Gaza despair

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub threatened to take undefined “decisive steps” to keep Hamas from “holding the Gaza Strip hostage.”

A Palestinian boy looks through the gate of his family's house at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian boy looks through the gate of his family's house at Shatti (beach) refugee camp in Gaza City
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On the surface, what passes for normality in Gaza seems to be more of the same display of high-minded rhetoric about Palestinian unity against threats by Fatah to end Hamas rule by force.
Beneath the surface, an increasing number of Hamas attack-tunnel diggers have been dying in a series of tunnel collapses.
Of late, however, there has been a new Gazan statistic to contemplate: a dramatic increase in the suicides of young males. Not suicide bombers in acts of “holy Palestinian martyrdom,” but individual suicides out of apparent despair.
On the macro level, senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub told the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat last week that there would be no more Fatah-Hamas “unity government” talks in Qatar, where the two parties held their umpteenth failed attempt at an elusive reconciliation. But this latest rupture seemed more serious than its predecessors, hinting of a possibly violent confrontation.
Jibril threatened to take undefined “decisive steps” to keep Hamas from “holding the Gaza Strip hostage.”
He did not indicate just what Fatah and the Palestinian Authority would do to restore the control over Gaza it lost to a bloody Hamas coup in 2007.
On the personal level, the continuing failure of effective governance and of efforts to relieve Gaza’s dire economic and social problems is leading to growing despair, one expression of which is an apparent growth in the number of suicides – reportedly seven, plus 20 attempted suicides just in the past two months. One young Palestinian jumped off a building; another doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight. While individual mental illness can offer an explanation as to cause – which can never be known definitively – the fact remains that Gazans have less and less to live for.
The Gazan economy has been on the verge of collapse for years. According to the World Bank, its unemployment rate is 38 percent, with unemployment among youth at more than 60%.
“Gaza’s unemployment and poverty figures are very troubling and the economic outlook is worrying. The current market in Gaza is not able to offer jobs, leaving a large population in despair, particularly the youth,” said Steen Lau Jorgensen, World Bank director for the West Bank and Gaza.
“The ongoing blockade and the 2014 war have taken a toll on Gaza’s economy and people’s livelihoods. Gaza’s exports virtually disappeared and the manufacturing sector has shrunk by as much as 60%. The economy cannot survive without being connected to the outside world,” he said.
According to the World Bank, Gaza’s GDP is only a couple of percentage points higher now than it was in 1994, while the population is estimated to have increased by about 230% over the same period. This means that real per capita income in Gaza is 31% lower now than in 1994.
The World Bank does not consider Hamas capable of leading Gaza out of the morass. “Effective governance systems and institutional strengthening under the PA’s leadership are also a necessary precondition for sustained economic recovery of Gaza,” the bank’s recent report stated.
The only jobs Hamas is able to provide Gazans are in its military wing, Izzadin Kassam, which props up its draconian Islamist rule, and as diggers who divert scarce resources from the reconstruction Gaza needs to reestablishing its attack-tunnel network.
Izzadin Kassam reportedly pays members more than $400 a month – and on time – and gives them three meals a day. But the tunnel diggers are Hamas’s elite, a vanguard of some 1,000 excavators who labor underground six days a week to prepare their miserable territory to resume attacking Israel in the next war. Not only are they well fed and well paid, but unlike other Gazans they enjoy uninterrupted electric power as they dig.
Due to Egypt’s unrelenting campaign against the Hamas tunnel network, the smuggling of goods that was once a principal source of its revenue has been reduced to a trickle, and some 40,000 who used to earn their livelihoods from smuggling have been added to the unemployment rolls. They join some 20,000 Gazan college graduates each year who have no jobs to find – except possibly as enforcers for the regime or as tunnelers preparing for the next pointless war against Israel.