So you may have heard that there is a "mall" in the impoverished Gaza Strip. I put "mall" in quotes because having lived in the Middle East and also having grown up in New Jersey (Land of the Malls), I'm sure that whatever this shopping center may be, it is certainly a misnomer to call it a mall. But, in any case, this shopping center has been at the center of an Israeli PR campaign that hopes to persuade onlookers that Gaza is, well, going to turn into Singapore before the Israeli occupied West Bank. Here is a recent AP story which features some of the Israeli spin:
Israel has pointed to photos of the mall's toy displays, supermarket and racks of clothes as proof that Gazan suffering has been exaggerated, amid claims of a humanitarian crisis and a crippling lack of building materials because of an Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the territory.You may recall that before and during the diplomatic crisis following Israel's attack on the Freedom Flotilla on Memorial day which left 9 civilian passengers dead, the Israeli Government Press Office circulated an email to international journalists sarcastically suggesting they visit a high-end restaurant in Gaza that serves cream of spinach soup. How can there be suffering, the logic goes, if such an establishment exists? Obviously, pro-Palestinian activists who are claiming there is suffering in Gaza must be spreading lies again. At the time, it was this sort of propaganda which led me to write this informative piece at ForeignPolicy.com to explain what the siege on Gaza is and how it is collectively punishing the civilian population.
"This clearly belies all the moaning about the human catastrophe in Gaza," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor...
"Images from the new mall make one wonder about the humanitarian crisis all these international 'aid' ships are sailing to," wrote Jacob Shrybman on the Ynet Israeli news website.
But the "mall" in Gaza, and the Israeli reaction to it, shows that the deranged logic that led to the e-mails about a Gaza restaurant is still alive and well and is becoming a central feature of Israeli propaganda. The effort to create the impression that life for Palestinians is better than average is part of an effort to ensure the narrative "is balanced and Zionist in nature".
Take for example, the Wikipedia entry on the "Gaza Mall" which describes the mall using the typical Israeli propaganda points "The fully air-conditioned, modern, indoor shopping venue in the upscale Rimal neighborhood of Gaza extends over 19,000 sq. ft. on two floors, the second floor forms a balcony around a spacious atrium.It was built at a cost of $1.5 million."
It was created on July 27th of this year by a Wikipedia user Amuseo. Unsurprisingly, a look into the other pages this user created or edited reveals something interesting.
On July 29th, this same user created a page for As-Sadaka Swimming pool in Gaza, which is described as "a 50m swimming pool in the Gaza strip. It was inaugurated in May 2010.The pool belongs to the as-Sadaka ('Friendship') Athletic Club, and its construction was sponsored by the Islamic Society.The swimming team of as-Sadaka Athletic Clubs hold several gold and silver medals from Palestinian swimming competitions. "
Then on August 2nd , they created a page for the Al-Bustan Resort in Gaza which is described as "is a beach resort in Gaza with restaurants, cafes and swimming pools. It is located on the beach north of Gaza City "
Then on August 9th, the same user created a page for the Cinema City in Nablus, which it describes saying "The cinema opened in 2009.The movie theater, built at a cost of $2 million, is in a new ten-story commercial in the city center which also includes a shopping mall. According to American National Public Radio, the theater features a "shiny" lobby with a snack bar."
Then on August 23rd, they created a page for Al Deira Hotel in Gaza which is described as "a beach hotel located in Gaza. It was built in 2000 and has 22 rooms which feature high, domed ceilings and views of the Mediterranean."
Maybe, just maybe, Amuseo is just a Palestinian who is really, really proud of the few bright spots in Palestinian life that the vast majority of Palestinians can only afford to work at and never enjoy. But other activities suggest Amuseo is just another Israeli wiki-propagandist.
For example, this user created the page for Erdinc Tekir, the "convicted Islamist terrorist" who "participated in the Gaza flotilla incident aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010." He has also created a page on an Israeli propaganda film, the Hezbollah Theme Park, and another promoting the film U.N. Me which is about the UN's failures to criticize those other than Israel.
So you get the idea, according to the spin users like Amuseo and other pro-Israel wiki-propagandists are trying to sell, the story goes like this: Palestinians are living the high-life and efforts to support the people in Gaza are terrorist and disingenuous in nature therefore Israel is right to stop or attack them and any condemnation of Israel's actions by the U.N. is dismissible.
There is a clear effort to sow together a narrative like this that is going on before our very eyes. We are supposed to believe that the presence of a mall or a pool in Gaza means that life is good, never mind the 80% of people in Gaza who rely on daily handouts from relief organization just to get by.
I'd like to suggest for Amuseo, and the other Israeli propagandists like him, 5 countries they can relocate to, using their logic:
1. Sierra Leone: Put aside for a moment that upwards of 80% Sierra Leone's population lives below the poverty line, over 50% live on $1.25 a day and over 50% do not have access to water. Focus instead on Hotel Kimbima a luxury 5-star experience. It boasts of "breathtaking scenery, a fantastic architectural layout and an efficient hotel staff, our guests are assured of an eye-catching and relaxing stay in beautiful Sierra Leone, the land of long stretches of beautiful sandy beaches, a warm climate, a friendly welcoming populace, magnificent hills and lush green foliage."
2. Guinea: You may have heard that 82% of people in Guinea are impoverished and over 50% don't have access to adequate schooling but that's likely propaganda by Guinean terrorists. How can that be the case when heavenly spots like the Le Meridien Mariador Palace exist. Move to Guinea and let the concerns about your children's health and schooling melt away as you get a massage at the Palace. For those special evenings, they even have VCR rentals. Why haven't you packed yet?
3. Liberia: So there are those who tell you that over 80% of people in Liberia do not have access to cooking gas. But how, how can this be true? Just look the Cape Hotel where you can enjoy "fresh local ingredients, a fusion of delicious flavors, and warm and gracious service all creating a memorable culinary experience."
4. Ethiopia: Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Israel. Those NGOs and human rights organizations are claiming 90% of the population lives in poverty. One look at the lush Sheraton Addis hotel proves those terrorist sympathizers wrong. You'll mock those aid workers who claim Ethiopia leaves anything to be desired as you watch as "the sun rises in rose and tangerine hues above the Entoto Mountains" and "you are wrapped in the inviting comforts of your guest room. Savor the warmth of radiant sunshine before diving into our aquamarine spring-fed pools. The flavors of our cuisine are infinitely appealing. "
5. Burundi: Do you really believe 93% of people in Burundi are living under $2 a day. Life in Burundi is amazing. Just look at the Novotel Hotel in Bujumbura. Bring the kids along for "a buffet breakfast, Wi-Fi, a large room with a bathtub and a sofa bed for children, who stay for free in their parents' room if they are under 16. "
With that Wi-Fi, you can continue your online campaign to convince the world that Israel can besiege, starve and drop bombs on the largely civilian population of Gaza because, hey, there is a shopping mall there.