By: Motasem A Dalloul
It was a very happy moment when the Palestinians knew that they would cast their votes in order to choose their representatives, after waiting a long time. They voted and unexpectedly, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, won the overwhelming majority of the parliament seats, but this was not a blessing for the Palestinians, because it did not bring them safety, nor security – the basics for a stable life.
Fatah, Israel and the international community did not recognise the results of the elections. Rejecting the results by Fatah, led to internal clashes with Hamas, resulting in the latter sweeping the former from Gaza, in order to end the security chaos which erupted to undermine Hamas’ victory. Israel used this a pretext to impose a strict air, sea and ground siege on Gaza, and gave the international community a pretext to ignore Gaza, and stop its support for its people.
Since then, Gaza has been moving from one crisis to another. Gazan residents felt the first major crisis when the Palestinian Authority (PA) ordered its public servants, including the security personnel, teachers, doctors and employees in different ministries, to stay home or lose their salaries. Therefore, Gazan students went to their schools where were no teachers and patients went to hospitals and clinics, to find no doctors.
Adding to this, Israel reduced fuel and electricity supplies, at certain point to zero, paralysing almost all forms of life. Over 300 patients passed away in hospitals because of the lack of electricity and medicine. The suffering of hundreds of dialysis, heart and cancer patients, in addition to newly born babies, increased due to the lack of proper medical equipment or spare parts for the already operating equipment.
Over 70 per cent of factories, according to the office of the Chamber of Commerce in Gaza, were stopped due to the lack or severe shortages of raw materials banned by Israel, under the pretext of dual use. Exports and imports were largely stopped, and at certain points were completely blocked. All these things, in addition to others, led to high rates of unemployment, 46.7 per cent, and consequently, high rates of poverty, 53 per cent.
The situation deteriorated due to the continuous tensions between Israel and Hamas, which is dedicated to fighting the Israeli occupation, leading to several deadly offensives, including three main ones – in 2008/9, 2012 and 2014. These three offensives alone resulted in the deaths of around 3,900 Gazan residents, wounded over 15,000, completely destroyed over 11,000 homes, partially damaged over 12,000 homes and hundreds of other facilities, including clinics, schools, mosques, water and sewage plants.
Then, on 30 March 2018, the weekly demonstrations, dubbed the ‘Great March of Return’ and Breaking the Siege’ along the eastern side of the Gaza Strip, started and this added to the suffering of the Gazan residents due to the Israeli use of “lethal force” against “peaceful” protesters.
In 2012, the UN Country Team produced a report predicting, based on trends, that Gaza would become “unliveable” by 2020. This report was issued after two of the aforementioned Israeli offensives on Gaza and before the third one, which was the most destructive. Five years later, the same UN team announced: “Sadly, as we check-in on those same trends again in this 2017 report, the deterioration has accelerated.”
One of the most serious problems facing Gazan residents is the fast growth of population, compared to the insufficient area of land, along with the severe shortage of health and education services and the lack of basics for economic growth. Originally, the area of the Gaza Strip, which was defined with the Armistice Line, is about 560 square kilometres. However, in a secret deal reached in the early 1950s, between Israel and Egypt, which controlled Gaza between the 1948 and 1967 wars, Israel seized an extra 200 square kilometres. The two million inhabitants of Gaza make it one of the most densely populated areas on earth.
In order to meet the needs of the population growth, the report stated that Gaza, which had about 2,000 hospital beds in 2012, needed 800 more beds in 2020, in order to meet the population growth (two million) expected by the UN Country Team in 2012. Three years before 2020, the population became two million, while the hospital beds and other health facilities became more obsolete, impacting negatively on the health services.
Regarding the education system, however, few more schools have been built since the report was issued, but unfortunately, the number of teachers has declined because of the budget deficit which the Hamas government in Gaza has been suffering, due to the lack of funds compared to the need of teachers, in order to compensate those who were instructed by the PA to stay at home.
The difficult and uncertain political situation in the Gaza Strip, along with the almost permanent closure of the crossings, as well as the lack of prospective internal reconciliation, make economic growth impossible. In fact, the Israeli crossings had been reopened and there has been commercial movement between Gaza and West Bank, Israel and the world, but the average monthly number of truckloads of goods exiting or entering Gaza is still less than a third of what was prior to 2007.
If we want to see Gaza liveable in 2020, its residents “must be enabled to live dignified, healthy and productive lives in peace and security, both now and in the future.” This could be achieved if the internal reconciliation and general elections were done, the 13-year-old Israel siege was lifted and the international support and donation were resumed. However, these goals seem unachievable because of Israel’s unwillingness to do so.
The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Michael Lynk, announced last year that Israel had prevented him from entering the territories, in order to stand closely on its obligation to preserve human rights for the Palestinians. Now, Israel claims that the ICC does not have jurisdictions over the occupied territories, enabling it to probe possible Israeli crimes. These factors prove that Israel is unwilling to stop its aggression against the Palestinians, including those in Gaza, at very least, lifting the siege and facilitating their livelihoods.
The strange thing is that Gazan residents, “who pose a threat to no-one,” according to the former UN coordinator for humanitarian aid and development activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Robert Piper, have been enduring all of these sufferings and “paying a high price for acts and failures of others.”