Palestinians gather around a burnt-out car in Gaza City on July 19, 2015, after explosions destroyed five cars in Gaza belonging to members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, witnesses and a security source said, amid tensions between the Palestinian territory's rulers and Islamist extremists..
(photo credit: MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Sirens sounded in the Sha’ar Hanegev region and in Sderot on Friday, a few moments before four rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit the area.
In retaliation, the IDF hit targets in the Strip. Tragically, two Palestinian children – a six-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother – were unintentionally killed in the strikes near Beit Lahiya. The children’s house was located near a Hamas base.
Now Hamas is threatening its own retaliation. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warns that Israel will hit Gaza even harder if “attempts to disrupt the calm in the South continue.”
The situation could quickly escalate into another round of violence. Before it does, it behooves us to take a look at what’s happened since Operation Protective Edge.
A year-and-a-half after the last Israel-Hamas war, about 100,000 Gazans – more than half of them children – still have not had their houses rebuilt. According to a 2014 UNRWA report, the average person in Gaza makes $174 a month. Unemployment in the Strip during 2015 topped 40 percent, while more than 65% of the population live under the poverty line. Clean drinking water is increasingly hard to come by because Gaza is unable to properly process its sewage.
Depending whom you ask, between half and 80% of the population is dependent on aid from relief and humanitarian organizations. And economic experts predict an even gloomier scenario in 2016.
The humanitarian crisis is regularly blamed on the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.
On the one-year anniversary of Operation Protective Edge, Pierre Krähenbühl, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said that “despair, destitution and denial of dignity” caused by the 2014 war and the blockade remain “a fact of life for ordinary people in Gaza,” and add to the humanitarian burden they face.
Oxfam International issued a similar diagnosis, blaming the blockade which “prevents most people from leaving Gaza or trading with the outside world and markets in the West Bank.”
Interestingly, neither Oxfam nor UNRWA place any blame for the perpetuation of the Gaza crisis on Hamas, the ruler there, which raises money from the international community on the backs of the Strip’s residents and invests tens of millions of dollars each month in building up its fighting force, digging attack tunnels that stretch into Israel and manufacturing rockets.
Hamas’s leaders have made no secret of their goals. Leaders such as Mahmoud Zahar, Khalil al-Hayeh and Ismail Haniyeh say openly that tunnels are being built not to bypass the blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel but to target Israelis. Haniyeh said recently that the tunnels are designed not only to carry out terrorist attacks, but “to liberate all of Palestine.”
Not only does Hamas funnel precious resources, which should be used to rebuild Gaza and to improve its residents’ lives, into preparing for the next war with Israel, the terrorist organization runs Gaza Strip like a kleptocracy.
Qatar has committed tens of millions of dollars to building 1,040 housing units for homeless Gazans. But Hamas, which lotteried off the homes, is charging $40,000 per house.
When Israel seizes fishing vessels that sailed too far off shore, concerned they may being used by terrorists, and returns them to Gaza, Hamas confiscates the ships and charges fishermen to get them back.
Hamas members monopolize the smuggling of goods and arms into the Strip. Many have become rich while the vast majority of Gazans live in dire poverty.
Each day between 650 and 700 trucks go through the Kerem Shalom crossing carrying goods from around the world. But these goods are not distributed fairly and evenly.
All of this serves Hamas’s interests. By channeling nearly all available resources into rebuilding its military capabilities, the terrorist organization keeps the humanitarian crisis alive. Gaza is transformed into a pressure cooker ready to explode. At the same time, Hamas is able to keep its armed wing strong, which makes it possible for it to maintain control over the Strip and prepare for the next confrontation with Israel.
As long as Hamas runs the show, the next war is only a matter of time.