Amira Hass is an Israeli citizen. She is the daughter of holocaust survivors. She is a reporter for the newspaper, "Ha'aretz".
In 1992 she became a resident in the Occupied Territories (OT) because as a resident "I learned to see Gaza through the eyes of its people, not through the windshield of an army jeep...". She was warned that her neighbors were savage, violent and hostile to the Jews. Her experience proved to be quite different. Everyone knew she was an Israeli Jew; still they welcomed her into their homes. Those Palestinians who spoke Hebrew spoke to her in Hebrew.
Palestinians in the OT suffer many indignities, harassments, and cruelties. The Israeli military, the IDF, is always present and watching. Palestinians are restricted to the OT and can leave only with permission. Obtaining a permit can be quite difficult. Even those with medical emergencies have been denied permits. Unmarried men and men under forty can not leave.
Making a living is onerous. If a Palestinian is able to find work in Israel he will work at a low end unskilled job for substantially less than an Israeli doing similar work--but he would still be making more than someone who works in the OT.
The Israeli military, the IDF, is constantly watching the inhabitants. People live in constant fear of arrest; being subjected to brutal, humiliating interrogations; being held for months, without seeing a lawyer, without being tried, without charges being brought against them, without being told their offense, without seeing members of their families. Homes have been demolished long before guilt or innocence has been extablished. The army, when searching for wanted men, will break into homes, usually in the middle of the night, and needlessly shoot, destroy and vandalize the contents. Mere suspicion will sometimes lead to long prison sentences, and those sentences will usually be accompanied by torture.
Even though they earn less than Israelis they are taxed more heavily. Typical tax rates on identical annual incomes for Israelis and Palestinians would be: no tax against 4%; and 7% against 15%. The Israeli economist Ezra Sada, a member of a right-wing party admits that the tax burden creates hatred and is onerous, oppressive and arbitrary. Unemployed Palestinians can be taxed on a hypothetical income--the `life tax' (if you're alive, you must have income). Disputing the tax is useless.
The bureaucrats claim they must raise a fixed sum to cover the civil administration's budget but Palestinians contend the money is not being used for benefit of the local population. The World Bank substantiates their claim. Israel's response, "Expenditures of Security"-- Palestinians benefited from money spent to suppress the uprising "Our taxes are paying for the bullets and the tear gas".
There is a rotting infrastructure-a lack of clean running water, paved streets, reliable electricity, and modern sewage systems. A West Bank economist found that between 1967 and 1994 Israel had invested an average of $15 per capita in the OT compared to $1000 per capita in Israel.
The settlements are a particular sore point. The Israeli settlers occupy one-fifth of the total area of the Gaza Strip. They comprise only one-half percent of the people who live within its borders. The settlers receive an average of 280 liters of good quality water per day while the Palestinians subsist on only 93 liters of poor quality--foul tasting-- irregularly supplied water.
The people hoped that the Oslo agreement would bring normalcy, peace and quiet. Those hopes did not materialize. The Palestinian Authority took over certain administrative functions-but the Israeli military government remained. Living conditions did not improve because the Authority responds to instructions from Israel.
The newly formed Palestinian State Security Court became synonymous with speedy secret trials, and judges with little or no legal training. Lawyers for defendants had no advance knowledge of their client's cases and no time to prepare. Families were not kept informed of proceedings and the accused themselves never knew where they were being taken when they were hustled out of their homes without warning in the dead of night. There was a continuous stream of arrests and releases and secret summary trials. An Amnesty International report criticized the State Security Court trials for violating minimum standards of international law, including: the right to a fair and public trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal; the right to have adequate time to prepare one's defense; the right to be defended by a lawyer of one's choice; the right to appeal to a higher court.
Reporters who dared transmit critical news were detained for long periods of time. One editor was arrested for an article on the economic monopolies; another editor was arrested for not printing a news item flattering to Arafat on his front page. Offices of an opposition newspaper were broken into and new machinery destroyed. An Islamic Jihad paper was shut down after it published an article exposing corruption. The message to all reporters: these subjects are taboo. What the papers don't print the people pass on by word of mouth.
With high unemployment, Arafat was able to create a local police force whose members felt a sense of loyalty and personal debt to him for the guaranteed monthly paychecks. Arafat exploited disagreements and personal rivalries so as to foster divisions within the opposition.
After the Palestinian Authority was installed, its elite profited extensively. Symbols of riches--gleaming new apartment buildings, lavish hotels, shiny king-size cars--contrast sharply with the economy's general deterioration. Monopolistic arrangements with several Israeli firms--on gasoline, diesel fuel, and cooking and heating gas--eliminated hundreds of Palestinian retailers, importers, and truck drivers. Consumers were adversely affected as prices rose.
These are just a few of the many facts that are exposed and explored in "Drinking the Sea in Gaza". Amira Hass is that rare journalist who is dedicated to the truth even when it conflicts with cherished beliefs, government policies, etc. She is set in the image of George Polk--the journalist for whom the George Polk Award was named (the Acadamy Award of Journalism). To learn more about George Polk try to get hold of an out of print copy of "The Polk Conspiracy".
If you have an open mind and suspect that the media has not presented this conflict with an unbiased perspective, read this book. You may come to believe, as I have, that resolution of this problem will take a long, long, long, long time!