Monday, 13 December 2010


One of my Italian colleagues, Niccolo Rinaldi, has just returned from Gaza. He reports that Israel's partial lifting of the blockade has ensured that there are plenty of goods in the shops, although with 70% of the population receiving UN food aid there aren't many being bought. Worryingly, he also reports that there are very few women now to be seen on the streets of this teeming conurbation - in stark contrast to the situation in the more secular West Bank townships. His comment reminded me of a conversation I had in Gaza nearly 5 years ago with the wives of two Palestinan businessmen. It was soon after the elections that had brought Hamas to power, and they were both in tracksuits having just returned from the gym: "They'll have us all in burkas," they predicted.

Niccolo told me that, at their peak, there were 1,400 smuggling tunnels in operation between Gaza and Egypt, the entrances on both sides plainly visible and swarming with people and goods. Since the partial lifting of the blockade these had been reduced to 400, with some of them big enough to drive a car through. "And at the entrance to each there is a Hamas man, collecting "tax" on the goods in transit. Israel's blockade presented Hamas with its major source of income."

"It is, without doubt," he said, "the most stupid policy I have come across in all the years that I have followed foreign affairs."

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