Turkey Refocuses Attention On Plight Of Gazans

Worldwide condemnation of Israel's deadly raid on an aid ship bound for the Gaza Strip gives some Palestinians in the besieged territory hope for an end to the long blockade.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

This week's confrontation at sea has drawn a burst of international attention to the people of Gaza. Israeli commandos, you'll recall, seized several ships taking relief supplies to that Palestinian area. Several people were killed. Activists on the ships failed to defy Israel's blockade of Gaza but succeeded in publicizing it, and Palestinians are showing their appreciation.

Turkish flags and posters now hang on Gaza streets, which NPR's Peter Kenyon has been walking.

Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What else do you see when you move around Gaza?

KENYON: Well, it's really quite something to see the Gazans embrace Turkey. In some parts of the city here you'd think Prime Minister Erdogan was in charge rather than very conservative Islamists from Hamas. Souvenir shops once full of Arafat posters are(ph) now got pictures of Erdogan and Turkish flags everywhere. And you have to remember, Hamas has never had much good to say about the Turks. These are the most moderate Western-leaning Muslims in the region. But now Hamas officials are full of praise for the one and a half million people crammed into this small strip of coast, though its mainly a nice diversion from the grind of daily life. As a practical matter, not much has happened to improve their situation yet.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the grind of daily life, because the Israelis will say - have said - there's no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Yes, they have this blockade but food and medicine do get into Gaza. There's obviously a different point of view with the Turks, who organized this expedition. And also the United Nations, among others, have said there is a humanitarian crisis where you are.

KENYON: Well, that's right. And I've been trying to sort that out, and Israel's point, which is true, is that no one in Gaza is starving. I went to markets. There is food there. The problem is, few people are buying because they dont have much money. They just can't afford it. The economy's essentially been crushed here. Many people get food rations. The majority, in fact, get food rations from the U.N. and other groups.

I spoke to one U.N. official who said many Gazans get one meal a day and most of or all get at least one every second day, so no one is starving but many are going hungry. And then he went on to say there are critical shortages that are building into humanitarian crises of other sorts.

INSKEEP: What sort of shortages?

KENYON: Well, severe water problems, for one. The officials say that much of Gaza's water supply is contaminated. The sewage system is failing, in part because Israel won't allow sewage pipes into the strip. In the past, pipes have been used to make rockets. So experts are saying a lot of the sewage is now seeping into the water aquifer. The health implications are significant. There's chronic power outages. The electricity's off for at least eight hours a day, pretty much every day. Rebuilding materials for the power stations aren't getting in, and all kinds of reconstruction problems. The cement and steel that isn't getting in is causing a lot of problems. The U.N. says they urgently need to build 100 schools, for example, but so far there's nothing to build them with.

INSKEEP: Is Israel's argument in every case that these materials could be used to make weapons of war or make concrete pill boxes or whatever it might be?

KENYON: That is their argument and they do have a point, but as so often happens here, they also dont have a point. The steel and cement has been and probably would be used again for military type uses here, but critics point out that's happening right now. There's hundreds of tunnels snaking in from Egypt. Hamas controls many of those. They're getting a little bit of what they need, at least, and rockets continue to fly into southern Israel. It proves Hamas's point. Also proves Israel's point about Hamas's hostile intent, by the way.

Now, is this blockade slowing the pace of the re-arming? Probably. But the real Gazans being punished are the civilians trying to build homes, schools, power stations, sewage lines. And that's the argument I'm mainly hearing against the blockade. Not that Israel shouldnt try to defend itself, but that this method isn't working.

INSKEEP: Now, when you talk to Gazans, Peter Kenyon, about their immediate future, and when you ask them about incidents like this Turkish attempt that has caused so much attention to be drawn to them, do they have much hope that things will change?

KENYON: Well, they are happy that attention is being paid. And they're following the news. Theyve heard this morning from the Israeli media that the latest ship, the Rachel Corrie, maybe delayed. Frankly, they say we have no idea what's coming next. Theyve heard that Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel may consider easing some aspects of the blockade, but they learned a long time ago not to get their hopes up easily. Mostly they're just trying to put food on the table, look for some kind of work, try to keep the kids from falling in with the wrong crowd. You know, basically just get through another day.

INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Kenyon talking with us from Gaza.

Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: Youre welcome, Steve.

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