The Fur’s Flying at the Guardian… and Tee Shirts in Gaza

This is a guest post by AKUS

The Guardian seems to have developed a strange interest in sartorial affairs in Israel and Gaza.

First, we had a rather unusual article by a vegetarian contributor, Seth Freedman, who has decided to make a stand against a community with which we would normally expect him to align himself with – the ultra-orthodox.

The sin the (male) members of this community are committing, despite the points Freedman might normally give them for their opposition to the Jewish state in which they (and he) live, is to continue to purchase and wear shtreimals – traditional hats lined with fur. The British are well known as a nation with an almost fanatical love of animals (and increasingly, a strong dislike of Israel and Jews exhibited by readers of the Guardian) so this topic is well within the mainstream, some editor at the Guardian apparently thought, of matters that might enthuse their reading public.

Well, the first comments were somewhat disappointing, revealing an unusually accommodating view of another of Israel’s apparent transgressions – for example, from an old “friend” of ours:

It only went downhill (sorry … J) from there with a well-deserved crack at the author that somehow escaped moderation:

Roughly half the comments on this thread were deleted, so it’s really hard to know what got the readers worked up. It must have been a bit disappointing to have the usual efforts at bashing Israel brushed aside by a largely incredulous readership on this occasion.

But clearly, clothing seems to matter. So … What could be better than to pay a visit to the Guardian’s pet territory – Gaza? It was time for a hard-hitting article from there about … clothes. Rory McCarthy, who we all thought had typed his last for the Guardian, remains on the beat and provided a suitable article which appeared on April 6th about the clothing trade in Gaza.

The article, which did not permit comments, starts surprisingly optimistically with its first sentence:

“Israeli authorities have allowed shoes and clothes into the Gaza Strip for the first time in three years of the tight economic blockade of the Palestinian territory”.

The second sentence, however, reveals the real point of the article:

“But Gazan businessmen say much of the shipment is ruined and their spiralling costs will never be recovered”.

McCarthy reports that “goods have sat in storage for three years, costing their owners thousands of pounds in fees and in some cases arriving so riddled with damp that the items are unsellable.”

The reason is that according to McCarthy, Israel, incredibly, regards Gaza as a “hostile entity since the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas seized control in June 2007”. Somehow, McCarthy manages to avoid the entire issue of rocket fire that occurred daily into Israel during the first two of the last three years, stopped only and nearly completely by Operation Cast Lead. Clearly, he thinks that Israel should have catered to the sartorial requirements of the Gazans even as they terrorized Israelis living next door to them by firing rockets randomly into Israeli communities, including, not unimportantly, firing rockets at the very crossing points those goods would have had to use in order to reach their destination in Gaza.

But wait – that’s not all, as they like to say on late night TV, while trying to sell a variety of dubious goods to insomniacs. Two days later, on April 8th, McCarthy discovers that Hamas is – incredibly – taxing the residents of Gaza.

“Hamas”, McCarthy has discovered, “has begun to raise new taxes in Gaza in an apparent effort to shore up their coffers – as the economy of the small, overcrowded strip of land descends into a vast and often unfathomable parallel market”.

I have news for McCarthy – where I live in the US, local government has begun to raise taxes in an apparent effort to shore up its coffers as well. The point is, it appears, that it’s getting tough to maintain Hamas’ ability to fund its bureaucracy which no doubt includes thousands of “civilians” parading around with AK-47s:

“Taxes [are] even levied on smuggle [sic] goods as Gaza’s rulers unable to cover pay for 30,000 staff three years into Israeli blockade”.

Mind you, it looks like there’s a lot to tax:

Hamas is much more creative than we might think: “Hamas [has started imposing] a tax on smuggled goods, then charging administrative fees on tunnel operators and now importing goods itself to trade in the market in Gaza. But in recent months it began reviving old, long-forgotten tax codes. A 25% tax has been imposed on the cheap petrol smuggled in from Egypt.” A bit like the only recently rescinded 108 year-old 3% excise tax on telephone communications imposed in the USA in 1898 to help pay for the Spanish-American war.

This litany of attempts to paint life in Gaza as so bleak and heavily taxed despite rings a little hollow when a moment’s reflection would show most of us that we are faced with the same issues in our own communities. Moreover, the articles appeared about a week after an article in the Economist that opened by pointing out that some in Gaza are even prospering – a theme we see repeatedly in the media outside the pages of the Guardian and the screens of Press TV and the BBC. In fact, in a sort of back-handed swipe at Israel and the PA, the Economist even points out some benefits of living in Gaza:

“Israel’s siege still causes misery. Yet some economists say the strip is growing faster than the West Bank run by Hamas’s rival Palestinian Authority (PA), albeit from a far lower base. The petrol pumped into Gaza by underground pipes and hoses from Egypt costs a third of what it does in Ramallah, the Palestinians’ West Bank capital, where Israel supplies it. Free health care is more widely available in Gaza. Imports travel faster through the tunnels than via Israel’s thickets of bureaucracy. The web of Israeli checkpoints that still impedes Palestinian movements and commerce on the West Bank is absent in Gaza.”

Those tunnels seem to be able to allow cars to pass through, and those taxes used to pay Hamas’ bureaucrats seem to have a positive effect as well:

“As well as lower prices, Gazans benefit from civil-service payrolls. Several outfits pump cash into the strip’s economy: the local Hamas government; the UN, which employs 10,000 Gazans; and Salam Fayyad’s West Bank government, which is the largest employer of all. Payments to Hamas and its connected tunnel-operators boost the economy too. A car-dealer bringing in a new Hyundai saloon through the tunnels stands to make a profit of $13,000”.

So here are two views of the same situation – one, deploring the destruction of tee-shirts and imposition of taxes in Gaza, the other pointing out what seems like a situation reminiscent of any third-world country – or Greece. What both seem to miss, however, is how easily the whole situation could be normalized – all Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza have to do is renounce terror, end rocket fire into Israel, release Gilad Shalit, and demonstrate a willingness to live peacefully next to Israel . Then, if they are coping quite well now, they could be doing a great deal better in the future.

Perhaps it’s time for the Guardian, the Quartet, the “activists” of all stripes, the meddlers, the eitzes-gibbers, the Jimmy Carters, the Banki Moons, etc. etc. to pass that message to Hamas and the people in Gaza who just want a normal life. It’s really not that difficult to get it if they really want it. And then they can have all the tee-shirts and Hyundai saloons they want.

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