“Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key.”
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, John Dugard
Gaza: The Facts
- Total Population - 1,500,202
- Population Density - 4117 per sq km
- Fertility Rate - 5.19 children/woman
- Total Refugees - 1,059,584
- Refugees as % of Population - 70%
- Unemployment - 45.5%
- Average Age - 17.2 years - some estimates have put the median age at 15.3.
- Life Expectancy - 73.16 years
- % dependant on foreign aid - 86%
Gaza: Retrospective of events
1948 Arab-Israeli War - Gaza Strip’s boundaries were defined by the 1949 Armistice and placed under Egyptian rule to be held in trust for a future Palestinian state.
1956 Suez-Sinai War - The Gaza Strip was occupied by Israel. A year later they withdrew their troops and a UN Emergency Force was placed in the Gaza Strip.
1967 War - Israel recaptured the Gaza Strip on June 5th. In November of the same year, UN Security Council called for the ‘withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’.
1970 - The first settlement, Kfar Darom, was built in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli settlement movement continued to expand as did confrontations between settlers and Palestinians.
1987 - The first Palestinian Intifada and Hamas, an Islamic Resistance Movement, begin in Gaza. The Intifada comes to an end with the signing of the Oslo Accord and establishment of the PA in 1993.
2000 - The Camp David Summit renewed hopes for peace until Ariel Sharon’s visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque sparks the Second Intifada in September.
2005 –Ariel Sharon ‘disengages’ from the Gaza Strip in September – unilaterally and without consultation or coordination with the the Palestinian Authority. Though the settlers are gone, Israel maintains effective contol of the Strip.
2006 – Hamas wins the January Parliamentary Election by a landslide. Israel and the international community place sanctions on Palestine and withhold VAT. Tensions grow within Palestine between factions.
2007 -Violent clashes erupt between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza, resulting in Hamas securing control of the Strip. Egypt responds by sealing off the border.
2008 - On January 17th Israel sealed off the borders to Gaza following a rise in rocket attacks. They retain full control over the amount of medical supplies, food and fuel imported to the Gaza Strip by land or sea. In June 19th, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire. As this goes to print, they are fighting again (Nov).
The Constant Crisis in Gaza
The Gaza Strip has been facing a humanitarian crisis ever since April of 2006, when border closings and the lack of foreign aid caused a severe shortage of fuel, foods and medical care. Gazans suffer shortages of essen-tial commodities and the rise in market prices has made it difficult for families to have an adequate, healthy and balanced diet.
The Karni crossing, which serves as the main conduit for commercial goods into Gaza, has been closed since June 13th, 2007. This has devastated the Gazan economy. ”In June 2007, there were 748 truckloads of ex-ports leaving Gaza for Israel and other countries. A month later there were none”.
In Gaza over 80% of Palestinians are now depending on foreign aid compared to 63% of 2006. Unem-ployment in Gaza is close to 40% and is set to rise to 50%. The private sector – that generates 53% of all jobs in Gaza is crumbling.
The health sector remains unstable as the severe lack of fuel causes power cuts. According to the July 2007,UNRWA Gaza Situation Report, primary and secondary health care facilities are still functioning de-spite shortages of electricity and supplies such as X-ray film, laboratory kits, patient beds and examination tables. However there are ongoing shortages of chronic disease drugs and anaesthetics, and a considerable portion of equipment and machines are out of order, overloading the remaining capacity of hospitals.
WHO reports that at least 51 people have died from October 2007-July 2008 as a direct result of not being able to access medical care outside Gaza – among these were 11 children.
The fuel shortage and the lack of spare parts required to repair and upgrade Gaza’s wastewater treatment plants have forced the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility to continue dumping approximately 84,000 m3 of raw and partially treated sewage into the Mediterranean Sea each day.
Connecting Gaza and the West
One of the most complex aspects of the peace process has always concerned the necessity for a link between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A series of proposals and ideas have been floated. One suggesting a land corridor be-tween the two which would be ‘bought’ in landswaps with Israel coming from the West Bank; another a bridge; and still another suggests building a tunnel. The geographical complexities of the issue have kept negotiators and their advisors up at night.
What has kept the rest of us awake is the way in which the Gaza and the West Bank can be reunited politically and socially following the tragic schism of 2007. While the PA was at work preparing itself for negotiations on the geographic complexities, it quickly became clear that moving forward in the peace process with Israel hinged upon prior national reconciliation and the formation a national unity government.
Sporadically throughout 2008, attempts were made to bring the two major factions together, but it was not until the closing months of the year (as this goes to print) that there appeared to be any sort of breakthrough.
Reconciliation will not however make negotiations any easier. In fact, allow-ing Hamas any say in the process might cause Israel to reject them on the premise that the party are neither part of the PLO nor credible partners for peace.
Because of these conflicting realities, 2009 promises to be a very delicate year. The PLO and PA are now clinging to an emergency mandate that began in 2007. The legitimacy of the emergency government has been questioned throughout, but maintains its hold on power through the promise of being able to make tangible improvements in people’s lives by moving towards a negotiatied two-state settlement.
The inability to do so will increase support for Hamas. Furthermore, not co-opting Hamas into the process gives them immense power to disrupt prog-ress. Meanwhile the people of the West Bank and Gaza Strip drift further and further apart.