Is Gaza Really the World’s ‘Largest Open Air Prison’?

Planning for ‘day after’ Gaza war will require a re-examination of misconceptions in the district inhabited by 2 million persons and featuring 36 hospitals.

AP/Leo Correa
Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment during the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, December 26, 2023. AP/Leo Correa

Even as America increasingly highlights humanitarian suffering in Gaza, planning for the “day after” there will require re-examination of past misconceptions, such as calling the Strip the world’s “largest open air prison.”

That moniker, often promoted in press accounts and pushed hard by the Qatari-owned pan-Arab network Al Jazeera, led to unprecedented foreign aid to the Palestinian territories. While Arabs in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, the Sahel, and other war-besieged territories were clamoring for outside help, Gaza received lopsided attention. 

“Suddenly we discovered that Gaza, which is inhabited by 2 million people, has 36 hospitals,” Hoda Jannat writes on his widely followed X Arab-language account. “There are Arab countries with 30 million citizens that do not have this number of hospitals.”

The writer notes that before the war, Israel supplied water, electricity, gas, and fuel to Gaza, while no other Arab country enjoys such outside aid. Gaza, he adds, was lavished with cash, including $30 million a month from Qatar, $120 million a month from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, $50 million a month from the European Union, and $30 million a month from America.

“There are Arab countries drowning in debt and cannot find anyone to help them even with one million dollars,” the writer notes. Contrary to widely held belief, he adds, Gaza was not besieged: goods came in, residents were traveling through Egypt to other countries, and outsiders came in.

“Suddenly we discovered that Gaza was living better than many Arab countries, and its people were living better than many Arab peoples,” Hoda Jannat concludes. A “programmed lie,” he argues, clouded people’s minds, pushed by “Muslim Brotherhood media” — a reference to Al Jazeera. 

Global sympathy to what is known at the UN as “the occupied state of Palestine” and its Gaza component seems disproportionate to its needs. Suffering in the Strip is caused by poor management, graft, and — most blatantly — Hamas’s investment in war preparation, as opposed to the welfare of residents. 

Late last week, in the last act of the UN Security Council for the year, a new bureaucracy was created to ensure that, as the war goes on and for the foreseeable future, aid to Gaza would pour in. At the same time, Gazans clamor to receive goods that already reach the Strip.

Hamas men often block access to aid deliveries, even shooting at crowds. In some cases, Gazans are maimed, and even killed. Hamas has the power to decide where aid is directed and who should receive it. Gazans increasingly complain that Hamas members “steal” food, medicine, and fuel intended for civilian use. 

A senior Hamas politburo member, Mousa Abu Marzouk, stated the obvious in a statement. “The aid that comes to Gaza must be distributed to the resistance fighters, and what remains, distribute it to the people,” he said recently, before attempting to walk it back.  

“The attempt of some citizens to seize aid,” Mr. Abu Marzouk added, “will be fought with all force, and the people must offer what is expensive and what is cheap for the sake of the resistance, not steal the food of the resistance.”

On Tuesday the UN’s secretary-general named a Dutch veteran of UN operations, Sigrid Kaag, as humanitarian coordinator to “facilitate, coordinate, monitor, and verify humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza,” as dictated last week by the Security Council resolution.  

Yet, like Unrwa, Ms. Kaag will find it difficult to confront Gaza’s armed men who determine the war against Israel trumps the welfare of the citizens, whose needs are a mere inconvenience.

Unrwa was formed to assist Arab refugees from Israel’s 1948 war of independence. Unlike another UN agency, UNHCR, which tends to all world refugees, it is solely dedicated to Palestinians. In Gaza, it is the most lucrative enterprise and the largest employer.

Israel Defense Force troops in the Strip daily discover Hamas tunnels, missiles, arms, and rocket factories inside Unrwa facilities. The agency’s schools teach aggressive anti-Israel and anti-Jewish curricula. “Hamas has their hands on Unrwa administration workers, and it manages Unrwa,” an unidentified Gazan told an Israeli soldier in a phone conversation posted by the IDF. “The administration of the agency is Hamas.”

Several European countries, including Switzerland, have recently suspended aid to the UN organization. President Biden renewed American financial support to Unrwa after it had been cut off by President Trump. 

The war in Gaza will last “months,” the IDF chief of staff, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, told reporters Tuesday. Once it is over, Israel and a world sympathetic to Gazans will need to rethink how it tends to the needy there.

The New York Sun

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