My Word: Consuming interests in Gaza

Palestinians in the Strip seem to be breaking out of their self-professed siege mentality by visiting the newly inaugurated shopping mall.

Palestinian women (photo credit: Associated Press)
Palestinian women
(photo credit: Associated Press)
That was quick. No sooner had Israel announced it was easing the blockade on Gaza, in the wake of the flotilla affair, than the poor starving residents we’ve all heard so much about opened a shopping mall. Talk about conspicuous consumption.
The mall was apparently a work quietly in progress for more than a year – many UN debates and European Union statements on the “humanitarian crisis” ago – but it officially opened only last week.
Putting things in proportion, the shopping center, covering roughly 9,700 sq. ft., is only on two stories, does not have an escalator and, according to Palestinian journalists, does not come even close to the style of an American mall. Or even Israeli malls, for that matter.
On the other hand, as an Israel Television reporter noted, neither does it need to have armed security guards and metal detectors at the entrance. Unlike Israeli malls, the Hamas-sanctioned shoppers’ paradise is not likely to be the target of Palestinian suicide bombers using it as a stop on the way to jihadi heaven.
I read several different reports of the mall launch – for obvious reasons, I could not personally check this out even if I were a consumer culture fan.
None mentioned whether the Gaza shopping center is equipped with missile- proof shelters. No new buildings in Israel – from malls to housing projects – are built without them. That’s because just about every Israeli in the North and South of the country knows what it’s like to come under attack – it’s only been four years since the Second Lebanon War, after all, and Gazalaunched missiles still land in the Negev now and again (and again), even a year and a half after Operation Cast Lead put an end to the massive 80-rockets-a-day bombardments.
The new mall is equipped with airconditioning, adding to its obvious attraction – in the summer heat, it’s either there or Gaza’s beautiful beaches.
But this just fuels my suspicions that the much-publicized Gazan energy crisis (blamed like everything else on Israel) is not quite as severe as the Hamas leadership, dramatically photographed working by candlelight, would have us believe.
Vendors at the shopping center claim that most of the goods were smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels from Egypt because of the Israeli blockade.
(Actually, Egypt, equally concerned with the ramifications of Hamas control in Gaza, also imposed an embargo, which is often overlooked.) Still, it seems huge quantities of cement and metal must have entered the Strip after all. It makes you wonder about the amount of arms that got through.
Altogether, the mall requires a mind shift. Looking for photos, the first images that popped up on the search engines were of a homeless family still living in a tent after Israeli forces reportedly bulldozed their house during Cast Lead – in an area from which Hamas was launching missiles among its human shield population.
It seems strange that Gazans can build a shopping mall for those who can afford to shop (or afford to dream) before rebuilding the homes of those who lost them in the mini-war.
AS FAR as I know, none of the Israelis whose homes were destroyed by Palestinian missiles are out on the streets – which probably goes to show why Israel over the past six decades or so has successfully absorbed millions of immigrants and refugees while the Palestinians are the only people who have managed to perpetuate their refugee status for more than 60 years.
If bombed-out Israelis thought that the government was encouraging the construction of shopping malls before replacing their apartment buildings, they would move into protest tents, not shacks.
Not, of course, that all Israeli construction has gone smoothly. As I have noted before, in all the brouhaha created by the extreme haredim over the construction of new emergency rooms on the site of ancient graves at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, it was easy to overlook the fact that the main reason for the new wing is that it would be missile-proof. We’ve become so used to the thought that Israeli hospitals can be (and have been) hit by rockets that it doesn’t seem unusual anymore. Just the same as Israelis traveling abroad are surprised by the lack of security checks at the entrance to foreign malls, not targeted by Islamist suicide bombers (heaven forbid).
Israeli hospitals also have security checks. Who would purposely attack a hospital? Well, some people are so ungrateful. Just look at the arrest publicized last week of a Hamas-affiliated gang of terrorists operating in the West Bank and responsible for killing policeman F.-Sgt. Yehoshua “Shuki” Sofer in a roadside ambush on June 14, just three months ahead of his wedding.
Two weeks before the attack, a leader of the terror cell accompanied his daughter to the Ein Kerem campus of Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center where a tumor was removed from her eye in surgery reportedly funded by an Israeli aid organization.
Shopping might provide some form of escapism for those who (unlike me) enjoy that sort of thing, but there is still a war going on out there. Actually, there is still a war raging in my e-mail inbox, which is daily bombarded with messages about Israel’s “war crimes.” While writing this piece, for example, I found among my incoming mail a screed from a Danish-based group called The Palestinian Information Center, whose anti- Israel message is obviously outdated, although sadly not unfashionable.
“Stop Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza,” its logo screamed; among the alleged crimes: a humanitarian disaster, torture, home demolitions and illegal detentions.
It also proclaims “Gaza on Fire.” If I suggest that they use the water from Gaza’s Olympic-size swimming pool to put it out, I wonder what the group’s next e-mail will say. But I would like to remind them that Hamas controls Gaza, not Israel. And as they brought up the subject of illegal detentions, it wouldn’t kill Hamas to let Gilad Schalit go four years after he was abducted.
And another thing: The group should drop the photo of Ariel Sharon.
He’s been out of the picture since he became comatose following his stroke in January 2006.
Sharon’s name did come up this month, however, as members of the Jewish communities expelled/evacuated from their homes in Gush Katif began marking the fifth anniversary since disengagement. While not exactly refugees, many of the 7,000 former residents have yet to move into permanent homes. And I have yet to find the person who lived there – even those who have rebuilt their lives – who can’t say “told you so” regarding the increased shelling from Gaza that followed the pullout.
Still, there is something comforting about the thought of Gazans building a mall – any hint of economic improvement brings with it a hope for peace and quiet.
News of the mall opening, however, coincided with reports of the latest Hamas-imposed restriction. On July 18, the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry issued an order banning women from smoking nargilas in public places in the Gaza Strip, saying the practice “violated social norms and traditions.”
Who would have thought that the consumer culture symbolized in shopping malls would be considered more acceptable than smoking a water pipe in public? It goes to show that the customer does not always have rights.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.