A few days ago, Haaretz published an article by the Israeli author, Rogel Alpher, in which he warns Israelis that it should be of no surprise if another war breaks out in Gaza this summer. In fact, he exclaims, it would be surprising if the war doesn’t take place soon!
In the same newspaper, Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted saying he was "excited to go to war."
Last Tuesday, Israeli aircrafts launched a series of raids on Gaza, bringing it back to the center of international attention.
Years of war and siege have turned Gaza into an open wound; everyone looks at it but nobody really sees it. Everyone hears of the inflamed wound, yet prefers not to closely examine it. Denying the existence of the wound does not help it heal, as all arbitrary treatments have failed to address this ongoing crisis.
What should we know about the situation in Gaza today? And how did it turn into a big prison for its own people?
The World's Largest Open-Air Prison
In the late 1980’s, following the first intifada, Israel imposed several restrictions, including the enforcement of exit permits on the people of Gaza. Since 1993, Israel has periodically used tactics preventing a number of Palestinians from leaving and moving from some areas in Gaza for periods of time that could stretch to a month.
In 2000, after the second intifada, Israel revoked many work and travel permits in Gaza. In 2001, the Israeli air force bombed the airport in Gaza only three years after it was built.
Four years later, in 2007, after Hamas came to power, Israel imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on Gaza.
A long time ago, Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi described the Gaza Strip as "the largest outdoor prison in the world", noting that the Gaza siege has taken longer than the siege of Sarajevo.
Gaza is known to be one of the most-densely populated areas in the world. It has an area of 360 square kilometers and a population of about two million, which means that its population density is around 5 people per square meter.
About 60% of Gaza's population is made up of refugees living in eight camps, and 80% of the inhabitants depend on aid according to the World Bank.
The blockade has prevented Palestinians from reaching Jerusalem; denying them access to specialized hospitals, embassies, banks, and other vital facilities, as well as places of worship.
The blockade also violates the Oslo agreement which stipulated that the Palestinian territories should be treated as a whole and contravenes the provisions of the Geneva Convention that prohibit collective punishment.
Two crossing points
Only through two crossings can one enter or leave Gaza.
The first crossing, Erez, is on the border point in Beit Hanoun. It requires a special permit that is very difficult to get, only given to a certain class of merchants and elderly people on Fridays to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque, and patients who need medical treatment in Israel or Jordan.
Last year, Israel approved less than 50% of patients' requests to leave Gaza through the crossing for treatment.
The second crossing, Rafah, is situated between Gaza and Egypt, and it is often closed down.
In 2013, the crossing registered the entry and exit of about 20,000 people per month. But in 2016, the number has fallen to about 11,000 people in both directions. According to a UN report last year, Rafah crossing was partially opened for only 72 days during the year.
According to the same report, 25% of requests to leave Gaza for medical treatment were rejected or delayed by Israeli authorities. Tens of thousands of people who are supposed to leave Gaza for work, education, treatment, or family affairs complain of the arbitrary exit permissions .
In Gaza, unemployment is an inescapable hell. A report issued by the World Bank at the end of last year reveals that the unemployment crisis in the Gaza Strip has reached one of the highest rates in the world.
The unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2016 increased to 43.2%, while the percentage of the economically inactive population was about 55%, the fourth lowest rate of participation globally.
According to the UNRWA, the situation of the labor market in Gaza is worse than what the general unemployment rate indicates. A number of factors must be taken into consideration, including the low rate of participation, discouraged workers who are not counted among the unemployed, and part-time workers who are classified as employed. The Long periods of unemployment and low wages should be taken into consideration too.
It is important to note that there are about 30 institutions of higher education in Gaza, from which 2500 students approximately graduate every year, according to the statistics of the Ministry of Education. Their future remains unclear with the scarcity of jobs and the blockade.
Gaza suffers from a 40% acute shortage in medicine. About two months ago, the Ministry of Health in Gaza issued a warning about the severity of the ongoing shortage of medicines, especially the ones needed for dialysis, tumors, and intensive care. Drugs for seizures, hormones, and the nervous system are completely missing from hospitals.
The Ministry of Health in Gaza had to cut down on its diagnostic and support services in their facilities, saying “they have entered a harsh phase.”
The electricity crisis has greatly contributed to this escalating situation of health care in Gaza. A large number of surgical operations have been postponed due to power cuts and generator fuel-shortage.
12 and more hours
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's envoy to the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov, expressed his concern over the impact of the electricity crisis in Gaza, calling on the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Israel, and the international community to "ensure that this issue is permanently resolved."
Israel provides only 120 megawatts to Gaza since 1976, while Egypt provides 17 megawatts. Gaza’s only power plant generates from 70 to 80 megawatts, which is expected to decrease with Israeli strikes and targeting.
The power outages last for more than 12 hours a day, compared to only 4 hours of power availability uninterrupted. The crisis also intensified in Rafah and Khan Yunis in south Gaza after the Egyptian company stopped providing electricity due to a technical malfunction at El Arish station.
Years of war and siege have turned Gaza into an open wound; everyone looks at it but nobody really sees it Last year, Israel approved less than 50% of patients' requests to leave Gaza through the crossing for treatment
Years of war and siege have turned Gaza into an open wound; everyone looks at it but nobody really sees it
Last year, Israel approved less than 50% of patients' requests to leave Gaza through the crossing for treatment
70% of houses in Gaza were destroyed by the attacks. The Strip suffered three attacks in 2008, 2012, and 2014, destroying many vital facilities, and leaving the area prey to constant economic, social, health, and psychological problems.
In 2008, Operation Cast Lead destroyed 47,000 homes and killed 1,400 Palestinians, including 920 civilians. In 2012, more than 167 Palestinians were killed in Operation Pillar of Cloud with more than 126 homes destroyed, as well as schools, mosques, and health centers. Two years later, over the course of 50 days, Israel's Operation Protective Edge killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including 500 children.
Last year, the human rights organization "Gisha", which has monitored the “reconstruction” of Gaza in the past two years, published a comprehensive report on the process and the welfare of the population since the end of the 2014 war.
The report evaluates the process of reconstruction based on construction projects and the freedom of movement for individuals and goods.
The report points out that a large portion of the funds promised by various countries for the reconstruction of Gaza has not yet been delivered, in addition to the conflict between Hamas and the west bank that further delays the funding.
An artificial island
The Israeli government is planning to build an artificial island off the coast of Gaza, the Washington Post reported earlier.
According to the newspaper, "Israel’s minister for intelligence, Israel Katz, has been talking for a while about creating an artificial island off the coast of Gaza to allow imports and exports to reach the besieged strip, and a crossing point in or out for its people."
Katz explains that the island will be funded and owned by the international community, and that the island will be three miles off the Gaza coast, connected with an extended bridge.
The artificial island will have sea ports for cargo and passengers, management facilities, a desalination plant, electricity and gas stations, and an air and sea port. The cost of the project is estimated to be around $5 billion. Saudi Arabia and China may want to invest in it, Katz says.
While the island is presented as a "humanitarian idea" to help the Strip, its establishment will guarantee Israel's control over security procedures off the shore of Gaza, since its forces would assume responsibility for security inspection of the island.
In 2007, Hamas took over in Gaza after defeating Fatah. Since then, the organization has been used as the excuse for Israel's brutal attacks on Gaza, under the pretext of fighting "saboteurs" and "militants."
On their part, the Palestinians trapped in Gaza began to voice their complaints about the Hamas regime, which has imposed a strict social order.
With civilians paying the highest price for the Israeli attacks, living in extremely harsh conditions, the World Bank has warned, that by the year of 2020, Gaza will be unfit for human habitation.