This week's Gaza flotilla crisis has – no surprise here – renewed debate over Israel' blockade of Gaza, which, depending on which Israeli official is talking, is meant to choke off arms to Hamas, disillusion Gazans with the terror group's iron rule or win the release of Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier held by Hamas.
But this is the Middle East, so getting facts through the morass of disinformation, misinformation and propaganda isn't easy.
Israel's supporters say there's plenty of food and medicine in Gaza, so what's the big deal? Who cares if shipments of coriander are stopped at the border?
But Israel's critics say Israel's blockade is causing widespread suffering, maybe even starvation, and that it constitutes a war crime.
The Washington Post's Janine Zacharia does the best job yet of penetrating the static surrounding the blockade (read her story here). Not surprisingly, the truth lies somewhere between the claims of angry partisans on both sides of the debate.
Gaza grocery stores are chock full, she reports, and “pharmacies look as well-supplied as a typical Rite Aid in the United States.”
But the blockade has been devastating for Gaza's infrastructure – and that translates into jobs.
“Gazans readily admit they are not going hungry,” she writes. “But that, they say, is the wrong benchmark for assessing their quality of life. While Gaza has long been poor, the economy has completely crumbled over the past three years.”
Some 80 percent of the population “depends on charity,” she writes. “Hospitals, schools, electricity systems and sewage treatment facilities are all in deep disrepair.”
All of which no doubt constitutes a humanitarian crisis, if you're an unemployed Gazan trapped in the narrow strip. But Zacharia's report also makes it clear the claims of many of Israel's critics are exaggerated and distorted.
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