Thursday, 12 February 2009


From the press centre on the 9th floor of an office block, Gaza City looks pretty good, a normal metropolis with a few green spaces and a football stadium between the buildings. It gets even better as I leave because it takes me a couple of minutes to get through the traffic to cross the road. In truth this is exceptional, and the cars are ancient, but it gives the appearance of normality. And why not? Gaza is a modern city, albeit one on a site inhabited for 4,000 years, and in different circumstances it could be thriving. Instead it exists on the life support of aid. UNRWA alone employs 11,000 here.

A meeting with the Palestinian Businessmen's Association. The cry from all is "get Israel to lift the blockade and open the crossings." But it is amazing just how much stuff is obviously being smuggled in through the hundreds of tunnels to Egypt, at a price. Those involved in smuggling, and those being bribed to turn a blind eye, must be coining it in.

The businessmen highlight the hundreds of factories that have been systematically destroyed, and the need for concrete to enable rebuilding. More than 85% of the concrete production facilities have been destroyed. They say they raised this with Tony Blair yesterday. "Here?" asked a colleague, "No, he has never been to Gaza. By videoconference. Frankly he has achieved nothing since he took on his role."

A young man, full of drive, says the situation is very grave but that people in Gaza could spring back quickly. "This is not a backwards place. People here are skilled and educated. We can rebuild, but only if we can get Israel off our backs." He expresses concern about concentration on humanitarian needs. "Israel uses it as a cloak to hide the fact that they are not dealing with us on all other things."

There is a gallows humour about the meeting. These are educated, middle class men, less than enthusiastic about Hamas but forced together by Israel. "Prosperity is one way of avoiding conflict," says one man, "but there is not much sign of prosperity. Good workers will end up joining the militias. Is that what the West wants?"

"Did you know that the American school was targeted 3 times by extremists here, but it ended up being destroyed by American rockets fired from an American plane. It was not a school for the kids of extremists, they couldn't afford the 5,000 dollar fees!"

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