Gaza: An Open-Air Prison

Gaza is one of the most densely populated places with 2.1 million people, almost all of them suffering from extremely poor living conditions and dependent on humanitarian aid.

Since Hamas’s victory in the legislative elections in 2006, Israel imposed a full blockade of the Strip, and the Israeli occupation army periodically launches military operations on Gaza. The latest internationally recognized aggression lasted 11 days in May and ended with Egyptian mediation.

Although both territories are on a truce, Core Middle East has been actively following Palestinian social media users that have accounted for at least 12 breaches of the peace from Israel during these past months.

Palestinians walk at night along Al-Baali Street, next to homes heavily damaged by airstrikes during an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Palestine, May 31, 2021. (AP Photo)

The humanitarian crisis in numbers

After 4 wars in 13 years that were originated after the formation of Israel in 1948, the Strip is in absolute destruction and the death toll is never-ending. The United Nations estimates that there have been more than $5 billion worth of damage to homes, agriculture, industry, electricity, and water infrastructure. More than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed, more than half of whom were civilians, says the UN. In contrast, 106 Israelis have died.

According to the Islamic relief, access to clean water is not possible for 95% of the population, and there is an ongoing power shortage impacting essential services like health and sanitation. Almost half of Gaza’s people do not have enough food, around 60% of children are anaemic and many suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition.

As the blockade has sealed off Gaza from the rest of the world, the economy is in a terrible state and younger people have no prospects for development. The median age in Gaza is 19 and these are people who have lived their childhood and adolescence in war. Young unemployment stands at an astonishing 70%, and young people tend to suffer extensive PTSD from living through war.

Chadi Nassir, 7, looks out of a room as two of his brothers play video games in their home, heavily damaged by airstrikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Palestine, June 11, 2021. (AP Photo)

Where does all this misery come from? Although the conflict has existed since the 50s, it was in 2007 when the situation got worse. A year after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas got control of Gaza. Then, Israel and Egypt swiftly closed Gaza’s borders, implemented the so-known blockade allowing little to enter or leave Gaza without Israeli permission.

In each war, Israel launches missiles and airstrikes. Israel says it aims only at military targets, but civilians are often hit as well.

After Israeli’s strikes, Palestinian authorities are forced to beg for money from foreign donors to rebuild. Sometimes, it could be years with damage unrepaired as donations are prioritized for the buildings worst hit. Due to the blockade, there is also persistent shortages of supplies such as cement and steel.

40% of Gaza habitants would leave if they could, the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research published. Although Palestinian’s are ready to leave Gaza, to do so is extremely difficult. Gaza has no airport or commercial seaport and exits by land are closed to travellers, with permission needed from Israel or Egypt, and Hamas.

Israel’s ‘new’ plan for Gaza

What is happening in Gaza is directly caused by the Israeli forces, blockade, and airstrikes. Now, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has revealed plans to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza only if Hamas’ militants stop their attacks against Israel.

Lapid announced at the annual conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy at Reichmann University, that Gaza would receive infrastructure development. This would involve repairing the power grid, the electricity system, the gas interconnection, the rebuilding of houses and transportation, and growing the employment rate.

The plan aims to show the Palestinians that Hamas’ violence against Israel is “the reason they live in conditions of poverty, scarcity, violence and high unemployment, without hope”, Lapid terms it.

He stressed that he does not call for negotiations with Hamas, because “Israel does not talk with terrorist organizations that want to destroy us. Lapid acknowledged that his plan did not amount to official policy in Israel’s eight-party coalition government, but said it had the support of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

If this first phase goes smoothly, Gaza will then see the construction of an artificial island off its coast that will allow the construction of a port, and a “transportation link” will be established between Gaza and the West Bank. And the second stage, according to Lapid, “is to ensure security, and Gaza accepts the details of the first stage, in addition to the Palestinian Authority taking over the control of matters in terms of civil and economic management in the Strip.”

The Times of Israel remembers that Israeli officials previously presented similar plans to repair Gaza’s collapsed infrastructure without producing anything on the ground. For Palestinians, these “economic plans” will never represent a real solution to the conflict. They must be accompanied by a political agreement that gives Palestinians the right to establish an independent Palestinian state.

Just hours after Lapid’s remarks, violence was renewed when the Israeli army said it had intercepted a rocket launched from Gaza towards southern Israel. Israel returned the attack by striking four Hamas military compounds and a tunnel in the Palestinian enclave.

Habitants of Gaza are locked in a vicious cycle of economic disaster, fear, and terrible living conditions. Amongst them, there is always the imminent threat of another war that will cause as much or more damage as the ones before. Palestinians mourn the dead and try to go on daily life amid the ruins.

The wars have not only destroyed physical structures but have eliminated any sense of positivity towards life in Gaza and hope for future peace. Destruction, reconstruction, infusions of aid, repeat.

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