza remains occupied territory, controlled externally on all sides - land, sea, air - and constantly under attack by the Israeli military. Bronner describes the economic siege and collective punishment of a civilian mundanely as "security procedures on exiting trucks" imposed by Israel after "an attack on the border."
In truth, the result was a near total ban on exports which has devastated Gaza and made impossible any sort of economic recovery. The chart below, taken from a 2010 report by the Palestine Trade Center, shows annual export trends from June 2006 to July 2010.