T O P I C
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
The 2014 war in Gaza created a humanitarian crisis and caused US$1.7 billion in losses to the economy, which continues to suffer to this day. Even though growth in the Gaza Strip reached 7.3% in 2016, due to increased construction, Gaza’s economy is not expected to rebound to its pre-2014 war level until 2018. Alongside its stunted recovery, Gaza suffers from severe shortages of electricity with rolling blackouts.
In 2016, the unemployment rate remained stubbornly high at 27%: 42 % in Gaza and
18% in the West Bank. Youth unemployment in Gaza is particularly worrying at 58%.
And, although nearly 80% of Gaza’s residents receive some form of aid,
poverty rates are very high. (World Bank)
1922 -1948 Under British memorandum
1948-1967 Egyptian army trapped in Gaza at end of war with Israel. Then came under Egyptian sovereignty though not made Egyptian citizens
1967 - Under Israel sovereignty
2004 First Israeli Gaza war
2005 Israel withdraw’s its troops and 7,000 settlers
2007 Hamas takes over government of Gaza
2008 Second Israeli Gaza War
2014 Third Israeli Gaza war
2018 Gaza Border Protests
GAZA: THE BASICS
Some history and background on the Gaza Strip.
Slate By Nina Rastogi JAN. 25 2008
Egyptian riot policemen prevent Palestinian people from crossing the border
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of Palestinians streamed into Egypt for a shopping frenzy after gunmen in the Gaza Strip destroyed part of the barrier along the border. In the past two weeks, following a rise in rocket attacks, Israel had ramped up its blockades, refusing to allow anything besides humanitarian supplies to pass into the region. Below, the Explainer tackles a few basic questions about the region.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE GAZA STRIP?
The Gaza Strip is a roughly rectangular territory surrounding the city of Gaza, wedged between the Mediterranean Sea and Israel. To the southwest, it shares a seven-mileborder with Egypt. The region has a long history of occupation—by the ancient Egyptians, the Philistines, the Arabs, the Christian Crusaders, and the Ottomans. AfterWorld War I, the Gaza area became part of the British Mandate of Palestine, and it was occupied by Egypt in 1948, in the aftermath of the first Arab-Israeli war. Israel took control of the region during the Six-Day War in 1967, along with the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula.
In 1994, Israel withdrew from parts of the Gaza Strip as part of its obligations under the Oslo Accords (which also affirmed the rights of the Palestinians to self-government). The Palestinian National Authority and Israel shared power in the Gaza Strip for the next 10 years, with the PNA administering civilian control and the Israelis overseeing military affairs as well as the borders, airspace, and remaining Israeli settlements.
In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally ended military rule in the region and withdrew all Israeli settlements, thus bringing all areas of the Gaza Strip under Palestinian administration. * In 2007, Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, causing a division between the region and the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank, where the Fatah party is dominant.
HOW DID IT COME TO BE THAT SHAPE?
The rectangular Gaza Strip is about 25 miles long and three to seven miles wide. One long side lies along the Mediterranean. One short, straight end borders Egypt: This follows the border that existed between Egypt and the British Mandate of Palestine. The other sides of the rectangle—a long, ragged edge and a shorter, northeastern side—separate the Gaza Strip from Israel. This border was established after the first Arab-Israeli War, which also resulted in the creation of Israel. The Gaza region became Egypt's military headquarters during the 1948 conflict, and the narrow coastal strip saw heavy fighting. When the cease-fire was announced later that year—following a decisive Israeli victory—the final position of the military fronts became what's known as "the Green Line," or the border between the Palestinian territories (both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank) and Israel.
WHO LIVES ON THE GAZA STRIP?
Since the withdrawal of Israeli settlements, the Gazan population is almost entirely Palestinian Arab. More than 99 percent are Sunni Muslims, with a very small number of Christians. The region saw a huge influx of Palestinian refugees after the creation of Israel in 1948—within 20 years, the population of Gaza had grown to six times its previous size. The Gaza Strip now has one of the highest population densities in the world: Almost 1.5 million people live within its 146 square miles. Eighty percent of Gazans live below the poverty line.
WHO BUILT THE FENCE BETWEEN GAZA AND EGYPT? WHO CONTROLS THE BORDER?
In 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty that returned the Sinai Peninsula, which borders the Gaza Strip, to Egyptian control. As part of that treaty, a 100-meter-wide strip of land known as the Philadelphi corridor was established as a buffer zone between Gaza and Egypt. Israel built a barrier there during the Palestinian uprisings of the early 2000s. It's made mostly of corrugated sheet metal, with stretches of concrete topped with barbed wire.
In 2005, when Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip, Israel and Egypt reached a military agreement regarding the border, based on the principles of the 1979 peace treaty. The agreement specified that 750 Egyptian border guards would be deployed along the length of the border, and both Egypt and Israel pledged to work together to stem terrorism, arms smuggling, and other illegal cross-border activities.
From November 2005 until July 2007, the Rafah Crossing—the only entry-exit point along the Gaza-Egypt border—was jointly controlled by Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, with the European Union monitoring Palestinian compliance on the Gaza side. After the Hamas takeover in June 2007, the European Union pulled out of the region, and Egypt agreed with Israel to shut down the Rafah Crossing, effectively sealing off the Gaza Strip on all sides.
WHAT GAZA COULD BE
The Washington Times, Daniel Mandel, August 14 2014
As a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is hammered out, much talk is heard about aid packages for Gaza, as though none previously existed. The refrain is heard that Gazans are living in a teeming, open-air prison. Repeated endlessly by those under obligation to know the facts, the myth has it that Gaza is, according to:
Robert Fisk, veteran Middle East correspondent: “the most overpopulated few square miles in the whole world.”
Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency: “one of the most densely populated parts of this planet.”
Amjad Attlah and Daniel Levy of the New American Foundation: “the world’s most densely populated territory.”
James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute: “one of the most densely populated places on earth.”
Yes, Gaza is heavily populated. But its urban density is neither extreme nor the source of its woes.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 Statistical Abstract, Gaza had in 2010 11,542 people per square mile. That is about as densely populated as Gibraltar (11,506).
Gaza is considerably less densely populated than Hong Kong (17,422) or Singapore (17,723). It is far less densely populated than Monaco (39,609). And Macau (52,163) is over four times more densely populated than Gaza.
No one has called Hong Kong, Singapore, Monaco or Macau teeming, open-air prisons –– with reason.
Hong Kong has the world’s third largest financial center. Singapore has the third highest per capita income in the world, the fourth biggest financial center and the fifth busiest port. Monaco has the world’s highest GDP per capita. Macau is one of the world’s richest cities –– testimony enough to what hard work, solid industries and responsible government can achieve in small, resource-poor territories.
The idea of Gaza being the most densely populated place in the world is a propaganda fabrication with a very clear underlying logic. Meshing that claim with scenes of poverty easily conjures up the idea that Palestinians lack land and resources.
Once you believe that, it is a small jump to the conclusion that Israel should be giving them both.
In fact, Gaza has been in Arab control since Israel evacuated it in 2005, withdrawing every living and dead Israeli from its soil. Israel left behind an expensive infrastructure of greenhouses and empty synagogues, all of which were swiftly destroyed in an orgy of hate. Hamas ejected Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah from Gaza in 2007 and has exponentially increased rocket assaults on Israel –– over 9,000 since that date.
Gaza could be home to a large, prosperous population, providing that it was industrious, prudentially managed, well-governed and –– above all –– peaceful. It could be the Singapore of the Middle East. But it isn’t –– it’s governed by Hamas, whose Charter calling for war with the Jews until their obliteration is well-known to those who elected it. (Unsurprisingly, Gazans are more supportive of Hamas and of anti-Israel terror attacks than West Bankers).
Gaza, along with the West Bank, has been the recipient of the highest levels of per capita aid in the world. Investment not siphoned off by Hamas has produced results: Gaza boasts shopping malls, five theme parks and 12 tourist resorts.
Compare that to dismally poor Niger, with high infant mortality, life expectancy of a mere 52 years and only one doctor for every 33,000 people. But as Niger is not dispatching terrorists to murder its neighbors, few know and fewer care –– and Niger gets little aid.
In the last two years, Hamas has spent an estimated $1.5 billion, not on schools, hospitals or businesses, but on an underground infrastructure of terror tunnels deep into Israel for the purpose of mounting Mumbai-like mass-casualty terror assaults. Hamas’s leaders see jihadist terror as a paramount objective, while death and destruction in Gaza is not their concern.
“Their time had come, and they were martyred,” spoke a Hamas TV host of the Gaza dead during the current fighting, “They have gained [Paradise] … Don’t be disturbed by these images … He who is Martyred doesn’t feel … His soul has ascended to Allah.” More succinctly, Hamas ‘prime minister’ Ismail Haniyeh has said, “We love death like our enemies love life! We love Martyrdom.”
The woes of Gaza are not the creation of population density, but of hate and jihad density. The answer lies not in more territory, resources or aid, but in its population and leadership prioritizing life and peace over death and war. As yet, there is no sign of this on the horizon. Irrespective of the eventual ceasefire, we can expect further wars in Gaza.
The Gaza Strip is home to a population of approximately 1.9 million people, including 1.3 million Palestine refugees.
For the last decade, the socioeconomic situation in Gaza has been in steady decline. The blockade on land, air and sea imposed by Israel following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, entered its 10th year in June 2016 and continues to have a devastating effect as access to markets and people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip remain severely restricted.
Years of conflict and blockade have left 80 per cent of the population dependent on international assistance. The economy and its capacity to create jobs have been devastated, resulting in the impoverishment and de-development of a highly skilled and well-educated society. The average unemployment rate is well over 41 per cent – one of the highest in the world, according to the World Bank. The number of Palestine refugees relying on UNRWA for food aid has increased from fewer than 80,000 in 2000 to almost one million today.
Over half a million Palestine refugees in Gaza live in the eight recognized Palestine refugee camps, which have one of the highest population densities in the world.
Operating through approximately 12,500 staff in over 300 installations across the Gaza Strip, UNRWA delivers education, health and mental health care, relief and social services, microcredit and emergency assistance to registered Palestine refugees.
On 7 July 2014, a humanitarian emergency was declared by UNRWA in the Gaza Strip, following a severe escalation in hostilities, involving intense Israeli aerial and navy bombardment and Palestinian rocket fire. Hostilities de-escalated following an open-ended ceasefire which entered into force on 26 August 2014. The scale of human loss, destruction, devastation and displacement caused by this third conflict within seven years was catastrophic, unprecedented and unparalleled in Gaza.
UNRWA mounted an extraordinary response during the 50 days of hostilities which highlighted its unique position as the largest UN organization in the Gaza Strip and the only UN Agency that undertakes direct implementation.
The human, social and economic costs of the last hostilities are sit against a backdrop of a society already torn by wide-spread poverty, frustration and anger, heightening vulnerability and political instability. The compounded effects of the blockade and repeated armed conflicts and violence have also had a less visible, but quite profound, psychological impact on the people of Gaza. Among Palestine refugee children, UNRWA estimates that a minimum of 30 per cent require some form of structured psychosocial intervention. Their most common symptoms are: nightmares, eating disorders, intense fear, bed wetting.
In recent years, UNRWA has made significant improvements to its services in Gaza, such as its schools of excellence and excellent health services initiatives. It also better targets its assistance to the poorest of the poor through the implementation of a proxy-means tested poverty survey. UNRWA continues to:
Facts & Figures
1.3 million registered refugees out of 1.9 million total population (approximately 70 per cent)
8 refugee camps
Almost 12,500 staff
267 schools for over 262,000 students
21 health centres
16 relief and social services offices
3 micro-finance offices
12 food distribution centres for almost one million beneficiaries
Figures as of 31 October 2016
REFUGEE CAMPS IN THE GAZA STRIP
We provide services in 8 Palestine refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA does not administer or police the camps, as this is the responsibility of the host authorities.
Residents of Hamas-controlled enclave forced to cook, do laundry, recharge phones and computers with only 3-4 hours of power a day
Niveen starts the washing machine, her youngest son plugs in all the phones and computers to charge, her daughter runs to switch on the water heater, and her other son rushes to get his fix of television.
Such is life in the Gaza Strip, where residents have been receiving only three or four hours of household electricity a day.
The power can come on in the heat of the day or in the middle of the night, but whenever it does, people rush to get things done.
“Tonight the electricity came at 10 p.m. In a few days it will move to after midnight,” Niveen, 39, told AFP. “It’s no longer tolerable.”
Over the past three months, the already energy-sparse coastal enclave has seen its electricity crisis worsen.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, on his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, will see the crisis for himself when he travels to Gaza on Wednesday.
A long-running feud between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Hamas terror group that runs the Gaza Strip, has led to further cuts in electricity supplies.
More than two million Gazans, already dealing with an Israeli blockade and a mostly closed border with Egypt, have to get by on three or four hours of power a day, in shifting and erratic cycles.
Umm Adel Zahour, 57, lives with her husband and eight children in the narrow alleys of Gaza City’s impoverished Shati refugee camp.
When power comes, no matter what time, she and her husband rush to bake bread with an electric oven.
“I used to make 200 loaves to cover the family for days, but now I can only do around 30,” she told AFP. “There is no power to keep the bread cold.”
Her husband recalls a worker who agreed to work flat-out to fix some bathroom tiles while the power was on, despite searing heat.
“He tried to use every minute of it. We are trying to take advantage of every minute,” he said.
‘Depends on electricity’
The crisis has both long and short term causes.
Israel has imposed its blockade on Gaza for a decade, arguing it needs to prevent Hamas, with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, from acquiring weapons or equipment to dig terror attack tunnels.
Israeli restrictions on imports of certain materials and equipment, as well as the blockade’s economic impact, have dramatically cut Gaza’s capacity to generate power, rights groups say.
A Palestinian woman washing clothes during the few hours of mains electricity supply her house receives every day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.
July 23, 2017
(AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
On top of that, key infrastructure, including Gaza’s sole power station, has been severely damaged as a result of those conflicts.
In recent months, Abbas, based in the West Bank, has also sought to squeeze Gaza in order to isolate longtime rival party Hamas.
Abbas has reduced the amount of electricity the Palestinian Authority pays Israel to deliver to Gaza, pushing already limited electricity supplies to as little as two hours a day.
Despite Egypt in July beginning to import fuel into Gaza to help supply the Strip’s sole power station, the shortages remain severe.
While richer Gazans pay for private generators, many cannot afford to do so.
Gaza has 45 percent unemployment and more than two-thirds of the population rely on humanitarian aid.
Mahmoud al-Balawi, who owns a launderette west of Gaza City, has long given up the idea of choosing when he works.
On one recent morning, he arrived at work at 3 a.m., as that was when the power was due to come on.
“I have a lot of clothes for my customers. I want to protect my livelihood but it depends on electricity,” he said.
“Last Friday I was with my family far away but my neighbors called to tell me the power had come at an unexpected time. I left them and went to the shop.”
(FILES) This file photo taken on July 24, 2017 shows a Palestinian tailor using a sewing machine while an assistant irons a shirt during the few hours of mains electricity supply the residents of the Gaza Strip receive every day, in Gaza City. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS
Balawi’s company sometimes pays to run a private generator but that entails huge extra expenses.
“It’s a cost that needs to be borne by my customers but most of them won’t accept it,” he said.
Abdullah Zaqout, also from the Shati refugee camp, has to pay for electricity to look after his sick 67-year-old father, who suffers from severe asthma.
The family need constant electricity to run his nebulizer, a kind of inhaler he uses to take his medicine.
“He needs treatment every two hours. I had to invest in a private generator.”
Europe’s top court ruled Wednesday that Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, should remain on a European list of terror organizations.
A lower court had removed Hamas and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Sri Lankan militant group, from the terror list in 2014, arguing that the media and the internet were not sufficient sources upon which to base a decision. The EU appealed against that decision.
On Wednesday, the European Court of Justice overturned that ruling, arguing that media reports were a valid source upon which to make a decision. The lower court “should not have annulled Hamas’ retention on the European list of terrorist organizations,” the ECJ said.
PALESTINIAN ROCKET ATTACKS ON ISRAEL
Since 2001, Palestinian militants have launched thousands of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip as part of the continuing Arab–Israeli conflict. From 2004 to 2014, these attacks have killed 27 Israeli civilians, 5 foreign nationals, 5 IDF soldiers, and at least 11 Palestinians and injured more than 1900 people, but their main effect is their creation of widespread psychological trauma and disruption of daily life among the Israeli populace. Medical studies in Sderot, the Israeli city closest to the Gaza Strip, have documented a post-traumatic stress disorder incidence among young children of almost 50%, as well as high rates of depression and miscarriage. A public opinion poll conducted in March 2013 found that most Palestinians do not support firing rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip. Another poll conducted in September 2014 found that 80% of Palestinians support firing rockets against Israel if it does not allow unfettered access to Gaza. These rocket attacks have caused flight cancellations at Ben Gurion airport.
The weapons, often generically referred to as Qassams, were initially crude and short-range, mainly affecting Sderot and other communities bordering the Gaza Strip. In 2006, more sophisticated rockets began to be deployed, reaching the larger coastal city of Ashkelon, and by early 2009 major cities Ashdod and Beersheba had been hit by Katyusha, WS-1B and Grad rockets. In 2012, Jerusalem and Israel's commercial center Tel Aviv were targeted with locally made "M-75" and Iranian Fajr-5 rockets, respectively, and in July 2014, the northern city of Haifa was targeted for the first time. A few projectiles have contained white phosphorus said to be recycled from unexploded munitions used by Israel in bombing Gaza.
Attacks have been carried out by all Palestinian armed groups, and, prior to the 2008–2009 Gaza War, were consistently supported by most Palestinians, although the stated goals have been mixed. The attacks, widely condemned for targeting civilians, have been described as terrorism by United Nations, European Union and Israeli officials, and are defined as war crimes by human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The international community considers indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian structures that do not discriminate between civilians and military targets illegal under international law.
Israeli defenses constructed specifically to deal with the weapons include fortifications for schools and bus stops as well as an alarm system named Red Color. Iron Dome, a system to intercept short-range rockets, was developed by Israel and first deployed in the spring of 2011 to protect Beersheba and Ashkelon, but officials and experts warned that it would not be completely effective. Shortly thereafter, it intercepted a Palestinian Grad rocket for the first time.
In the cycle of violence, rocket attacks alternate with Israeli military actions. From the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada (September 30, 2000) through March 2013, 8,749 rockets and 5,047 mortar shells were fired on Israel, while Israel has conducted several military operations in the Gaza Strip, among them Operation Rainbow (2004), Operation Days of Penitence (2004), Operation Summer Rains (2006), Operation Autumn Clouds (2006), Operation Hot Winter (2008), Operation Cast Lead (2009), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), and Operation Protective Edge (2014).
LIST OF PALESTINIAN ROCKET ATTACKS ON ISRAEL, 2018
Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that emerged in the Gaza Strip in the late 1980s, during the first Palestinian intifada (uprising) against Israel. The group’s ideology blends Islamism and Palestinian nationalism and seeks the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Hamas has maintained its ties to the Brotherhood, but also receives financial and military support from Iran, which supports Hamas’s intention to destroy Israel. In recent years, Qatar has also provided significant funding for the group.
Hamas uses its provision of social services to build support amongst grassroots Palestinians, helping it to win the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. However, the group’s engagement in politics and welfare has not tempered its commitment to terrorism. Hamas’s preferred methods include suicide bombings, rocket and mortar attacks, shootings, and kidnappings. The group has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, the UK, the EU, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan.
Although Hamas formed a Palestinian Authority unity government with its rival Fatah in early 2006, the two groups continued to clash, often violently, leading Hamas to forcibly expel Fatah from the Gaza Strip in 2007. The terror group has ruled Gaza since, surviving on Iranian and Qatari aid, as well as income from the smuggling tunnels it has built beneath the Gaza-Egypt border. In 2013, the Egyptian army sealed off most of the tunnels, throwing Hamas and Gaza into a financial crisis that led the Hamas to seek a reconciliation deal with Fatah in the spring of 2014.
Governance has not moderated Hamas. Hamas has been responsible for thousands of Qassam rockets fired at Israeli towns, a 2006 cross-border raid resulting in the five-year captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and three wars with Israel, most recently in the summer of 2014. Like other Islamist organizations, Hamas seeks power, but has proven unable to provide basic services to the Gazan population. Despite decaying relations with Fatah, heavy damage from the 2014 conflict, and a crumbling Gazan economy, Hamas shows no signs of giving up its goals of destroying Israel or creating an Islamist state.
Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, seeks to create an Islamist state of Palestine between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, replacing Israel, which Hamas does not recognize. Like its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood (and unlike the secular, nationalist PLO), Hamas strives to create an Islamist state based on the principles of sharia (Islamic law). Hamas views the entirety of the land of Mandate Palestine—excluding the 80 percent of Palestine that became modern-day Jordan—as an Islamic birthright that has been usurped. To that end, Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and has dedicated itself to violently seeking Israel’s destruction. Hamas’s slogan, spelled out in Article 8 of the organization’s 1988 charter, sums up the terror group’s belief system: “Allah is [our] target, the Prophet is [our] model, the Koran [our] constitution: Jihad is [our] path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of [our] wishes."*
Hamas’s leadership has historically been split between its foreign-based political bureau (2017 based in Qatar) and its Gaza-based government, which at times find themselves at odds. Various Hamas leaders have made contradictory claims on whether the group’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, operates independently or under the direction of the political wing.
On May 1, 2017, Hamas unveiled a new political program to supplement its 1988 charter. The so-called Document of General Principles & Policies excised all references to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas’s origins in the movement. Hamas accepted in principle the idea of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 boundaries if approved by a Palestinian national referendum. However, Hamas at the same time reaffirmed its refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and repeated its call for a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea.”* The document also reaffirmed Hamas’s dedication to “armed resistance” as the “strategic choice for protecting the principles and the rights of the Palestinian people.”*
Hamas’s Gaza government has been largely shunned by a large segment of the international community, while it has struggled to pay the salaries of 40,000 municipal workers in the strip
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades comprise Hamas’s military wing.
Hamas has an estimated 20,000 fighters, with another 20,000 in its police and security forces.* Following the 2014 reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the PLO, it was revealed that some 25,000 Hamas employees in Gaza work in the security services, and that a majority of them belong to the Qassam Brigades.* According to one Qassam official, these employees would take orders from the Brigades—and not the Ministry of Interior—after the formation of a unity government with the PLO.
(Editor’s Note: 68% of the population, 1.3 million out of the 1.9 million population are Palestinian refugees. Many national costs are paid by non-governmental organisations. Examples are education, health and accommodation costs are paid by UNWRA and electricity is paid by the PLO)
Following US aid cuts from UNRWA, Palestinian residents hold near-daily protests and coastal enclave appears on brink of economic collapse
Times of israel Avi Issacharoff 26 January 2018
A Palestinian man loads a horse-pulled cart with food aid outside the United Nations food distribution center in Gaza City on January 15, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)
Residents of the Gaza Strip are growing increasingly desperate over food shortages, with some saying it’s only a matter of time before Palestinians march on the Erez crossing that straddles the border with Israel “just out of distress.”
“Gaza is heading towards famine,” a longtime friend of this reporter said. “It is only a question of time, and we will get there.”
He added, “There are already cases of families who simply don’t have anything to eat, and the UNRWA budget cuts will only make things worse” — a reference to recent US cuts to the UN Palestinian aid agency.
Recently, nearly every day has seen semi-spontaneous protests, mostly by civilians, who have no livelihood and are seeking to raise international awareness of their plight.
This week, a news agency broadcast an interview with a Khan Younis resident who was offering to sell his son, held in his arms.
“Every day his mother tells me to get him something to eat,” the man said, “and I have nothing to give him.” Behind him were dozens of residents protesting the economic situation in Gaza.
Monday and Tuesday saw general trade strikes in the Strip, perhaps born of a hope, or fantasy, that such a step would serve as a wake-up call to the world, Israel, Egypt or the Palestinian Authority.
But the world is far from being concerned with Gaza at the moment. The Strip is on the brink of economic collapse, but very few are taking an interest.
Although Gazans tend to blame Israel for their situation, it is actually the Jewish state that seems to be trying to encourage improved economic conditions.
The Palestinian Authority recently decided to renew the electricity supply to Gaza by resuming payments for power generated by Israel (now providing power to homes for six hours, followed by 12 hours of darkness).
But the decision to renew the power supply was not due to a sudden stroke of generosity by the PA. According to sources, it was the result of an ultimatum by Israel: The Jewish state warned the PA that if it didn’t renew payments for the Gaza power bill, the Israeli government would cover the costs with PA tax money it collects. Ramallah understood the message and made a public show of renewing electricity payments.
At any rate, the two additional hours of power will not do much to change the economic situation in the Strip.
It was also Israel that recently went against standard policy by approving the entry of materials into Gaza that are considered dual-purpose — that is, they could be used by Hamas to build tunnels or manufacture weaponry.
Last week, wood supplies — in the past a source of tunnel beams — were allowed in to the Strip. Before that, approval was given to supplies of cement, iron, gas, fuels, and other materials.
The general hardship, however, means these dual-purpose materials are not in very high demand. One Gaza trader said there was only a 20 percent demand for the cement that Israel allowed in.
Perhaps the most pressing problem in Gaza these days is connected to government employees, both those of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power outage in Gaza City on September 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
For more than two months, the 45,000 Hamas officials in Gaza have not received their wages. In Hamas’s view, the PA is supposed to pay, but the PA refuses due to the terror group’s refusal to hand over control of the territory.
On top of this are the thousands of PA officials who were forced out on pension. Possibly joining them now will be the 13,000 UNRWA officials, who can apparently expect to receive only half of their wages in the coming month as a result of US cuts.
And so economic activity in Gaza has been reduced dramatically. Unemployment figures have reached some 46.6%. Over a million people — half the population –need UNRWA food packages to survive the month.
One figure that should ring alarm bells in Israel relates to the demand for goods from the Jewish state. According to Palestinian figures, over a year ago the number of trucks carrying goods into the Gaza Strip every day was around 800-1,000, whereas now that has dropped to an average of just 370. This is not because of Israeli measures, but rather because the Gazans have no money to spend.
“There were over 100,000 police clarifications because of checks that bounced,” my friend said. “Every day workers are fired in the biggest trade companies, or they close.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks prior to attend a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP)
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? At the moment, it appears not. A reconciliation between bitter rivals Fatah and Hamas has faded (again). Hamas and the Fatah-dominated PA are still at loggerheads, separate and hostile.
Egyptian Intelligence Minister Khaled Fawzy, considered the godfather of the reconciliation process, was fired last week. The man chosen to replace him is Abbas Kamil, one of the great enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Or, in other words, not exactly the kind of person who sees Hamas as a strategic partner.
FROM GAZA'S ECONOMY: HOW HAMAS STAYS IN POWER,
The Washington Institute Ehud Yaari and Eyal Ofer, January 6, 2011
Since Israel's August 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Hamas has evolved from a relatively small movement into a well-funded conglomerate. Instead of being crippled by sanctions and siege, the organization has found ways to surmount early difficulties -- such as frequent payroll delays -- and establish an effective system of governance, ever tightening its grip over its fiefdom. As a result, Hamas has been able to empower loyalists while leaving the main burden of responsibility for Gaza's 1.6 million residents to others. Unfortunately, both the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) and international donors have tolerated this situation, effectively contributing, if indirectly, to Hamas coffers.
Reliable data regarding Gaza's finances is very difficult to obtain. Hamas has tight lips, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) release little information, and international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank generally aggregate Gaza and the West Bank when presenting statistics. Much of the information in this article is derived from Palestinian news reports and interviews with informed sources in Gaza; accordingly, most of the figures below - see link above - should be treated as rough approximations.)
Hamas’s budget in 2013 was more than $700 million, with $260 million earmarked to the administrative costs of running Gaza.*
To fill its coffers and fund its administrative and terrorist activities, Hamas turns to several sources: funding, weapons, and training from Iran; donations from the Palestinian global diaspora;* and fundraising activities in Western Europe and North America.*
TAXES AND THE TUNNEL ECONOMY
Hamas has spent years building a network of tunnels beneath the Gazan-Egyptian border in order to smuggle weapons and other goods. According to a 2012 Journal of Palestine Studies report, at least 160 children have died while digging the elaborate tunnel system.* The underground smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt has provided Hamas with a flow of tax revenue on smuggled goods, comprising roughly $500 million of Hamas’s annual budget for Gaza of just under $900 million. The Egyptian military closed the tunnels in late 2013 after it deposed the Muslim Brotherhood government, sending Gaza into an economic crisis.*
Constructing the tunnels was not a cheap endeavor, as each tunnel is believed to have cost between $80,000 and $200,000. To pay for the tunnels’ construction, Hamas turned to Gazan-based mosques and charities, which reportedly began offering pyramid schemes to invest in the tunnels with high rates of return. The number of tunnels reportedly grew from a few dozen in 2005, with annual revenue of $30 million per year, to at least 500 by December 2008, with annual revenue of $36 million per month.*
By October 2013, Egypt claimed to have destroyed 90 percent of Gaza’s smuggling tunnels. According to Ala al-Rafati, the Hamas-appointed economy minister, the resulting losses to the Gaza economy between June and October 2013 amounted to $460 million.*
Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas. In the U.S. case Weinstein v. Iran, the court noted that 1995-1996 “was a peak period for Iranian economic support of Hamas because Iran typically paid for results, and Hamas was providing results by committing numerous bus bombings such as the one on February 25, 1996.”*
Iranian aid to Hamas has shrunk since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. While Iran has sided with the embattled Assad regime, Hamas has supported Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow Assad. As a result, Iran has cut as much as £15 million a month to Hamas. Ghazi Hamad, Hamas's deputy foreign minister, remarked: “I cannot deny that since 2006 Iran supported Hamas with money and many [other] things. But the situation is not like the past. I cannot say that everything is normal.” After Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Iran provided Hamas an estimated £13-15 million a month for governing expenses.*
Qatar has invested heavily in the Gazan economy. In October 2012, the country launched a $254 million plan to modernize Gaza.* The country later upped its investment to $400 million.* After Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, the PA refused to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in Gaza. In June, Qatar stepped in and attempted to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas through Arab Bank to pay the salaries of 44,000 civil servants, but the United States reportedly blocked the transfers.*
Further, Qatar has provided a safe haven for Hamas’s political leadership since 2012. In January 2015, then-Qatari Foreign Minister referred to then-Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal as the country’s “dear guest.”* Hamas has utilized Qatari hotels and business centers for meetings and press conferences, such its May 1, 2017, press conference at Doha’s Sheraton hotel to announce the group’s new political document.*
During the second intifada Saudi Arabia passed millions of dollars to Hamas terrorists under the guise of charity. The Saudi Committee in Support of the Intifada al Quds transferred hundreds of millions of dollars to the families of suicide bombers, prisoners, and those wounded in the intifada as a financial incentive for terrorism. According to a de-classified U.S. State Department memoranda, “the United States provided evidence to Saudi authorities in 2003 that Saudi Arabia’s al Quds Intifadah Committee was “forwarding millions of dollars in funds to the families of Palestinians engaged in terrorist activities, including those of suicide bombers.”*
Saudi Arabia has also invested in Gaza, pledging $1 billion to rebuild infrastructure after Hamas’s 2008 war with Israel.*
Turkey reportedly planned to donate $300 million to Gaza’s Hamas government in 2011,* while other reports cited that this would become an annual donation to Hamas.*
Hamas has spent years building a network of tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border in order to smuggle weapons and other goods. According to a 2012 Journal of Palestine Studies report, at least 160 children died while digging the elaborate tunnel system.*
Hamas is suspected of colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood during Egypt’s 2011 revolution in order to bring down the government of Hosni Mubarak. Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammad Morsi, is under investigation for conspiring with Hamas during that period.*
The underground smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt provided Hamas with a flow of tax revenue on smuggled goods, providing roughly $500 million of Hamas’s annual budget for Gaza of just under $900 million.* The Egyptian military closed the tunnels in late 2013 after it deposed the Muslim Brotherhood government, sending Gaza into economic crisis.*
Constructing the tunnels was not a cheap endeavor, as each one cost between $80,000 and $200,000 to construct. Instead of implementing peaceful policies that would lead to Israel and Egypt lifting the blockade, Hamas has invested in the continuation of underground smuggling. To pay for the tunnels’ construction, Hamas turned to Gaza’s mosques and charities, which began offering pyramid schemes to invest in the tunnels with high rates of return.* The number of tunnels grew from a few dozen in 2005, with annual revenue of $30 million per year, to at least 500 by December 2008, with annual revenue of $36 million per month.*
Military Capabilities & Arsenal:
Defense experts can only speculate about Hamas’s military capabilities. Security analysts agree that Hamas’s military capability markedly improved under Ahmed Jaabari, the chief of Hamas's armed wing. Reuters sources have reported that before Jaabari took charge, Hamas only had a few AK-47 rifles and a single rocket-propelled grenade.*
The Israel Defense Forces estimated that Hamas had approximately 10,000 rockets in its arsenal at the beginning of July 2014.* By the end of July 2014, Hamas had fired over 2,600 rockets at Israel, while the Israeli military estimated it destroyed an additional 3,000 rockets.* The IDF estimated Hamas still had approximately 5,000 rockets left.* By the end of the 2014 war, Hamas had fired approximately 4,600 rockets into Israel. Israeli intelligence estimated in March 2016 that Hamas had restored its rocket arsenal to its pre-2014 war levels of approximately 12,000.*
Hamas relies on underground tunnels beneath Gaza’s borders with Egypt and Israel. During Hamas’s 50-day war with Israel during the summer of 2014, Hamas used these tunnels to stage raids inside Israel. Many of the tunnels into Israel were destroyed during the war, but Hamas has since sought to rebuild them. The Israeli military revealed in February 2016 that Hamas was “investing considerable resources” into rebuilding the tunnels.* By March 2016, Israeli authorities estimated that Hamas had rebuilt at least 10 tunnels into Israel. Almost a dozen of these tunnels collapsed on the Hamas fighters digging them in early 2016, killing at least 10 Hamas members.*
(site lists events between 1993 and 2015)
Late June 2015: Israeli intelligence reports Hamas amassing armed troops along the Gaza-Israel border.*
July 9, 2015: The Israeli government reveals Hamas is holding captive two Israeli citizens in Gaza. Avraham Mengistu, an Ethiopian-Israeli in his 20s, crossed into Gaza on September 7, 2014. The government did not reveal the identity of the other man except that he is an Arab-Israeli. An unidentified Hamas member says Hamas released Mengistu when they realized he was not a soldier and he left through a tunnel to Egypt. Mengistu remains in captivity.*
July 28, 2015: Jordan state security court sentences 12 to prison for a Hamas plot to carry out violent attacks in the West Bank. Four of the defendants were sentenced in absentia to 15-year sentences. The other eight received sentences of one to five years. The defendants reportedly received training in Jordan and Gaza on bomb-making.*
August 26, 2015: Hamas posts a video online of its members digging underground tunnels beneath Gaza, fighting Israeli soldiers, and a simulated takeover of an IDF base.
The emir of Qatar became the first head of state to visit Gaza after Hamas’s 2007 coup.* Since then, Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Gaza, pledging $400 million to Gaza in 2012.* After Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, the PA refused to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in Gaza, and in response Qatar attempted to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas to pay the salaries of 44,000 civil servants. The United States reportedly blocked the transfers.* (SEE ALSO Hamas and Qatar )
Hamas has remained separate from the PLO, emerging in the late 1980s when the PLO began to moderate its positions in order to launch a peace process with Israel. In 1996, Hamas contemplated joining the Palestinian Authority government but ultimately decided to remain apart.
In the power-vacuum that followed PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004, Hamas ran in the January 2006 PA legislative elections and won a majority in the PA Legislative Council. After a year of clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen, Hamas expelled the PA’s forces from Gaza and took control of the coastal strip. In April 2014, the PLO and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement and pledged to form a unity government.* The move helped derail U.S.-led peace talks between Israel and the PLO.
Hamas was created in 1987 as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza.* More than two decades later, Hamas continues to enjoy close ties to the Brotherhood. Hamas is suspected of aiding in a jailbreak of Brotherhood activists, including former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, in 2011.* Further, the Brotherhood-controlled Egyptian government provided Hamas with support and turned a blind eye to illegal smuggling beneath the Egypt-Gaza border. After the downfall of the Brotherhood-controlled government in 2013, the Egyptian army closed off most of the tunnels, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in revenue for the Hamas government and an economic crisis in Gaza.*
Syria has long acted as a conduit between Hamas and its Iranian benefactor, allowing weapons and money to cross its borders. Hamas’s political leadership was based in Damascus until 2012, when it relocated due to the ongoing Syrian civil war.*
Iran has long been a benefactor of Hamas, providing weapons, training, and money. During the 1990s, Iran was a key financier of Hamas terrorism, providing financial rewards for bombings and higher rewards for higher death tolls.
After Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Iran continued to sponsor Hamas terrorism and the Hamas government.
In July 2014, Western security officials revealed a secret arms deal between North Korea and Hamas worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that would have provided the terror group with missiles and communications equipment to use in its conflict with Israel that month.*
Hamas has also allegedly received arms from North Korea. The link first became public after a cargo of North Korean weapons was seized in Bangkok airport in 2009.* Investigators later confirmed that the cargo was destined for Iran, from where it was to be smuggled to Lebanon and Gaza. Western security sources also suspect that North Korea has offered Hamas advice on the building of tunnels, which has enabled Hamas to smuggle weapons and fighters in and out of Gaza.
In July 2014, reports indicated that Hamas was attempting to buy arms and communication equipment from North Korea in order to continue attacks on Israel.* The deal was reportedly worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.*
Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, which has refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Hamas government in Gaza. Since Hamas and the PLO signed a unity deal in April 2014, however, the U.S. State Department announced its willingness to work with a unity government, as the cabinet is made up of technocrats unaffiliated with Hamas.* Members of the U.S. Congress have since called for cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the unity deal.*
The Israeli government has no formal contacts with Hamas. Ceasefire talks in July 2014 and in recent years have consisted of indirect talks through foreign mediators, such as Egypt.
Russia is a member of the Quartet and has signed on to the Quartet’s demands that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and accept past agreements before it receives international recognition. Russia has attempted to push Hamas toward these goals by inviting Hamas government representatives to Moscow for official meetings.
In May 2006, after Hamas won Palestinian Authority legislative elections, Sweden granted a visa to PA Refugee Minister Atef Adawan, a Hamas member, to attend a conference in Sweden. After the conference, Adawan allegedly travelled to Norway where he met with Kaare Eltervaag, the head of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry's Middle Eastern affairs. Afterwards, he travelled to Germany where he met with Bundestag representative Detlef Dzembritzki, a member of the Social Democratic Party.*
International community at large
The so-called Quartet of Middle East Peacemakers, (the United States, European Union, Russia, and United Nations) issued a list of three demands in 2006 for Hamas to meet before it would receive international recognition: recognize Israel, renounce violence, and adhere to past agreements.* The global community has largely adhered to these conditions, although Russia has reached out to the Hamas government.
HAMAS HANDS CONTROL OF GAZA CROSSINGS TO PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
Transfer of responsibility for key Gaza crossings part of reconciliation deal struck by rival Palestinian factions
The Guardian, Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem, 1 Nov 2017 14.28 GMT Last modified on Mon 27 Nov 2017
The Palestinian militant group Hamas has formally relinquished security control of key crossings from the Gaza Strip to Egypt and Israel to its long-term rival, the Palestinian Authority, marking the first test of a fragile reconciliation accord agreed last month.
PA employees moved into the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings on the Israeli border and Rafah on the Egyptian border on Wednesday, as Hamas counterparts packed up equipment and departed.
Tony Blair: ‘We were wrong to boycott Hamas after its election win’
“We have handed over the crossings with honesty and responsibility, without bargaining and unconditionally,” the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a video address.
The Palestinian prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, said in a statement that taking charge of the crossings would help the PA fulfil its duty “to improve the living conditions of our people”.
Under an Egyptian-brokered deal to bring an end to the 10-year rift between the rival Palestinian factions that was agreed on 12 October, the PA is to resume full control of the Gaza Strip by 1 December.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE PALESTINIAN RECONCILIATION EFFORTS?
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, described the transfer of control at the crossings as a “landmark development” in the reconciliation process, saying it was “the positive momentum to be maintained”.
Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for a decade, with tight restrictions in place on the movement of people and goods at its crossings, citing the need to control Hamas and stop the Islamist movement from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used to make them. Egypt has largely closed its border as well.
Gaza’s 2 million residents suffer from worsening humanitarian conditions, with only a few hours of power a day and a lack of clean water.
Control of the Rafah crossing at Gaza’s southern border has long been a sticking point between the two Palestinian factions, and between Egypt and Palestinians in Gaza for whom the crossing represents a vital gateway to the outside world.
The move marks the most tangible implementation of the 11 October reconciliation deal that Palestinians hope will ease economic restrictions on Gaza.
Some of the most difficult issues remain, however, not least the future of Hamas’s heavily armed 25,000-strong military wing, which has shown no sign of being ready to lay down arms, despite Hamas appearing to have signalled that it is ready to withdraw from the day-to-day governance of Gaza.
Many Palestinians in Gaza remain deeply sceptical of a deal which has yet to bring about any significant improvements in their living conditions.
Israel will not negotiate with Palestinian unity government if Hamas is involved
The handover will not see the Rafah crossing fully opened yet, but it marks the first tentative step toward the long-hoped for reopening of traffic for goods and people crossing to and from Egypt. The PA will begin operating the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings immediately.
A key issue before Rafah can be fully opened is the question of security on the Egyptian side of the border in an area that has experienced a long-running insurgency by a local franchise allied to Islamic State, not least around the important regional hub of Arish.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, when the Islamists asserted control in a near civil war with Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, which is based in the occupied West Bank, after Hamas won elections in 2006.
Previous pushes for reconciliation have collapsed.
Seven Palestinian militants were killed on Monday when Israel blew up a tunnel it said that stretched from Gaza into its territory and was intended to be used to launch attacks.
The incident raised fears the timetable could be delayed, but both the PA and Hamas stressed they were committed to the agreement.
Officials from both accused Israel of trying to disrupt the deal, but Israel’s army said it was forced to act after its sovereignty was breached.
All the major Palestinian factions are scheduled to meet in Cairo later this month to discuss the formation of a unity government.
Israel has said it will reject any unity government that includes Hamas, and in which the Islamist movement does not disarm and recognise the Jewish state’s right to exist.
The Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organisation has recognised Israel, but Hamas has not.
MILITIAS VS. PALESTINIAN "RECONCILIATION"
Gatestone Institute, by Khaled Abu Toameh, October 27, 2017
The notion that Hamas would ever dismantle its security apparatus and deliver the Gaza Strip to Mahmoud Abbas's forces is a fantasy.
It is estimated that there are about 50 different militias operating in the Gaza Strip. These militias are said to be in possession of about a million pieces of weaponry.
If Hamas refuses to disarm, that is one thing, but when Abbas's supposed loyalists also come out with similar statements, that this is akin to spitting in the face of the Palestinian Authority president.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas says he does not want to see "militias" in the Gaza Strip if and when the "reconciliation" agreement he reached with Hamas is implemented. "The Palestinian leadership will not accept the model of militias in the Gaza Strip because it isn't a successful one," Abbas told the Chinese news agency Xinhua. "There should be one authority, one law and one weapon, with no militias."
Hamas, for its part, has already rejected Abbas's demand. Hamas has said it has no intention of disarming despite the "reconciliation" agreement recently signed in Cairo. "We can't give up our weapons and because the Palestinian people are still in the phase of national liberation," said Yehya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip. "We also can't and won't recognize Israel."
Hamas's refusal to disarm should come as no surprise. Since Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip ten years ago, it has built a huge security apparatus that consists of thousands of militiamen, most of them members of Ezaddin Al-Qassam, the movement's military wing. Hamas has also smuggled large amounts of weapons into the Gaza Strip and dug dozens of tunnels along the borders with Israel and Egypt.
The notion that Hamas would ever dismantle its security apparatus and deliver the Gaza Strip to Mahmoud Abbas's forces is a fantasy. Hamas has no problem allowing Abbas loyalists to return to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, as was the situation before 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. But this is the most Hamas would be willing to sacrifice to support the success of the "reconciliation" accord with Abbas and his Fatah faction.
Masked gunmen from a Fatah militia are pictured on January 30, 2007 in Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip, during a period of armed clashes between Fatah and Hamas. Later that year, Hamas expelled Fatah and seized complete control of the Gaza Strip. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)
This is a price Hamas is prepared to pay, not out of affection for Abbas but because it serves its own interest. The reopening of the Rafah terminal will allow Hamas to breath after years of isolation and blockade. A few hundred Abbas loyalists who manage the Rafah border crossing do not pose a threat to Hamas's rule over the Gaza Strip.
Above all, Hamas seeks to prevent a return to the pre-2007 era, when the Palestinian Authority had exclusive control over the Gaza Strip. Until that year, the PA had multiple security forces that maintained a tight grip on the Gaza Strip and employed an "iron fist" policy against Hamas and other opposition groups.
The statements of Hamas leaders in the past few days show that they are seeking to duplicate the model Hezbollah uses in Lebanon. Hamas wants to remain in charge of security matters in the Gaza Strip while restricting the Palestinian Authority's responsibilities to civilian affairs. Hamas's refusal to disarm and hand over security responsibilities to Abbas could torpedo the Egyptian-sponsored "reconciliation" agreement -- especially in light of the PA's rejection of copying the Hezbollah model in the Gaza Strip.
While Abbas is talking about the need for Hamas to disarm and dismantle its militia, however, some Palestinians are wondering what would be the fate of armed groups in the Gaza Strip that are affiliated with Fatah if the "reconciliation" agreement is implemented.
Hamas is far from the only party with a militia in the Gaza Strip. Almost all of the other Palestinian factions, including Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), have their own militias there -- in addition to a number of ISIS-inspired militias that have also appeared in the Gaza Strip in the past few years.
It is estimated that there are about 50 different militias operating in the Gaza Strip. These militias are said to be in possession of about a million pieces of weaponry.
Abbas's real test will be the day he is forced to face the unruly Fatah-affiliated armed groups in the Gaza Strip. Abbas has good reason to be worried about the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP and DFLP militias. None of these groups will ever voluntarily lay down its weapons or dismantle its militias just because the Egyptians or Abbas want it to. Abbas, moreover, also needs to worry about the Fatah-affiliated groups: they also are unlikely to comply with his wish to see no militias in the Gaza Strip.
Fatah has in the Gaza Strip several armed groups not known for their blind loyalty to Abbas. Some of these disgruntled armed groups, in fact, often sound more like Hamas and Islamic Jihad than Fatah.
Fatah has quite a number of militias in the Gaza Strip: Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Ahmed Abu Rish Brigades, Abdel Qader Al-Husseini Brigades, Martyr Ayman Judeh Groups and Nidal Al-Amoudi Brigades.
Although they are affiliated with Abbas's Fatah, these armed groups continue to talk about an "armed struggle" against Israel and their desire to "liberate Palestine, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river." The unruly Fatah-affiliated groups have a history of angering and embarrassing Abbas and the Fatah leadership in the West Bank. The groups often issue statements applauding terror attacks against Israel, such as the recent shooting at Har Adar, near Jerusalem, in which three Israelis were murdered.
For the past few years, the Fatah leadership in the West Bank has sought to distance itself from the actions and rhetoric of those Fatah armed groups in the Gaza Strip. That effort reflects the desire of the Fatah leadership in the West Bank to present itself to the international community (and Israel) as a "moderate" party that opposes violence and seeks a peaceful solution with Israel.
Even more worrying for Abbas is that in addition to Hamas, the Fatah armed groups in the Gaza Strip are refusing to disarm as a result of the "reconciliation" agreement.
Now, not only does Abbas have to worry about Hamas and Islamic Jihad; he has his own Fatah gunmen saying that they too will not disarm. This headache for Abbas poses yet another obstacle to the implementation of the "reconciliation" agreement.
As Abu Mohammed, a spokesman for the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip, said recently: "We won't give up our weapons until all Palestine has been liberated." His statement echoes the position of Hamas and all the other armed groups. If Hamas refuses to disarm, that is one thing, but when Abbas's supposed loyalists also come out with similar statements, that is akin to spitting in the face of the Palestinian Authority president.
The "reconciliation" agreement has yet to be implemented on the ground, yet the issue of the militias in the Gaza Strip is already emerging as a major obstacle and a severe blow to Abbas. He will now have to decide: either to proceed with the "reconciliation" agreement and accept playing the role of president of a Gaza Strip filled with armed groups and militias -- most of which are no friend of his, or to backtrack and realize that his wish to have one law, one police force and one authority in the Gaza Strip is nothing more than a pipe-dream.
2018 GAZA BORDER PROTESTS
On 30 March 2018, a six-week campaign composed of a series of protests was launched at the Gaza Strip, near the Gaza-Israel border. Called by Palestinian organizers the "Great March of Return", the protests demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to what is now Israel. They are also protesting the blockade of the Gaza Strip and the moving of the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Violence during the protests has resulted in the deadliest days of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza War.
Organization of the protests was initiated by independent activists, and has been endorsed and supported by Hamas, as well as other major factions in the Gaza Strip. It was planned to last from 30 March (Land day) to 15 May (Nakba Day). Five tent camps were set up 500 to 700 metres (1,600 to 2,300 ft) from the border and were to remain there throughout the campaign. In the first event on 30 March, thirty thousand Palestinians participated in the protest near the border. Comparatively larger protests have been held on Fridays, 6 April, 13 April, 20 April, 27 April, 4 May, and 11 May—each of which involved at least 10,000 demonstrators—while smaller numbers attend activities during the week. Most of the demonstrators at the tent camps hundreds of meters from the border demonstrated peacefully, but groups consisting mainly of young men approached the border, rolled burning tires towards the fence, used burning tires to provide smoke screens, and threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops. In April, Palestinian protesters began to launch kites bearing incendiary devices over the border fence, causing damage to property on the Israeli side. Israeli officials stated that the protests were used by Hamas as cover for launching attacks against Israel.
At least 110 Palestinians were killed between 30 March to 15 May, a number of whom have been members of various Palestinian militant organizations; at least 40 of those were killed in the course of the protests. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and live ammunition. Over 12,000 Palestinians have been wounded. No Israelis were physically harmed from 30 March to 12 May, then one Israeli soldier was reported as slightly wounded on 14 May. The protests reached a peak in monday, 14 May, when 59 Palestinians were killed in the riots in twelve clash points along the border fence. Some 35,000 Palestinians protested that day, with thousands approaching the fence.
Israel's use of deadly force has been condemned by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, B'Tselem, and Amnesty International, and criticized by United Nations officials. Kuwait has proposed two United Nations Security Council statements, which have been blocked by the United States, calling for an investigation into Israel's killing of Palestinian protesters. The Israeli government has praised Israeli troops for protecting the border fence.
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin The Telegraph
GAZA ELECTRICITY CRISIS Times of Israel (THIS HAS AN IMPORTANT ARTICLE LIST)
Life in the Gaza Strip BBC, 14 July 2014
Q&A: What is Hamas? CNN November 24, 2012 By Bryony Jones
Hamas: A Social Welfare or a Government Machine? The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Tel Aviv, November 2015
Israel will not negotiate with Palestinian unity government if Hamas is involved
The Guardian Peter Beaumont, 17 Oct 2017 19.01 BST
Crisis in Gaza Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, 2016
(MDC Senior Researcher Paul Rivlin explains the evolving social and economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, using several recently released reports that provide new data on recent developments.)
THIS TOPIC IS DIVIDED INTO TWO PARTS
Part 1 MODERN HISTORY OF ISRAEL
Part 2 JEWISH EXILES FROM ARAB COUNTRIES and
GAZA and HAMAS