Gaza marks ten years of conflict, misery under Hamas rule

Sunday 18/06/2017
Dark days. Palestinian children at home reading books by candle light due to electricity shortages in Gaza City. (AFP)

London - I t has been ten years since the Palestinian movement Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip, which continues to face con­flict, frequent electricity black­outs, poverty and Israel’s blockade.

The Gaza Strip came under Ha­mas control on June 15, 2007, after its militants drove out forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction following a dispute over parliamentary elec­tions won by the Islamist move­ment.

Divisions remain deep between Hamas and Fatah, based in the oc­cupied West Bank, with reconcilia­tion between the two rivals seem­ingly a long way off. The power struggle casts its shadow on the poverty-stricken and overcrowded coastal enclave.

The strip, which is home to about 2 million Palestinians, is also sub­ject to a strict Israeli blockade and its border with Egypt has largely remained closed in recent years. Egypt has destroyed many tunnels Gazans used for smuggling to and from the Sinai Peninsula.

Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, argu­ing that this ended its military oc­cupation of the territory despite its continued control over the region’s land, sea and air links to the outside world.

The international community, however, has a different view. The United Nations considers the lands Israel captured in 1967 — the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — as a single unit and holds Israel, as the occupier, responsible for the wel­fare of all Palestinians living there.

The World Bank said Gaza’s GDP losses caused by the blockade are estimated at more than 50%. Un­employment stands at 45% and more than two-thirds of the popu­lation depends on humanitarian aid.

The Gaza Strip has almost no in­dustry and suffers from a chronic lack of water and fuel. Its problems are expected to increase after Israel announced it would reduce elec­tricity supplies to the Gaza Strip af­ter the Palestinian Authority limit­ed its pay for power to the enclave.

The decision by Israel’s secu­rity cabinet is expected to further shorten Gaza’s daily power input, which averages around four hours, by 45 minutes. Gaza’s residents re­ceive power from an electricity grid dependent on Israeli supplies.

The Palestinian Authority in­formed Israel that it would cover only 70% of the monthly cost of electricity that the Israel Electric Corporation supplies to the Gaza Strip.

The West Bank-based Palestin­ian Authority blamed the reduced power supply on Hamas’s failure to reimburse it for the electricity. The Palestinian Authority had previous­ly cut the salaries of its employees in Gaza.

“To resolve the crisis Hamas must respond to Mahmoud Abbas’s offer to end the political divisions,” Palestinian Authority spokes­man Tareq Rashmawi told Agence France-Presse.

Hamas said the cut was made on Abbas’s orders and termed it “a catastrophe.” “This decision ag­gravates the situation and risks an explosion in the Gaza Strip,” the group said in a statement.

Gaza’s residents have adapted to worsening hardships with ingenu­ity and stoicism.

In some apartment buildings, residents have pooled resources to buy communal generators. Most Gazans buy food daily because they can no longer use refrigerators. Formerly routine activities such as showering or running a wash­ing machine are done at odd hours, when power is on.

Gaza’s sole power plant stopped working in April after it ran out of fuel that had partially been paid for by Qatar and Turkey, one-time regional backers whose support ap­pears to have cooled.

Concerns have been raised for hospitals and infrastructure such as water treatment facilities — already at risk.

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned of a “system­ic collapse.”

Young people protested against electricity shortages in January when thousands in northern Gaza marched to the local headquarters of the electricity company. Hamas security forces fired warning shots and made arrests as they dispersed the protesters. Further protests were prevented by a show of force from Hamas security services and jailed demonstrators were later re­leased.

Whether the tensions will lead to another escalation between Hamas and Israel is a question constantly being posed.

While UN officials have called for Israel to lift its blockade, citing de­teriorating conditions, Israel said it is needed to stop Hamas from ob­taining weapons or materials used to make them.

The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies.