A community in limbo: An insider perspective on life in Gaza

A Jerusalem Post exclusive conversation with an analyst who recently returned from Gaza helps paint a picture of life in the Strip.

Palestinians look out of their home at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City September 3, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
Palestinians look out of their home at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City September 3, 2018
Daily life in Gaza is lived in contrast to the reports of clashes and riots at the border. During the last round of air strikes that came in response to rockets fired at Beersheba at Gush Dan, many people did not hear or see the explosions, according to a witness.
Netanyahu on the Beersheba rocket strike, October 18, 2018 (Reuters/GPO)
In conversations with an analyst who recently returned from Gaza, but who asked to remain anonymous due to the nature of his work, a picture of life in the urban areas of the strip can be gleaned. Stores are full of consumer goods, and there is a new mall with the types of shops one would find anywhere. But the shops are empty because high unemployment and low salaries make the items for sale unaffordable for Gazans.
Notwithstanding the media portrayal of the Gaza Strip being on the verge of collapse, with sewage flowing in the streets, limited electricity and food shortages, life there is relatively normal. The source compared Gaza with life in Jordan and other countries in the region, and said it is similar. Gazans appreciate they are not facing the tragedies of Syria and Yemen, where civil war and famine have killed and displaced millions.
Gazans have lived under blockade for more than a decade under Hamas rule. It is a young population. More than half the residents are under age 18 which means most of their life has been spent in the narrow confines of the strip. If one of their parents or relatives was lucky enough to have had work in Israel or abroad, and if their grandparents even remembered stories about life in British Mandate Palestine, the current generation has no such memories. They blame Israel for their suffering, the world for not caring, and say the Palestinian Authority has been isolating them. This comes after almost six months of clashes with Israeli forces on the border in which more than 200 have been killed and thousands injured.
Gaza faces not only the crises of the clashes but budget cuts to UNRWA. Anger has seethed at the foreign UNRWA employees. NGOs treating the wounded from the protests are seeing an avalanche of casualties which the health system cannot cope with. There is a feeling that Hamas has not taken responsibility for governing, instead focusing on its conflict with Israel and stories of “return.”
Notwithstanding the image of Hamas as an oppressive force with gunmen posted on street corners, the reality is that organization’s control is behind the scenes. Posters aren’t ubiquitous. Gazans quietly refrain from supporting the protests at the security fence. Gaza is a conservative area and many women cover their hair but there are no “morality police” enforcing dress codes.
During the recent tensions, there was little sign of the violence on the streets. More striking, the source, said, was uncollected trash piling up.
With diesel and gasoline in short supply, wealthy Gazans rely on generators to produce electricity. Horses pull carts in lieu of cars. The blockade hasn’t led to a shortage of consumer goods or food. Fish remains readily available. But Gazans are alarmed about sewage in their water. University graduates can neither find work nor emigrate. Some who once worked abroad have seen their permits or passports expire and were compelled to return to Gaza.
There is a feeling that the world has abandoned the Gaza Strip. The hope symbolized by the Yasser Arafat International Airport, which opened in 1998 but ceased operation two year later during the Second Intifada, has evaporated. Similarly the burgeoning greenhouses Israel left for the locals after its 2005 disengagement are no more. Some money has come from Qatar, which helped reconstruct areas after the 2014 war and more recently has supplied fuel. But there are limited connections to the outside world, and few foreign faces.
Those who want to learn English watch television. Their local teachers lack basic skills.
For more than a decade, Gaza has been stuck in limbo. Its 2,000,000 people pay lip service to idea of “return” but know al-awda is an impossible dream. But dreams are the only option Gazans have left.