Coming Soon: Kosovo in Gaza?

The impact of the bird flu on the Palestinians has been overlooked and underestimated.

At working levels of the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry they know that the wolf is already here, at Gaza's gate. Ever since the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, international aide agency representatives have been warning of a humanitarian disaster and the world, including Israel, keeps going its merry way. A few days ago, David Shearer, the head of the office of the United Nations Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the territories, told the Foreign Ministry that in order to understand what he was talking about, they should remember the pictures of the Galaxy aircraft in the airlift to Kosovo. Shearer, like his colleagues at the World Bank and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and representatives of donor countries, formed the impression that the officials and the officers were persuaded that state leaders were behaving like the crew of the Titanic who continued to dance all the way to the bottom of the ocean.

At the bureau of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, they also know the avian influenza is not going to wait until politicians have time to spare from the last chapter of the "celebration of democracy" and place their hands on the wheel. The people of Kerem Shalom have learned on the flesh of their own poultry that viruses do not recognize the disengagement and have not heard about the convergence. After the sick fowl, will come the dead babies. Several patients with symptoms of bird flu have shown up at the Gaza hospitals.

In an opinion published on March 24, the Stratfor institute stated there was no way of knowing the virus' next move, but if there was a risk it would undergo a mutation constituting a danger to the human race - it would happen in places like the Gaza Strip. At the moment, the great power is more frightened by the risk that the money intended for the owners of poultry will get into the hands of the Hamas government. When the United States declares a boycott of Palestinian Authority people, the banks are in no hurry to open their coffers to them. Not to mention the government of Israel. Although the World Bank has promised to raise the missing $2 million, large institutions grind slowly. Much more slowly than violent viruses.

Thus, 85,000 chickens remain in the runs and only a marginal minority, 5,000, have been removed from risk. And after the chickens are culled there will be no eggs in Gaza, and who will see to it that the children of Gaza are not left with no protein? Papa Policeman who has not received his salary from the boycotted PA? Mama Teacher who was fired when the budget ran out? According to the World Bank figures, if there is not a dramatic change in the situation, within two years, three out of every four Palestinians will drop below the poverty line (the rate now stands at 56 percent, as compared with 22 percent in 2000.)

A new OCHA document states that if the PA loses its income sources as a result of the donation boycott of Hamas; the crossing points remain locked to Palestinian goods and Israel holds on to the tax monies, then the GNP is expected to plummet by at least 25 percent. This is a drop similar to that which occurred in 2000, with the outbreak of the intifada. During that period, households used up the remains of their savings and were left without an economic safety net. By way of comparison, in the great economic crisis of 1929, when the American stock market collapsed, the GNP dropped by 9 percent.

The PA is the largest employer in the territories. Its 152,000 employees support 942,000 people. The UN estimates that 37 percent of the people employed in the Gaza Strip, more than 73,000 people, earn their living from the PA. Most of the hospitals and schools also depend on the budgets that come from the PA and a minority of them rely on budgets from international organizations and UNRWA. UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd has told Haaretz that salvation cannot come from the budgets allocated for refugees. In any case, of the $9.754 million needed this year for funding necessities, she is lacking nearly $120,000. Of the $150 million needed for projects like building schools and rehabilitating camps, thus far only $14.3 million have been provided.

AbuZayd stresses that all of these figures do not take into account the expected crisis on the territories in the wake of the stoppage of salary payments to PA employees. According to her, UNRWA will even find it difficult to cope with the most basic needs of the refugees alone. She expects that 25,000 families will be added to the food distribution list and thousands of unemployed refugees who will have lost their jobs will join the lines at the organization's employment bureaus.

AbuZayd says that with all their dedication, there is a limit to the volunteer spirit of the doctors and the teachers. At the end of this month, when there is no money left in the PA coffers for paying their salaries, thousands of patients will be sent to die at home and tens of thousands of children will be thrown into the streets. Thus, we will provide for the children of the next intifada of stones.

A senior World Bank official has asked to remind the Israelis who assume a hungry Palestinian does not vote for Hamas that it has already been proven that Hamas is the victor in humanitarian crises. Just as in Israel, applying terror against an entire civilian population in the context of the struggle against the occupation strengthens the right, collective punishment of the population strengthens fanatics in the territories.

To his regret, efforts to persuade the State Department in Washington that a humanitarian disaster does not serve peace and the American and Israeli interest have also been in vain. In a congressional election year the influence of the politicians, who are subject to tremendous pressure from the pro-Israel lobby, is far more effective than all of the bank's data. Under a proposed law initiated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), representatives from the World Bank and other international institutions who meet with officials from the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture to consult about steps with regard to the danger of bird flu will endanger their visas to the United States.