A shopping mall in Gaza. (AP/ Khalil Hamra) (AP/ Khalil Hamra)
shopping mall in Gaza

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Is Gaza wallowing in poverty? Forever on the verge of a humanitarian crisis? Not if you check the facts, says an Israeli political scientist.

A common myth is that the Gaza Strip, under the rule of the Hamas terror group, is suffering from an ongoing humanitarian crisis and is continuously on the brink of another developing tragedy.

However, when one examines actual data and bases an opinion on facts, a completely different picture often emerges.

Professor Hillel Frisch of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies examined indicators such as life expectancy, growth in imports and electricity demand, concluding that the standard of living in Gaza is rising, not declining.

Gaza’s life expectancy of 74 is above both the world average (68 in 2010) and that in the Arab states. This means that more than 3.8 billion people are living shorter, and probably harsher, lives than Gazans, Frisch notes.

For the sake of comparison, he says, life expectancy in Angola, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Cote D’Ivoire ranges from 50 to 55 years, according to the World Health Organization.

“Were Gaza on the list, it would rank 86th out of 189 countries. That would place it alongside Paraguay and Samoa, hardly states that conjure images of abject poverty. But why resort to facts?” Frisch says.

As for the growth in imports, before the brief curtailment of transports into Gaza from Israel in 2007, 10,400 trucks laden with goods entered Gaza monthly from Israel. In 2016, 14,460 trucks of produce crossed from Israel into Gaza per month, a 35-percent increase from before the imposition of the so-called blockade. This also means that the purchasing power there has not declined.

Even the electricity crisis in Gaza points to a high, and rising, standard of living. The crisis is partly the result of the gap between supply and increasing demand. Data shows that there has been a 60 percent rise in demand for electricity over the past six years.

Economists often use energy demand as a proxy for economic growth in the absence of accurate macroeconomic data, as in the case of Gaza, Frisch says. Increasing demand for electricity suggests prosperity, not a humanitarian crisis.

Taxes Funding Terror

So why is this myth so widespread? The answer lies with those who have a vested interest in perpetuating it, chiefly Hamas, Frisch explains.

The terrorist group taxes all incoming goods in order to pay salaries to 30,000 terrorists and the bureaucracy that feeds them, as well as for training, missile production and the digging of tunnels into Israel. Hamas hopes that claims of a humanitarian crisis will bring in more aid, more demand for goods and a greater flow of goods, all of which it will tax for its own benefit.

Similarly, what Frisch’s call “the international humanitarian industry” has a stake in perpetuating the myth. “In few places in the world can relief agency workers live in a cosmopolitan hive such as Tel Aviv, enjoy a world class symphony, museums, and night life, and commute to the allegedly stricken areas,” Frisch points out.

The Humanitarian Solution: Remove Hamas

Even if the purported humanitarian crisis were in fact to loom, the solution is simple – get rid of Hamas.

According to the budget and expenditures for the 2013 fiscal year released by the last official Hamas government in 2014, only two percent of total expenditures went to development and 11.2 percent to social welfare transfers. However, it is estimated that over two-thirds of Hamas expenditures went to the production of terror.

The answer to a genuine humanitarian crisis would be to force Hamas to dismantle its military infrastructure and spend its money on human welfare, rather than terrorism.

Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of Political Studies and Middle East Studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

By: United with Israel Staff

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