Life in Gaza: Between war, peace and everyday reality

"The situation is very cruel. We used to have about 780 trucks filled with goods entering the Strip daily." Gazans lament harsh humanitarian situation.

August 14, 2018 09:46
Life in Gaza: Between war, peace and everyday reality

Palestinian protesters wave their national flag as they gather during a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 10, 2018. (photo credit: SAID KHATIB / AFP)


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Officials, activists and residents in the Gaza Strip are warning that the Palestinian enclave is teetering on the brink of a "humanitarian disaster," as international efforts to forge a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas have yet to bear fruit.

"The people of Gaza go to sleep hoping for peace but wake up the next morning to the sound of war drums," Mazen Safi, a Gaza-based analyst, explained to The Media Line. "The situation swings from brokering of a weak truce to being on the precipice of conflict," which precludes any economic or social development. "We are witnessing a huge problem for the present and future of the people of Gaza," given that issues ranging from poverty to unemployment to decreasing marriage rates cannot be addressed amid recurring bouts of violence.

"The situation is very cruel," Bassam Manasra, a spokesperson for Gaza's National Movement Committee for Breaking the Siege and Reconstruction, contended to The Media line. "We used to have about 780 trucks filled with goods entering the Strip daily," a number he suggested has been reduced to 270.

"The health situation is also very difficult. Patients in Gaza have to buy their own medications if they are even available. The hospitals don't have fuel and it has reached a point where doctors are postponing critical operations if not cancelling them altogether."

In this respect, Gaza's Ministry of Health on Sunday announced that chemotherapy was no longer being offered at the lone hospital in the enclave that treats cancer patients, thereby placing hundreds of lives at stake.

"The cessation of chemotherapy for cancer patients comes as the medication isn't available, in addition to the depletion of Neogene, which is used to increase immunity for the patients," Ashraf al-Qadra, the ministry's spokesperson wrote in a press statement.
Eyad al-Bazam, a spokesperson for the Security Forces in Gaza, noted that the latest round of fighting has caused a dramatic spike in the incidence of panic attacks among the public. "We deal with hundreds of cases every day as Israel targets residential areas," he claimed to The Media Line.

Various limitations have been placed on Gaza since the early 1990s, but they were greatly expanded in 2007 following the violent takeover of the territory by Hamas. At the time, Israel imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the enclave, citing security concerns.
The Gaza's economic isolation has been exacerbated by restrictions enacted by the Egyptian government on the Rafah crossing with the Sinai Peninsula. Most recently, the PA levelled penalties including cutting the salaries and benefits of its own Gaza-based employees.
Inside Gaza: A life under blockade, May 16, 2018 (Reuters)

"There is no doubt that the economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza is the worst in decades," Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem conveyed to The Media Line. "Ninety-nine percent of the Strip's water is non-potable, while the electricity is available only 4 hours a day. Basic services have almost totally collapsed."

Qassem purported that 95% of the all Gaza-based private companies have failed due to the regular closure of the border with Egypt, making the overall situation "no longer tolerable."

Finally, when asked about the ongoing tensions, Qassem asserted that "there can't be a truce until Israel stops its violent escalation and ends its siege on the strip. Hamas is not seeking clashes or engagement in war."

In fact, the all-too-familiar “calm for calm” dynamic between Israel and Hamas seems to be setting in. According to Israeli officials, while no formal ceasefire has been agreed to, the sides have arrived at a tacit understanding—albeit one that is largely undefined and thus temporary—to work towards restoring relative quiet.

This comes after some 200 projectiles were fired from Gaza into Israel last week, to which the Israel Defense Forces responded with about 150 strikes targeting Hamas infrastructure. That the operative word is “relative” was made clear Friday, when three Gazans reportedly were killed in clashes that broke out for the twentieth week in a row during the latest installment of the “March of Return” protests. On Saturday, the IDF conducted a series of air strikes against sites in Gaza after a cell was identified launching incendiary objects into Israel.

Israel has to date refused to lift the blockade on Gaza but has expressed a willingness to ease restrictions on the enclave should Hamas lay down its arms. Among the ideas floated in the past to improve Gaza's economy include plans to build an artificial island off the coast that would house a port, cargo terminal and airport; the expansion of the Erez crossing—presently used exclusively as a passage for people—to transfer supplies into the enclave; and a proposed joint industrial zone in the shared border area. In June, Israeli television reported that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman proposed building a port in Cyprus that would serve as a hub for the transfer of goods to Gaza.

For its part, the IDF has long recommended issuing thousands of permits to Gazans to enable them to work in Israel, while United Nations Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov has promoted building infrastructure in the Sinai Peninsula to enhance Gaza’s economy.

Over the weekend, UN diplomats visited the Palestinian territory as the push to forge a long-term truce continues; this, despite an apparent growing mindfulness by all parties that the remaining stumbling blocks may be insurmountable.

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