For the information of all the anxious: There is no hunger in the territories. No baby has died of malnutrition; no child is walking around with a swollen belly. There is no lack of flour, and from Rafah to Jenin rice is available. Let the tongue-cluckers relax: The talk about a "humanitarian disaster" is exaggerated. The international relief and aid organizations are trying in despair to cry "wolf," to alert the Israelis and the world and enlist them in the cause to save the Palestinian people, knowing that only exaggerated talk might move anyone. They might be right, but their calls are coming too soon, and also much too late.
The use of the term "humanitarian disaster" is actually proof of the dehumanization of the Palestinians. There's no flour? "Humanitarian disaster." There is flour? Then there's no disaster. There's an assumption that all the Palestinians need is a daily serving of food so they won't be considered disaster victims. It's enough that they have water and food in their troughs to conclude that their situation is fine. But human beings, including the Palestinians, have a few other basic needs as well.
The real humanitarian disaster in the territories began a long time ago, and it is not hunger. Those who regard the neighboring people as human beings know this very well. It is true that the dimensions of the disaster are worsening, but that's been taking place over years, and the food index is not the only measure. The cessation of the flow of funding since the rise of Hamas might threaten to depress the economic situation even further, but the thought that if they only have enough food, their needs will be satisfied and our conscience can be clear, is outrageous.
There's no need to waste words on the scope of poverty in the territories. Sixty-five percent of Gazans and 48 percent of the West Bankers now live under the poverty line, according to a UN report from last December, issued before the decision was made to freeze the transfer of their tax money to them. There is no need to be an expert in economics to understand that if 37 percent of Gazans with jobs - more than 73,000 people - were employed by the Palestinian Authority and now their livelihoods are threatened due to a lack of money to pay their wages, the situation will only get worse. Palestinian society, which has a very high level of solidarity, will know how to deal with that disaster. Because of the food handed out by UNRWA and the other organizations, there won't be hunger any time soon in Gaza, even if the number of those suffering from malnutrition does increase.
But even if they have bags of flour and rice, the living conditions of the Palestinians are chilling. They live in prison. Their daily routine includes humiliation that is no less terrible than malnutrition. Anyone who has to beg for permission to leave his village, to spend hours crowded in line at a checkpoint just to reach his destination, anyone whose bedroom is brutally invaded in the middle of the night by the occupation army, whose time and life is considered valueless, and whose basic human dignity has been trampled into dust, cannot find any consolation in the fact that flour and rice is available. Those who think that all it takes is providing a quota of flour to be free of any responsibility for the fate of the people they occupy, are suffering from a serious case of moral blindness. Does the fact that a Palestinian youth is not hungry in any way blunt the fact that he cannot dream, cannot aspire to a career, an orderly education, a vacation or simple pleasures of life? Does the fact that his belly is not completely empty cover up for the miserable present and the hopeless future?
The departure of Israel from Gaza does not remove a speck of the responsibility it has for the fate of Gaza's imprisoned residents. Israel, which forbids Gazans from going to the West Bank - a violation of signed agreements - and prevents the provision of supplies from both Israel and Egypt, has never left Gaza, not even for a moment. The world and people of conscience in Israel do not need to wait for the first Palestinian child to die of hunger to raise the hue and cry. Enough Palestinian children have been killed because of too easy trigger fingers or disgraceful health services. The responsibility is not with the international relief agencies, but on Israel's shoulders. But Israel's conscience in recent years operates only according to one index, the index of protest from Washington. If Washington remains quiet, everything can be covered up.
Those who have been silent until now can remain enveloped in their silence. Those whose conscience doesn't torture them and whose sleep is uninterrupted by Israel's behavior in the territories can continue resting in peace. There is no "humanitarian disaster." Israel will find a solution to the food crisis, and the stores in Gaza won't lack for flour. But those who regard the Palestinians as only requiring basic food should remember that even in the zoos, where the animals presumably don't lack for a thing, people are often shocked by the conditions of their imprisonment.
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