Written by Khaled Abu Toameh
It was a very hot weekend for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. That is why thousands of them preferred to enjoy their time on the clean beaches, swimming, sunbathing, riding horses, sailing, smoking water pipes and barbequing.
These photos were provided not by a Jewish photographer or some naÃ¯ve Western reporter who happened to be in the Gaza Strip last week.
The photos were actually published by a Hamas-affiliated website in an attempt to show that the situation in the Gaza Strip under Hamas's rule is not as bad as many people think.
No one is saying that the situation in the Gaza Strip is very good. It was never good – not when Egypt was there, not when Israel captured it in 1967, not when the PLO assumed control over the area in 1994 and not under Hamas today.
There has always been poverty in the Gaza Strip, where more than 80 percent of the people rely on handouts from UNRWA and dozens of international aid organizations.
But the irony is that, in comparison with the past, the situation in the Gaza Strip these days is much better. The rate of crime has dropped to its lowest in decades, and many Palestinians there are saying that they don't miss the anarchy, corruption and lawlessness that prevailed under the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.
In a few weeks, the largest Palestinian shopping mall is scheduled to open its gates in the Gaza Strip, offering Palestinians a wide range of services, including cinemas, modern coffee shops and boutiques carrying international brands such as Armani, Ralph Lauren, Polo, Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica.
According to Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, there is no shortage of basic foods. Periodic shortage of medical supplies is often attributed to the ongoing power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, whose representatives in the West Bank are sometimes accused of withholding medicine as a way of punishing the Hamas government.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh last week boasted that, unlike the Western-funded government of Salam Fayyad, his government was not in debt and does not have any problem paying salaries to tens of thousands of people who are on its payroll.
In light of all the good news from that area, one wonders about the purpose of the new flotilla of ships to the Gaza Strip. Is it about helping Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or is it simply intended to challenge Israel?
It is always nice to send humanitarian aid to people who need it. And there is no doubt that there are many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who are in need of such aid.
But are there not other ways of helping the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip without challenging and provoking Israel? Why not, for example, try to send humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt? Why aren't the flotilla organizers protesting against Egypt's continued restrictions on the movement of Palestinians? Why are the new rulers of Egypt preventing goods and humanitarian aid from entering the Gaza Strip through their territories?
Finally, wouldn't it have been better if the flotilla organizers had planned a journey to the border between Turkey and Syria to help the thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled from their country in recent weeks? Those refugees cannot go to the beach or shopping malls and many of them are complaining about lack of basic foods and medicine. Or how about a flotilla to help thousands of Libyan families who have fled to neighboring countries in the last few months? Or a flotilla to Saudi Arabia to express solidarity with women who are being arrested for driving cars?
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