Gazans losing hope of freedom

Gazans losing hope of freedom

Gaza’s great expectations have shrivelled to bleak despair. The 1.5 million citizens of the strip, besieged and blockaded by Israel, had expected ships of foreign well-wishers to arrive, freedom to go and come from the strip, and reconciliation between Hamas, which rules Gaza, and rival Fatah, which administers Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank. 
But the flotilla of 11 boats, launched by activists from 22 countries who are determined to sail to Gaza, has stalled. The Turkish ferry, Mavi Marmara, on which nine activists were killed by Israeli commandos last year, pulled out due to strong Israeli pressure on Ankara. The Swedish and Irish boats have been sabotaged, presumably by Israel, and the US and Canadian boats are tied up in Greek ports by red tape. Other vessels are taking to international waters to preserve their freedom to continue the blockade-busting journey to Gaza even if some ships cannot take part.

Nevertheless, civil society activist Amjad Shawwa told Deccan Herald, “Whatever happens, the flotilla is a very strong message which keeps the international community focused on the Gaza siege.  The new flotilla also reminds people that Israel must be held accountable for the people killed in its attack on the Turkish ship.”

Egypt’s pledge

Gazans also had high expectations of Egypt’s pledge to open the passenger terminal at the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border to all Palestinians who seek to depart and enter Gaza. While the intentions of the post-uprising government were good, Cairo went back on its promise and has imposed even more restrictions than those in place before the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak who cooperated with Israel’s policy of isolating Gaza and its citizens.

Although experts say the Egyptian facility can process 1,500 travellers a day, Egypt has agreed to permit only 380 to cross and is, in practice, allowing just 170 to leave.   The wrought-iron gates giving access to the Palestinian and Egyptian terminals at Rafah are closed most of the day.

Shawwa said that his seven-year old son, who was travelling to Cairo with grandparents, begged to go home after waiting at the gates for two days. On the third day, they crossed. Implementation of the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah has halted due to a dispute over who should be prime minister of a unity government of technocrats.

Instead of trying to reach accommodation, leaders on both side are sniping at each other. Since Israel and the US seek to undermine Palestinian unity, they are exerting tremendous pressure on president Mahmud Abbas to renounce or sabotage the deal.

In the absence of national unity, Abbas will find it difficult to convince members of the UN General Assembly to recognise a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem when he promised to launch this appeal in September.

Furthermore, Palestinians here are discouraged by Abbas’ failure to work out a clear strategy for the appeal. The hope was that 160-plus, two-thirds, of Assembly members would grant or upgrade recognition to a state of Palestine within the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Palestine has already been recognised as an independent state by 128 countries, including India and many have diplomatic relations with Palestine.

Trapped in the narrow coastal strip and in political limbo, Gazans live on a day to day basis, doing the best they can. Unemployment is 45.2 per cent of the workforce, but is much higher because this figure does not account for workers who lost jobs some time ago and people who have never had jobs.  Eighty per cent of Gazans subsist on basic food supplied by UN agencies. Since 2009, the number of people living on $1.60 a day has risen from 100,000 to 300,000, stated UN spokesman Chris Gunness.

Tens of thousands of Gazans made homeless by Israeli warfare and bulldozers are living in makeshift shelters, with relatives, or in rented premises. But UN agencies cannot rehouse the homeless because Israel severely restricts the flow of construction materials into Gaza.

While Israel has opened the sole goods crossing into Gaza for the importation of consumer goods, exports are banned with the exception of occasional consignments of strawberries and carnations. Raw material and equipment for manufacturing are banned.  
“We don't need new cars, chocolates, colas, and household appliances,” argued Shawwa. “We need material for economic activity and development so we can provide for the future of our children.” If the physical, psychological, political and economic pressures on the people of Gaza are not lifted, an Arab Spring explosion is predicted.  

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