Palestinians take to the air -- somewhat -- amid threats of cuts to refugee aid

Palestinians flew hundreds of kites, Hamas officials said, that descended on Israeli orchards, starting fires and damaging property.
Friday 22/06/2018
Palestinian protesters fly a kite with a burning rag dangling from its tail during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel. (AP)
Palestinian protesters fly a kite with a burning rag dangling from its tail during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel. (AP)

Facing the worst funding crisis in its 68-year history, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) warned it has "an unprecedented shortfall” of more than $250 million.

With the danger of having emergency assistance to its refugees severely cut back, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are flying kites and balloons that would be set on fire and crashed into Israeli orchards. There have been no reports of human casualties on the Israeli side because of the attacks but estimates of damages caused to property put the figure at more than $2 million.

Addressing the UN Security Council, UN Middle East Envoy Nikolay Mladenov warned that UNRWA was "weeks away from painful cuts" to its emergency assistance for Gaza and refugees and elsewhere because of the gap in its budget. All relief work would end by August.

However, as the assault of burning kites continued, Palestinians said the action was in retaliation against Israelis for closing the border and depriving thousands of Palestinians of day jobs in Israel. Palestinian protesters flew hundreds of kites, Hamas officials said, that descended on orchards in Israel, starting fires and causing damage to property.

The Trump administration told the United Nations last January -- although not in so many words -- that it was withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding instalment for UNRWA. It released $60 million so the agency wouldn't shut down but made clear that additional US donations would be contingent on major reforms within UNRWA.

So why are Gazans flying kites?  What else can you do when your enemy can afford to spend billions of dollars on defence and armaments and you can barely find enough funds to pay for your security services?

What can you do when your foe doesn’t have to really worry about the bottom line of the defence budget because the United States will cover the costs, while your territory is plagued by mass unemployment and corruption?

Since taking over the Gaza strip, Hamas has failed to improve the lives of Palestinians although showing continued ingenuity in devising modes of warfare with the Israelis.

What recourse do you have if your enemy has the best air defence systems and the world’s most advanced technology but your country can’t even afford to purchase a single slightly used MiG21, let alone a modern, state-of-the-art plane like the F-35 fighter? The cost of each of those new toys is $93.4 million, most, if not all, to be paid for with US tax dollars.

The United States is delivering a batch of some 20 of those planes to Israel, the first country in the world to receive America’s latest military air power technology.

Ironically, all their sophisticated weaponry, radar and missile systems, planes and laser-guided systems proved to be far too sophisticated to counter the Palestinians’ low-tech approach. Indeed, the only choice in such cases is to explore new ideas that do not require funds or complex technology. So think low tech, very low tech.

At least this is what the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip did, in a way taking a page out of the Bible’s Old Testament by emulating the story of David and Goliath. Except in today’s case, the roles were somewhat reversed with Palestinians acting out the role of David and the Israelis playing that of the Philistine, Goliath.

Israel’s sophisticated defence systems proved to be ineffective against the Gazans’ low-tech attack. Price of an F-35: $93.4 million. Price of a kite: $3-4.

This is not the first time low-tech methods have been used in the Middle East against a far superior military force. Think back to the devastating effect that improvised explosive devices -- IEDs -- had against coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ironically, in Afghanistan, a country where flying kites was a national pastime, the flying of kites was banned under the Taliban.

When the roots of conflict are not addressed, violence can always find even the implausible means to manifest itself.