Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Nightmares for Hamas

In addition to its regional isolation, the Hamas government in Gaza is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

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Al-Ahram Weekly

While Hamas leaders have been unsuccessfully negotiating a reconciliation deal with the Fatah Movement over the last few weeks, the group is now facing one of the worst humanitarian and economic crises that have hit the Gaza Strip since 2007.

The deteriorating economic situation could lead to social unrest, according to a statement released on Monday by all the Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas.

“Humanitarian conditions in Gaza have reached a very serious level, resulting in a lack of faith among many Palestinians and explaining the recent reports of suicides among young people,” the statement said.

The media in Gaza reported three suicides among young people in February alone, among them a 20-year-old Palestinian who died when he threw himself from the sixth floor of a building in Rafah in the Gaza Strip. A week earlier, a 33-year-old Palestinian from Khan Younis set himself on fire after concerns that he was failing to provide an income for his family.

The Hamas government has been making efforts to save the Strip from further social unrest. Last month, Hamas entered a round of reconciliation talks in Doha with the Fatah Movement with the aim of forming a national Palestinian government. However, the talks ended without agreement, as Hamas has shown no signs of changing the policies that led to the current situation in the first place.

Hamas is using the reconciliation talks to demand the opening of the Rafah and Karm Abu Salem crossings. The move could buy its government in Gaza more time as it would ease the movement of basic commodities into Gaza.

“Hamas is to blame for the closure of the Rafah crossing for the past few years, as the group refuses to hand over the administration of the crossing to the Palestinian Authority (PA) according to the 2005 agreement,” an Egyptian official told Al-Ahram Weekly.Hamas has rejected the handing over of the administration of the Rafah crossing to the PA, and this has been taken as evidence that the group does not have the political will to reach real reconciliation with its rival.

The Rafah crossing is used primarily for the movement of people, while the Karm Abu Salem crossing is the sole operational transit point into Gaza for goods and humanitarian aid. It is controlled by Israel.

Almost nine years since Hamas took over Gaza, the radical group has turned the Strip into a centre for training terrorists who operate in Egypt. Evidence presented two weeks ago by Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar suggested that Hamas was involved in the assassination of Egypt’s public prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, last year. Egyptian officials have also linked Hamas and other radical groups in Gaza to terrorist attacks in Sinai.

“Even though the Egyptian government believes that there are links and coordination between Hamas and jihadi Salafist groups in Sinai, it still opens the Rafah crossing from time to time to help the Palestinians in Gaza,” the official said. “The group is trying to convince the world that ending Hamas rule will end up with the Islamic State (IS) group taking over Gaza.”

In addition to exporting armed extremists, the poor government of Hamas in Gaza has left the Strip with a devastated economy and in a state of social breakdown. This has led to greater desperation among young people, some of whom have joined jihadi Salafist groups.

“When you live in Gaza, the easiest job you can get as a young man is to join one of the radical groups. There are no government or private-sector jobs, and this is the outcome of nine years of siege,” said 27-year-old Mahmoud Al-Ghoul, who fled Gaza in 2012.

A World Bank report published at the end of 2015 indicated that the Gaza economy is on the “verge of collapse”. The report said that unemployment in Gaza is the highest in the world at 43 per cent. Even more alarming is youth unemployment, which has jumped to more than 60 per cent.

The report said that Gaza’s population suffers from poor access to basic public services such as electricity, water and sewerage. Nearly 80 per cent of Gaza’s population receives some kind of social assistance, and nearly 60 per cent falls below the poverty line.

“As many as one third of Gaza’s children showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder even before the 2014 armed conflict. Now the figure is even more,” the report said.

Another report released by the UN’s economic research arm, UNCTAD, in September 2015 reached the shocking conclusion that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in 2020 if current economic trends continue.

“The social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding [of the Strip] are among the factors that may render Gaza unlivable by 2020, if present trends continue,” the report said. “Reconstruction efforts are extremely slow relative to the magnitude of the devastation, and Gaza’s economy has not had a chance to recover.”

“My only hope is to take my mother to Egypt. Nobody can live in Gaza anymore,” said Arafat Mostafa Samy, a 35-year-old Palestinian from Gaza who lives in Cairo.

For the last nine years Arafat has not been able to visit his family in Gaza as he is afraid of leaving Egypt and not being able to come back. Samy left Gaza after the Hamas coup in 2007, when a group of armed men came to his house to arrest him and his brother because they were members of the Fatah Movement in Gaza. A few months later, armed men killed Arafat’s cousin who worked for the PA security forces after kidnapping him from his house.

The loss of hope among many Palestinians in Gaza is mixed with fears of a renewed offensive by Israel against Gaza, especially since Hamas has avoided taking basic measures to protect the civilian population. The group’s apparent willingness to accept high civilian casualty rates in any conflict suggests that this is a part of its political and military strategy.

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