Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Gaza: Blocked in or blowing up?

Hamas leaders warn that if Israel does not lift the siege on Gaza, conditions in the Strip make a popular explosion inevitable and imminent, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza City

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Hamas and its military wing, the Qassam Brigades, have warned that their patience with the Israeli siege on Gaza, now in its tenth year, is wearing thin. This raises questions about the next step Palestinian authorities will take amid the worsening economic and humanitarian conditions in the sliver of territory on the Mediterranean coast.

The statements also sparked fears among the Gazan population of a fourth round of war. The population has yet to recover from the catastrophic Israeli attack in summer 2014, with chronic electricity shortages, poverty and unemployment, and as thousands of homes destroyed in the offensive have yet to be reconstructed.

Palestinian politicians and analysts believe that the warnings do not necessarily presage a new military engagement with the Israeli occupation, because the situation in Gaza cannot bear further wars.

The warnings were issued by Ismail Haniyeh, the deputy head of the Hamas politburo and its leader in the Gaza Strip, and the Qassam Brigades spokesman during a festival last week in Gaza. The statements are seen as a message to certain parties, seeking to draw attention to the dire situation in Gaza before it is too late.

Analysts say that the Hamas warnings aimed to stir stagnant waters. The long-time siege on Gaza has narrowed the horizon of hope and fuelled discontent among Gazans, especially after recent Israeli measures to ban the entry of cement and threats of a new military operation.

“Israel is not interested in seeing things come to a head,” said Talal Abu Tharifa, a member of the politburo of the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). “The political situation, the home front, and Israeli public opinion are not prepared for a new war at this stage.”

Abu Tharifa said this is evident in the fact that the Netanyahu government declared that the recently exposed tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip had been built in 2014, in an attempt to relieve pressure from the Israeli public and the far right to escalate matters in Gaza.

On 18 April, the Israeli army announced it had found an offensive tunnel operated by Hamas, running from eastern Rafah in southern Gaza to inside Israel, reaching several dozen metres beyond the security wall. The announcement sparked angry reactions from both the government and opposition.

“Nor is Hamas interested in escalation,” Abu Tharifa said. “The Gazan reality after the 2014 war is catastrophic. Only 28 per cent of reconstruction has been completed, unemployment and poverty rates are increasing, and every day crises are growing. There are no construction materials, no electricity, no potable water.”

According to reports from local and international organisations, 40 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s 1.95 million people live below the poverty line. Some 80 per cent receive some form of humanitarian assistance, while another 922,000 refugees in Gaza also require assistance, as well as urgent needs in health care, shelter, education and basic protection and security. Six out of every 10 families in Gaza are food insecure: 27 per cent face extreme insecurity, 16 per cent moderate insecurity, and 14 per cent some insecurity.

“Conditions in the Gaza Strip have become humanly unbearable amid the ongoing siege,” Abu Tharifa said. “If citizens’ daily economic and social issues are not addressed all possibilities are on the table. If Hamas feels things will blow up in its face it will try to direct the explosion to the face of the occupation.”

Haniyeh, deputy head of the Hamas politburo, issued a strongly worded warning to Israel of the consequences of maintaining the siege of the Gaza Strip.

At a speech given at a crowded popular festival organised by Hamas last Thursday in downtown Gaza City, titled “Melody of the Intifada,” Haniyeh said: “Do not misconstrue our patience in Gaza if the siege continues. We cannot allow our people to live in such suffering.” He added, “The siege of Gaza cannot continue, keeping two million Palestinians in a huge prison.”

Haniyeh continued, “We have faced three wars, and we’re able to survive, but patience has limits. Do not misconstrue our patience. Do not press on Gaza. Do not keep it penned in a space closed from the land, sea and air. The port is our right, the airport is our right, opening the crossings is our right. Freedom of movement and the entry of cement and all necessities for a dignified life are our right.”

On 3 April, Israel barred the entry of cement for use by the private sector in Gaza, saying it was being used by Hamas to fortify military positions, an allegation Hamas denied. After discovering the tunnel, Israel then suspended cement imports for state projects and UNRWA-backed enterprises.

Haniyeh said that the construction of a port or airport in Gaza does not make it a distinct state. “There is no state in Gaza and no state without Gaza. Gaza is part of Palestine,” he said.

During the festival, which included shows mimicking Palestinian stabbings and kidnappings of Israelis, a masked spokesman for the Qassam Brigades gave a brief statement. “A final warning,” he said. “Let everyone know that there is no longer anything preventing us from making a decision. Lift the siege on Gaza or face an explosion.”

Political analyst Mustafa Al-Sawwaf did not rule out such an explosion against the Israeli occupation if the stifling siege continues, saying that Gaza is on the edge of just such an outburst.

“Hamas, through Haniyeh and the Qassam Brigades, sent a warning to the occupation, telling it that the patience of the Palestinian people is running out,” Al-Sawwaf said. “If the UN and international and regional parties do not act to calm matters, a popular explosion against the occupation is coming.”

Al-Sawwaf said that the outburst would not necessarily be military in nature. He pointed to other options, such as the possibility of thousands of Gazans storming the border with Israel.

Al-Sawwaf ruled out the possibility that the Qassam Brigades and resistance factions in Gaza would launch a military action against Israel if the siege is not lifted.

“The resistance understands the nature of the situation in Gaza after the 2014 war, the crises in many sectors, and the regional situation,” he said. “So it will not likely launch an offensive on the occupation to get things moving.”

But he stressed that the resistance is prepared to defend the Palestinian people if Israel moves to deliver another blow on the Gaza Strip.

Israel launched a fierce assault on the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014. Lasting 51 days, Operation Protective Edge left some 2,200 Palestinians dead and another 11,000 injured. Thousands of homes were destroyed, along with much infrastructure, already seriously degraded by the siege imposed on the Strip since Hamas won the parliamentary elections of 2006.

“Gaza is a powder keg. The reality is unbearable and economic and humanitarian conditions are extremely bad, dangerous and difficult,” Al-Sawwaf said. “An outburst is the only way to change this reality as the occupation tightens the siege and does not abide by the truce agreement, and while the international community is silent and ignores the suffering of two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced the suspension of efforts to rebuild houses destroyed in the latest Israeli war on Gaza after Israel banned the entry of cement about a month ago.

In a statement, OCHA said that organisations offering assistance “were forced to suspend their financial contributions for the repair of homes for more than 1,370 families due to the scarcity of cement and the substantial increase in prices.” It added: “Payments to 1,550 families for reconstructions were also delayed due to the cement shortage.”

According to OCHA, 75,000 Gazans are still internally displaced after their homes were destroyed in Israel’s offensive in the summer of 2014. These Palestinians “have suffered long-term displacement due to restrictions on the arrival of basic construction materials and the lack of funding for housing”. OCHA said that the current cement shortage has also jeopardised the jobs of some 40,000 people working in the construction and building sector.

According to data from the Palestinian Ministry of Public Works and Housing, 171,085 housing units were damaged in the Israeli attack on Gaza, including 12,558 units that were wholly destroyed and 12,721 that were partially destroyed and are unfit for habitation; another 145,806 units were partially destroyed.

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