By Ramzy Baroud
2 July 2017
The Gaza story is taking a sinister twist.
The Israeli siege has been imposed on the Gaza Strip for over ten years. The 2 million people living in the small coastal enclave have suffered not only a lack of food and medicine, but also several deadly wars and almost complete Arab and international neglect.
The rarely acknowledged fact is that, from the onset, the people of Gaza have been treated like subjects of a mass experiment, who were deliberately malnourished, and on whom Israel used its latest weapons (which it marketed proudly to the rest of the world), as a form of collective punishment.
Now, however, the siege is being manipulated by several parties, including the Palestinian leadership itself.
Recent media reports have pointed out that the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has deliberately been blocking ill Gazans from receiving proper medical care in the West Bank and Jordan.
But this is nothing new. Accusations that Fatah-dominated PA has been twisting the Israeli knife so as to dislodge its Hamas foes from the Gaza leadership are as old as the siege itself.
However, considering that Israel has recently reduced Gaza's electricity per Palestinian Authority's request, and the fact that the latter has slashed salaries of tens of thousands of Gaza's employees, one wonders what plot is being staged against Gaza this time.
Israel on the other hand seems to be preparing some kind of escalation in the Strip.
Hawkish Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said early June that his country does not intend to 'conquer' Gaza in the 'next war.'
More recently, Lieberman blamed PA President Mahmoud Abbas in advance for that 'next war', saying that the Palestinian leader is pushing for an Israel-Hamas war. Indeed, on June 27 Israeli jets bombed several Hamas targets in the Strip, an escalation that seems only to be starting.
Meanwhile, Gazans are watching as their fate is being determined by some dirty intrigues involving both Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.
Fatigued by war and siege, and demoralized by their own leadership’s role in sustaining their suffering, Gazans are reeling under the harsh blockade.
‘Employed’ by Name Only
Mohammed Abed is a 28-year-old taxi driver from the village of Qarara, near the town of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.
Lack of medical care and proper dentistry work cost him all of his teeth, which rotted and decayed at a young age. His dire financial needs prevented him from acquiring dentures. His community eventually pitched in, collecting the few hundred dollars needed for Mohammed to finally be able to eat.
Mohammed is not unemployed. He works ten hours, sometimes more, every day. The old taxi he drives between Khan Younis and Gaza City is owned by someone else. Mohammed’s entire daily salary ranges from 20 to 25 shekels, about 6 dollars.
Raising a family with four children on such a meagre income has made it impossible for Mohammed to think of such seemingly extraneous expenses, such as fixing his teeth or acquiring dentures.
Strange as it may seem, Mohammed is somewhat lucky.
Unemployment in Gaza is among the highest in the world, presently estimated at 44 percent. Yet, those who are 'employed', like Mohammed, still struggle to survive. 80 percent of all Gazans are dependent on humanitarian assistance.
In 2015, the UN had warned that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020. At the time, all aspects of life had testified to that fact: lack of reliable electricity supply, polluted water, Israel's military seizure of much of the Gaza Strip's arable land, restricting the movement of fishermen, and so on.
A Red Cross report last May warned of another 'looming crisis' in the public health sector, due to the lack of electricity. The energy crisis has extended from electricity supplies to even cooking gas.
Last February Israel cut cooking gas supplies to the Strip to half.
“The cooking gas stations stopped accepting empty gas cylinders because their tanks are empty,” according to the Chairman of the Petroleum and Gas Owners Association of the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud Shawa. He described the situation as "very critical."
Three months ago, the PA in Ramallah decided to reduce the salaries of tens of thousands of its employees in the Gaza Strip. This money played an essential role in keeping the struggling economy afloat.
But, with most employees receiving half - or less - of their salaries, the barely functioning Gaza economy is dying.
Choking off the Middle Class
‘H’ is a university professor and his wife, ‘S’, is a doctor. The middle-class couple with five children has lived a fairly comfortable life in the Strip, even during the early years of the siege. Now, they tell me they are counting their money very carefully so as to avoid the fate of most Gazans.
‘S's salary comes from Ramallah. She is now only able to claim $350 dollars from what was once a significantly higher pay. ‘H’ does not receive his salary from the West Bank's authority, but it was slashed by half anyway, since most of the students are now too poor to pay their tuition fees.
Mu’in, who lives in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, is worse off. A retired teacher with a pension that barely reaches 200 dollars a month, Mu’in is struggling to put food on the table. An educated father of four unemployed adult sons and a wife recovering from a stroke, Mu’in lives mostly on hand-outs.
With no access to the West Bank due to the Israeli siege, and with severe restrictions on movement via the Rafah-Egypt border, Gaza is living through its darkest days - literally. Starting June 11, Israel began reducing the electricity supply to the impoverished Strip.
The results are devastating. Gaza households now receive 2 to 3 hours of electricity per day, at varying hours.
Gazans are survivors. They have endured such hardships for years and, somehow, they have subsisted. But cancer patients cannot survive on mere strength of character.
Rania, who lives in Gaza City, is a mother of three. She has been struggling with breast cancer for a year. With no chemotherapy available in Gaza's barely-functioning hospitals, she has regularly taken the arduous journey from Gaza to Jerusalem to carry out the life-saving procedure.
That, until Israel decided not to issue new permits to Gaza's terminally ill patients, some of whom have died waiting for permits and others - like Rania - who are still hoping for a miracle before cancer spreads through the rest of their bodies.
But Israel and Egypt are not the only culprits. The PA is using the siege as a bargaining chip to put pressure on its rival, Hamas, who has controlled the besieged Strip for ten years.
Hamas, on the other hand, is reportedly seeking a partnership with its old foe, Mohammed Dahlan, to ease the Gaza siege through Egypt in exchange for making him the head of a committee that is in charge of Gaza's external affairs.
Dahlan is also a foe of Abbas, with both vying for the leadership of Fatah for years.
Abbas' request to Israel to put more pressure on Gaza via electricity reduction, together with salary cuts, are meant to push Hamas out of its the alleged alliance with Dahlan.
Palestinian 'leaders' actually being involved in tightening or manipulating the siege to exact political concessions from one another, is dismaying.
While Israel is invested in maintaining the Palestinian rift, so that it continues with its own illegal settlement policies in the West Bank and Jerusalem unhindered, Palestinians are blinded by pitiful personal interests and worthless 'control' over occupied land.
In this political struggle, the likes of Mohammed, ‘H’, ‘S’ and cancer-ridden Rania – together with two million others - seem to be of no significance.
Pushing Gaza to Suicide
Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, sounded the alarm on June 14 when she warned that “the latest power cuts risk turning an already dire situation into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.”
Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch director for the region, rejected the notion that the Israelis power cuts to Gaza are at the request of the PA.
“Israel controls the borders, the airspace, the waters of Gaza, so Israel has an obligation that goes beyond merely responding to a request from Palestinian authorities,” Shakir said.
Between Israel’s dismissal of international calls to end the siege and Palestinians’ pathetic power game, Gazans are left alone, unable to move freely or subsist even according to the lowest acceptable living standards.
Fatima, a 52-old mother from Rafah, told me that would have killed herself a few days ago, were it not for her children wrestling the knife away.
When I told Fatima that she has so much to live for, she chuckled and said nothing.
The suicide rate in the Strip is at all-time high, and despair is believed to be the main factor behind the alarming phenomena.
Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and his latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”.