Analysis: The spirit of Gaza

A year after the war, nothing has changed for Palestinians in Gaza except the rising amount of destruction.

Gaza analysis
The 50-day war in 2014 left Gaza with $1.4bn in direct and indirect damages and $1.7bn in economic losses [EPA]

Gaza – One year after the Gaza Strip’s third war with Israel in less than a decade, the possibility of recovery seems very far away. Residents whose homes and communities were destroyed are now paying the price as they experience long delays in reconstruction.

The damage to Gaza over the 50-day war was widespread, leaving the Strip with $1.4bn in direct and indirect damages and $1.7bn in economic losses.

However, as of June 2015, less than one percent of the construction materials needed to rebuild houses have entered Gaza.

In addition to the lasting damage, Gaza must also grapple with the war’s human cost.

More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed, of which a quarter were children, and more than 10,000 were injured. Close to 90,000 families woke up to a life of homelessness, and 1.4 million people have needed food assistance.

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Israel’s latest ceasefire is only the most basic show of restraint in its continuous wave of periodic escalation and unrelenting assault on Gaza.

In Israeli vernacular, these acts of aggression are called “mowing the lawn”, yet last year’s war was described by a senior US military official as “removing the topsoil”.

Israel has been “mowing the lawn” for decades now, not for reasons related to Israel’s security or Hamas, but, according to many Gazans, in order to break Gaza’s spirit and appropriate its land.

When Israel carried out its rain of explosive heads on Gaza, it was simultaneously warning the population to evacuate nearly half of the Strip’s territory. Gaza’s population density is 4,700 people for every square kilometre – compared with 305 people in Israel – and with crossings through Israel and the exit to Egypt closed, there was hardly any route to escape the violence. 

The areas severely hit, and those totally destroyed, were located mostly on the outer borders of the Strip with Israel.

A year later, with construction materials prevented from entering and the border areas still in ruins, inhabitants have been forced to either relocate to schools and shelters or rent new homes in more central areas of the Strip. 

According to UNOCHA, 485,000 people – 28 percent of the population – were displaced at the height of the war.

Internally displaced people – 87 percent  of whom are families – are currently accommodated with host families in rented apartments, prefabricated units, tents and makeshift shelters, or in the rubble of their previous homes, which raise a range of concerns regarding protection.

Close to 90,000 families woke up to a life of homelessness, and 1.4 million people have needed food assistance [EPA]
Close to 90,000 families woke up to a life of homelessness, and 1.4 million people have needed food assistance [EPA]

This strategy of destroying buildings and preventing reconstruction shows a pattern of indirect land appropriation by Israel, as well as a continuous attempt to annex and expand Israeli buffer zones at the expense of Palestinian land.

Since the signing of the Oslo Agreement in 1993, Israel has confiscated more than 685,000 dunums (one dunum is equal to 1,000 square metres) of Palestinian land in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, for security reasons and Jewish settlements.

These practices have never ceased and continued unabated for decades.

Therefore, the process of Gaza’s geographic separation and isolation, set in motion by the 1993 Oslo process, strives to splinter the native population into different secluded spaces which are marked conceptually and materially.

This is in fact part of Israel’s plan to annex as much territory as possible from the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip without incorporating the Palestinian population.

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Similarly, breaking down the Palestinian economy and exploiting it to the advantage of Israel’s own economic body has been a condition for survival for the Zionist project, allowing it to control and reap the benefits of any Palestinian upheaval.

Gaza’s trade, imports, exports, employment, dispersal of tax revenues, travel and business management have all been linked to the Israeli bureaucracy, which gradually erases domestic private investment and prevents any emergence of semi-functional economic structures.

Sara Roy, a researcher at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, describes such policies as “the disabling of families and communities, and the disintegration of morale”.

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For the past eight years, Israel has imprisoned and policed Gaza via 19th century colonisation policies, keeping nearly two million civilians spatially contained with neither a present nor a future.

Now, the blockade is preventing the reconstruction of thousands of homes, schools, hospitals, power plants and water networks destroyed during successive Israeli military offensives in 2008 to 2009, 2012 and 2014. 

Israel also keeps effective control over entry and exit into Gaza, its airspace and sea, as well as its population registry, telecommunication networks and many other aspects of daily life and infrastructure.

Additionally, by limiting livestock and food supplies and contaminating water sources, Israel has used

Allowing Gaza to drown further into oblivion is a policy, designed by the Israelis and applauded by the EU and the U.S.

by Ramy Abdu, head of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor

measured starvation as a technique to capitalise off the vulnerability of a population with no means to acquire food self-sufficiently.

Palestinian civilians have been forced into submission or departure, with the calorie becoming the perfect instrument to rule the population.

According to Ramy Abdu, head of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, Israel’s assaults and long-term siege have a devastating impact on Gaza’s already fragile infrastructure. Gaza’s crisis is man-made.

“Allowing Gaza to drown further into oblivion is a policy, designed by the Israelis and applauded by the EU and the United States,” says Abdu.

A year after the war, nothing has changed for Palestinians in Gaza except the rising amount of destruction in this besieged coastal enclave.

Many residents have echoed this sentiment, adding that the international community has allowed Israel to walk away with repetitive war crimes and land appropriation.

Countries have looked the other way as eight years of an illegal siege breaks down the social fabric of Gaza.

The international community, Gazans say, has also provided Israel with the justifications for a perception of human flesh as grass.

The latest UN plan for the reconstruction of Gaza, which has been rejected by Palestinians, was produced to sustain and protect the interests of the occupation, maintain the siege and increase the influence and control of the UN at the expense of Palestinian self-determination and rights. 

Isolated by a blockade and grappling with post-war trauma, the Gaza Strip may seem mired in its own despair.

But on the other hand, Israel has failed to either validate the justness of its military cause or the prospect of military success. 

Hamas officials say they want a long-term solution and demand the end of Israel’s eight-year blockade, an action that will set Palestinians in Gaza free and hold Israel accountable.

According to many residents, despite the blows suffered due to violence and economic privation, the ‘spirit of Gaza’ still prevails in a reminder to Israel – and the world-  that the Strip is ‘the heart of Palestinian resistance and nationalism’.

“Seven decades of Israeli ethnic cleansing have given them [Gazans] no other alternative than surviving, resisting and remaining in their lands,” says Wesam Afifa, Editor-in-Chief of al-Resalah newspaper.

Hanine Hassan is a PhD candidate at Columbia University. Her research focuses on the long-term effects of humiliation as a tool of oppression by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Source: Al Jazeera