Who is to blame?
By Yousef Alhelou
Gaza these days is no longer making headlines, as attention – understandably – has swiveled to crises elsewhere in the region.
After more than seven years of siege imposed by Israel, people in Gaza are simply unable to cope with the daily hardships resulted from the prolonged punitive measures and restrictions on imports, exports into and out of Gaza, as well as the freedom of movement, not only between the tiny strip and the outside world but also between Gaza and the occupied West Bank
Gaza is known to be the world’s largest open-air prison, where its nearly 2 million inhabitants are denied of their basic rights and needs.
7 years of ongoing suffering
The tiny costal densely populated Gaza was subjected to two devastating Israeli wars, in late 2008 and 2012, that left hundreds killed and injured, not to mention the hundreds of homes and prosperities which were destroyed or damaged either totally or partially.
The costal enclave is subject from time to time to frequent Israeli air and ground attacks, such attacks are the cause of different forms of psychological problems for a considerable percentage among Gaza’s population, half of which are under the age of 20.
The daily suffering has become part of the daily life of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza, this suffering has many and different forms, ranging from long hours of power outages, lack of fuel and cooking gas, lack of healthy drinkable water, abject poverty, destitution and high level of unemployment, to the fragile economy, infrastructure and poor services
The recent flooding in some areas in Gaza, which was a result of the powerful winter storm that swept across the eastern Mediterranean has inflicted extra misery on a population already under strain.
Since the imposition of the siege, Gazans resorted to underground tunnels dug under Gaza-Egypt’s 12 km shared border to defy the land and sea blockade and bring in badly needed commodities and goods such as fuel and constructions materials in addition to other items blacklisted by Israel for security reasons, but in the past two years and especially following the ouster of Morsi by the military in July 2013, about one thousand tunnels have been demolished according to Egyptian sources, this has worsen the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Gaza residents are trapped between barbed wire and fences from three sides and from the fourth side, the 40 km coastline on the Mediterranean Sea that has been blockaded by Israel since 1967.
An indication of personal desperation and social unravelling lies in an unprecedented rise in property crime, previously almost unheard of in Gaza. Domestic violence is also increasing.
The UN recently warned that Gaza will not be livable by 2016 and was rapidly becoming uninhabitable due to the overcrowdedness, decrease of agricultural areas, low water quality, poor medical care, abject poverty and due to the fact that there is no sign of a long-term political solution to solve Gaza’s underlying problems.
But this is not as a result of a natural disaster but of destruction, de-development, suffocation and isolation caused by the deliberate policies of Israel and Egypt, with significant contributory factors from both Hamas and Fatah. And the material and psychological siege of Gaza has profound consequences not just for the population, but also for regional security.
Israel sees Hamas – which does not recognize its right to exist – as a terrorist group. Egypt also sees the group as a security threat.
Israel’s 2005 unilateral disengagement from Gaza was intended to control Gaza through indirect means without the need to guard the –dismantled- colonies inside. The withdrawn Israeli forces were redeployed around the Gaza strip.
The sense of liberation at the time of the 2005 withdrawal, and the dream that Gazans might be free to determine their own future, and become a model of a future state of Palestine, was swiftly dashed on the rocks of Israel’s political actions and military operations, and the rise of Hamas.
7 years of division
Hamas-ruled Gaza was democratically elected in January 2006 on a wave of revulsion against the corrupt Palestinian Authority’s secular Fatah party. The international community and Israel refused to accept the results of the elections, and prevented a peaceful transition of power to the Hamas party.
A year later, Hamas’ armed forces routed security forces loyal to president Mahmoud Abbas in a military takeover in July 2007.
The Islamic resistance movement of Hamas had a track record of providing social support and services to the population, as well as a pledge to lead the resistance against the Israeli occupation.
It has since suppressed political opposition, did not allow any protests or oppositions to its rule, enforced an Islamic code of social conduct, violated personal and public freedoms and practiced discrimination against non Hamas loyalists when it comes to jobs opportunities at governmental institutions, ministries, educational institutions and with its repeated “retaliatory” rocket attacks in response to what Hamas says “Israeli crimes and provocations”, provided Israeli politicians with a useful justification for some of their more extreme rightwing policies.
The ongoing split has cut the fabric of the Palestinian society. It is ironic that we Palestinians have two governments, one run by Hamas in Gaza and the other one in the West Bank run by western backed Palestinian Authority, but no independent state. Both governments operate under the Israeli occupation.
It is no doubt that this shameful division, lack of political vision, weak leadership and the grim reality that both rival factions serve their factional interests, coupled with years of siege, frequent closure of border crossings mainly the Egyptian controlled Rafah terminal has made ordinary people in Gaza hopeless. They have, as both Israel and the Palestinian Authority lost faith in their rulers in Gaza.
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) attempt to put the blame on the Islamic party – an off-shot of the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood- for the miseries and endless crises that the people of Gaza have been enduring since the siege was imposed in order to force Hamas to make concessions to soften its political stance and cease all forms of military activities against Israel.
Palestinians are often described as resilient but this description is fading away as their life has reached a breaking point because of the crisis of trust in their leadership and because they are not able to provide for their families amid apathy from the international community. Palestinians, in particular Gazans, therefore do not care about the big issues anymore.
Now, after the brutal crackdown on Hamas’s ideological parents, the Muslim Brotherhood, in neighboring Egypt, the faction is facing a crisis. It is unable to ease the harsh living conditions of the people of Gaza due to the calamitous loss of income and cash-flow following the closure of the tunnels. It relies now on tax revenues collected from residents.
It is now politically isolated in the region, and its unpopularity at home is growing. Yet its power is unchallenged and still defies any attempt at destabilizing its power.
Who is to blame?
The growing anger and frustration beans hope is dashing away, if you ask people in Gaza they will tell you that they are not living, they are barely surviving. This anger is vented at Israel, the PA, Hamas, UN agencies and other international players.
People in Gaza have become hostages to Hamas and PA, Israel and Egypt and pay a heavy price at the hands of politicians for simply being living in Gaza.
No doubt the Palestinian cause has been harmed by the shameful split and both Hamas and the PA are to blame
Since Hamas has been in control of “blockaded” Gaza for the past 7 years, failed to meet the needs of the people under its rule, has not been able to resolve the accumulated endless crises, contributed to the deterioration of the situation by not putting the national interests of the people above its factional considerations, it must apologize for the Palestinians especially Gazans and thank them for being super patient and for enduring the unbearable miserable life.
It must end the split, reconcile with its rival or step aside and let the PA take the responsibility of Gaza, and bear the consequences.
Gazans deserve a decent life, enough is enough.
Yousef Alhelou, a freelance Palestinian journalist, media researcher at Reuters institute for the study of journalism at Oxford University, can be contacted by firstname.lastname@example.org