By Matthew Yglesias

I can’t keep up with the claims and counterclaims about the Gaza relief flotilla and the attack on it, but obviously the idea behind the flotilla was not just to deliver supplies but to try to elevate the level of attention being given to the actual situation in the Strip. As this recent human interest piece on Gaza’s surfers reminded us in early May before this particular controversy “[u]nder an economic embargo enforced by the Israeli government, only basic foodstuffs and humanitarian supplies are allowed into Gaza.” The intention of this is to make economic conditions unbearably bad and it’s been a big success!

Gaza doesn’t contain nearly enough arable land to support the Strip’s population as subsistence farmers. Which of course is true of many other places on earth. But the effect of the embargo is to make meaningful commercial activity in Gaza nearly impossible, pushing living standards down to what would be a below-subsistence level were it not for the trickle of aid that flows in. The Hamas authorities exercise some fairly rough justice over the area, extremist groups burn down summer camps and Israel launches airstrikes periodically sometimes injuring dozens sometimes hurting no one. The overall situation is incredibly bleak. Construction supplies aren’t allowed into the area, so it’s been impossible to rebuild since the war there from a couple of years back, and all the physical infrastructure is just degrading over time. Israel is attempting to defend itself from the sporadic rocket fire that’s emanated from the area since the IDF abandoned trying to directly administer it during Ariel Sharon’s administration, but the level of human suffering—we’re talking about a place where 1.5 million people live—being inflicted is just staggering.