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Gaza Is Not an Open-Air Prison

An aid convoy’s trucks loaded with supplies send by Long Live Egypt Fund are seen at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on May 23, 2021. The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the “pro-Palestine” propagandists could no longer plausibly refer to it as occupied territory. So they came up with another trope that has become a cliché: Gaza is an “open-air prison.”

The jailer in this dubious metaphor is only Israel, (even though Gaza also borders Egypt) and the Jewish state has been accused of imposing a “16-year blockade, depriving the people there of food, water, and the other necessities of life, especially healthcare” — or so goes the tale.

According to Ilana Feldman, the term “open-air prison” was first used in 1997 in the Philadelphia Inquirer and quickly found currency among Irish and Canadian journalists in the early 2000s. It became a staple of anti-Israel rhetoric in the US in 2009 after Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) claimed (in a campaign video and on Iranian television) that “The Palestinians are virtually in a concentration camp.”

In 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that “People in Gaza are living under constant attacks and pressure in an open-air prison,” adding that “Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”

From politics to pop-culture, the term grew like an infectious meme in 2015, when the graffiti artist (pardon the oxymoron), Banksy, went to Gaza to spray-paint on some walls. He photographed them for his website, and added witty captions, like: “Gaza is often described as ‘the world’s largest open air prison’ because no-one is allowed to enter or leave.”

Of course, people leave and enter Gaza all the time. Prior to October 7, thousands of people left Gaza every day, crossing into Israel to work at jobs that paid them five times more than they could earn in Gaza. That arrangement is over, thanks to Hamas.

There is also a border with Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. And, lest anyone forget, there is a maze of underground tunnels that one recently-freed Israeli hostage calls “Lower Gaza,” which presents numerous illegal exit opportunities.

As Ari Zivotofsky observed in the Jerusalem Post, a September 19, 2023, episode of the Palestinian television show Emigration claimed that, “in the past 15 years a quarter of a million young Palestinians left for abroad.” In 2022, over 15,000 of them who lived abroad (having apparently escaped the “prison”) willingly returned to it to celebrate the feast of Eid al-Adha.

This is not how prisons work.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has been running a series on “Gaza Before October 7” refuting the “concentration camp” and “open-air prison” claims with pictures and videos.

The first two episodes follow Palestinian “influencer” Yousef Alhelou as he travels around Gaza, showing off the top spots for tourists, including a gold market. Subsequent episodes include an Al-Jazeera feature of the economic boom in Gaza, Turkish television reports on the markets of Gaza, and various Arab media outlets covering the many sporting events in Gaza.

Hamas propagandists argue that Gazans are denied goods and services that they are entitled to because of Israel’s “land, water, and sea blockade,” but Israel only blocks weapons from entering Gaza. Even after October 7, Israel has continued to supply electricity, food, and medicine.

What the “pro-Palestine” luminaries will never admit is that Israel has been forced into controlling Gaza’s ports by the long history of weapons shipped there.

In 2001, two vessels, the Calypso and the Santorini, were seized with weapons destined for Palestinian terrorists, and in 2002, a Palestinian ship called the Karine A was seized with 50 tons of Iranian weapons destined for Gaza. Since then, Israel has acted to prevent further shipments of weapons from reaching Gaza by sea. In 2007, after Hamas took over Gaza completely, Israel imposed an inspections regime and began more aggressively searching ships for smuggled weapons. Food and medicine are not prevented from entering Gaza.

Poor access to healthcare is another complaint about life in the Gaza “open-air prison.” In April 2023, the Jerusalem-based anti-Israel activist group B’Tselem faulted Israel for preventing Palestinians from leaving Gaza in order to be treated in Israeli hospitals. But Israel treats plenty of Palestinians.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh sends his entire family to Israel for medical care. In 2013, his 1-year-old granddaughter was treated in an Israeli hospital; in 2014, his daughter was treated at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital and his mother-in-law was treated at Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria Hospital; in 2021, his niece was treated at Ichilov Hospital.

Just this month, it was reported that Haniyeh’s grandniece was being treated at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva. But why should any Gazans be treated in Israeli hospitals? There are 36 hospitals in Gaza, many of which are run by foreign nations (Indonesia, Turkey, Jordan, Europe countries) serving a population of around two million.

Of course, hospitals in Gaza are dual-purpose buildings, offering both healthcare and camouflage for the entrances to Hamas’s elaborate subterranean infrastructure. An IDF spokesman said that “Hamas systematically built the Indonesian Hospital to disguise its underground terror infrastructure.” The Al-Shifa hospital, where IDF soldiers found a stash of rifles, ammunition, and ballistic vests, also sits atop a major tunnel junction. IDF soldiers recently found unopened boxes of medicine for Israeli hostages at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.

If Gaza is a prison, Hamas is the jailer.

The accusation that Israel withholds food from the “open-air prisoners” of Gaza is a common one.

In 2010, Sarah Leppert of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization said that “sixty-one percent of the Gaza population is food insecure.” A UN World Food Program’s country brief on “Palestine” for the year 2022 announced that Gazans account for 90% of the 1.84 million Palestinians “suffering from food insecurity.”

But media reports about the vibrant lives of people “under occupation” have long included photographs of Gaza showing bountiful markets with merchants whose stands are stocked with fruit and vegetables. As Robert Spencer pointed out recently, “The ‘open air prison’ of Gaza was actually quite opulent” before October 7. Spencer links to a video posted to X by a Gazan who complains that Gaza was beautiful before October 7. In the 42-second video, Gaza’s opulent markets, vacationing tourists, and shops of all sorts look like what one would expect in a tropical resort town.

In fact, there are shops of all kinds in Gaza, like any other city in the world, except perhaps for one — it’s hard to imagine a store named for Adolf Hitler anywhere other than “Palestine,” but in Gaza there’s one called Hitler2, which first achieved infamy in 2015. The store, with its knife-grasping mannequins, was reported damaged in recent fighting.

After October 7, the rhetoric heated up. When Israel briefly announced that it would cease supplying water and electricity to the people who had just killed over 1,200 Israelis and taken another 250 as hostages, the world flew into another outrage.

Human Rights Watch accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon. Israel denied the charges, pointing out that Hamas hijacks food and fuel for itself. Even The New York Times agrees that Hamas has long stockpiled the food and medical supplies meant for the people of Gaza. It quoted a Lebanese source to assert on October 27 that, “Hamas has hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel for vehicles and rockets; caches of ammunition, explosives and materials to make more; and stockpiles of food, water and medicine … enough stocked away to keep fighting for three to four months without resupply.”

That’s the reality of the situation in Gaza. The only people that ever made it an “open-air prison” were Hamas.

Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) Senior Fellow A.J. Caschetta is a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a fellow at Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum where he is also a Milstein fellow. A version of this article was originally published by IPT.

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad Releases New Propaganda Video of Israeli Hostage

Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov as seen in a propaganda video released by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Photo: Screenshot

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group on Tuesday released a short propaganda video featuring Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov, 28, who was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists during Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

The 30-second undated video shows Trufanov, an Amazon employee, identifying himself and saying that he will soon discuss what has happened to him and other hostages in Gaza.

Similar videos have been released by terrorists groups in Gaza. Israel has lambasted them as psychological warfare.

Trufanov’s mother said in a video released by the family that she was happy to see her son after all this time, but “it was heartbreaking” that he had been a hostage for so long.

Trufanov was an engineer at the Israeli microelectronics company Annapurna Labs, which Amazon owns.

Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists abducted over 250 people during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Trufanov was kidnapped alongside his mother, grandmother, and girlfriend.

All three were released as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement negotiated in November. His father, Vitaly Trufanov, was one of the 1,200 people killed during the Hamas massacre.

“The proof of life from Alexsander (Sasha) Trufanov is additional evidence that the Israeli government must give a significant mandate to the negotiating team,” the Hostages Families Forum, which represents the families of the hostages, said in a statement.

More than 120 hostages remain in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. Islamic Jihad is a separate but allied terrorist organization in the Palestinian enclave. Both are backed by Iran, which provides them with money, weapons, and training.

Negotiations brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the US to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza have been stalled for weeks.

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Gal Gadot’s Action Movie Nabs Second Place on Netflix List of Most Watched Films in Second Half of 2023

Gal Gadot as Rachel Stone in a scene from the trailer for “Heart of Stone.” Photo: YouTube screenshot

Netflix released its engagement report that details the films with the most views from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2023, and Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s action thriller Heart of Stone secured the number two spot with 109.6 million views.

The film — starring Gadot alongside Jamie Dornan and Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt in leading roles — was the runner-up to Leave the World Behind, the drama starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke that garnered 121 million views on Netflix.

Heart of Stone, directed by Tom Harper, was released on the streaming giant on Aug. 11 of last year. The action film is about international intelligence operative Rachel Stone, played by Gadot, who goes on a mission to protect an artificial intelligence system, known as The Heart, from falling in the wrong hands. The film was produced by Pilot Wave, a company founded by Gadot and her husband Jaron Varsano.

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