Gaza’s misery? Revisiting two Guardian reports which cited Gaza unemployment at 45%

When explaining what I do for a living to new friends who aren’t necessarily familiar with the Guardian, I’m often asked, in one form or the other, something to the effect of, “How anti-Israel is the Guardian?”, to which I sometimes cheekily reply, “The Guardian makes The New York Times look like Arutz Sheva.”

Of course, by this I mean that the anti-Israel bias of the New York Times is bad, but I don’t think it’s quite in the Guardian’s league – though, at least one highly informed scholar  has argued otherwise.

I bring this up to introduce a remarkable story in the NYT which, while repeating at least a couple of the predictable MSM tropes about Gaza’s overall condition, nevertheless notes Gaza’s “building boom”.

“Two luxury hotels are opening in Gaza this month. Thousands of new cars are plying the roads. A second shopping mall — with escalators imported from Israel — will open next month. Hundreds of homes and two dozen schools are about to go up. A Hamas run farm where Jewish settlements once stood is producing enough fruit that Israeli imports are tapering off.”

Building boom in Gaza City

The NYT also noted 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 much of the developing world.”

The story further quotes Mahmoud Daher, a World Health Organization official in Gaza, as saying, “We have 100 percent vaccination; no polio, measles, diphtheria or AIDS. We’ve never had a cholera outbreak.”

But, even more notable in the NYT piece is that the figure they cite on Gaza unemployment is dramatically at odds with two recent Guardian reports, which left unchallenged statistics by UNRWA spokesperson Chris Guinness that the unemployment rate in Gaza was 45%.  Harriet Sherwood’s report from June 15th, Unemployment in Gaza rises despite hopes of economic revivals“, and a Guardian/Reuters report on June 14th, Gaza jobless rate at 45% five years after full blockade imposed” both parroted UNRWA’s figure of 45%.

Yet the NYT piece quotes Ala al-Rafati, the economy minister for Hamas, stating that “nearly 1,000 factories are operating here”, and he estimated unemployment at “no more than 25 percentwhich represents a figure not too far off from official World Bank data.  While a 25% unemployment rate is by no means good, it’s actually relatively consistent with unemployment levels throughout the Arab world. For instance, the average youth unemployment percentage for all Arab states was 23.4% in 2010.

Of course, this is more than a story about statistics.  The pro-Israel blogosphere was alone for a while in refuting (and, at times, quite justifiably mocking) the utterly mind numbing clichés reported dutifully by the mainstream media (and more than one world leader) about Gaza being “the world’s largest open air prison” – a narrative which seems to have finally all but disappeared in the face of so much evidence, even prior to the NYT piece, that there wasn’t anything even approaching a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  The larger story, of course, is how  journalist activists at the Guardian and elsewhere are constantly in search of evidence to support their preconceived conclusions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – conclusions (and evidence) which rarely withstand critical scrutiny.

Fruit stand, Gaza City
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