THE BLOG
05/19/2016 05:06 pm ET Updated May 20, 2017

Gaza: A City No One Wants

As Palestinians commemorate the 68th anniversary of the Nakba, literally "catastrophe" in Arabic, when the indigenous people of Palestine were driven out of Palestine into exile, and the Israeli state was established, there is a new Nakba taking place in tandem with the ongoing Nakba. This new Nakba is the political division between Hamas and Fatah. The division between the two parties, the siege on Gaza and the stubborn leadership of Hamas have led to catastrophic consequences in the Gaza Strip: high unemployment, increased rates of suicide, power shortages, shortage of water supply, shortage of medical supplies, hardships in general wellbeing, higher rates of poverty, a crushing siege on the Gaza strip, increased taxes on necessary goods imposed by Hamas, corruption, distrust between people and institutions and between themselves, higher political repression and arbitrary arrests among Gaza's activists. This situation has created a feeling that has become quite common among the population of Gaza, and is best represented by the ongoing joke, "Police have arrested a Gazan who has hope". No hope. No future. No future.

The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt opened recently for two days after a three-month closure. Registered travelers numbered more than 30000, but Egyptian security allowed only 747 to pass to Egypt and even then under unbelievable and unbearable conditions, characterised by repeated violations of basic human rights. A journey, which under usual circumstances should only take five minutes by bus, one hour including bureaucratic procedures such as checking baggage and stamping passports, now takes over 24 hours, sometimes 48 hours, leaving hundreds of Palestinians in prison-like areas inside the Egyptian side of the Rafah border.

Egypt ruled Gaza from 1948 until 1967. Since that time, Gazans have attended Egypt's universities and studied Egyptian curricula, creating a strong bond with Egypt over time. Nowadays, Egypt's narrative has changed, and Gazans are treated as the enemies of Egyptian security. Last year I was banned by Israeli security from going to Palestine, yet I received much better treatment than that which my fellow Palestinians have had to endure in Egyptian airports and borders. What makes this especially difficult to bear is that fact that Palestinians have never had armed groups or any conflict with the Egyptian army, compared to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The question therefore needs to be asked: "Why is Egypt treating Palestinians from Gaza so badly? Why does Egypt treat Palestinians as subhumans?" Even if it is the norm in Egypt for the Egyptian government to deal with its own people in such a manner, why is this treatment extended to Palestinians when all they ask is to cross the border to travel onto somewhere else? It therefore seems that Egypt is intent on sending this strong message to all parties, "We are not interested in Gaza, Gazans or their troubles; let them suffer away from us".

Gaza's burden is not limited to its southern border, but also extends to Jordan. When the Israeli military started to allow Gazans to travel through Jordan, after receiving military permission to cross from the West Bank, Jordanian security then tightened measures permitting Gazans to leave through Jordan. Not only did they deny visas for Gazans who live in Gaza, but also for Gazans who live in the West Bank. The decision came immediately after the Israeli decision, which is considered as a violation of human rights. The Israeli military imposed a restriction of no return to Gaza for a one-year period as a condition for exit. With this move, it is possible that Jordan felt that Israel has in fact decided to hand Gaza to Jordan. However, this does not explain the need for Gazans to have a visa while their counterparts in Jordan can travel whenever they want to Jordan. Gaza has traditionally been aligned with Egypt and the West Bank with Jordan, so perhaps Palestinians of the West Bank are trusted more than Gazans. This reinforces the premise that Gaza is being treated as a security issue and, by extension, Gazans are seen as a threat to Jordan. The Jordanian message to all parties also appears to be, "We are not interested in Gaza and Gazans. Keep them away from us".

Israel too plays a crucial role for Gaza. They have been besieging the Gaza Strip for ten years, its army murdering more than 5000 Palestinians over the course of three assaults between 2008 and 2014. Israel would also like to annex the West Bank, leaving Gaza as the real state for the Palestinians. This scenario is not a new one; Martin Gourterman marketed the idea of Gaza State as a Singapore of the Middle East. In 2004, Sharon's plan was to stop the creation of a Palestinian state and allow a state in Gaza to avoid negotiations, prevent discussions on refugees, Jerusalem and borders. The Israeli government is ready to do everything possible to rid itself of Gaza or keep borders with Gaza closed indefinitely. The issue is not only Hamas, but also the history of the relationship between Gazans and the Occupation.

The same goes for the Palestinian Authority and Fatah's leadership in Ramallah. They are not interested in taking Gaza back from Hamas. Despite the fact that they are willing to negotiate with Hamas over reconciliation and Hamas' manipulation of national and regional efforts, PA's leadership cannot guarantee positions, diplomatic employees and governmental advantages not only for Hamas, but even for Gazans. In Ramallah and among the Palestinian leadership, Gaza is seen as scabies that no one wants to come close to. This perception is realised by the appointment of high-level employees only in Ramallah, ignoring Gazans' needs, and especially by the assignation of funds for municipalities and appointments of high-ranked employees from amongst non-Gazans. This belies a hostility not only toward Hamas but also toward Gaza in general as the needs of Gaza, especially for political and societal reconciliation, are seriously overlooked and the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are systematically regarded not as one entity, one people and one future-state.

It seems that Gaza and Gazans have been effectively abandoned, left in the hands of Hamas to do with them as they please. This policy is transforming Gaza, slowly but steadily to a hotbed of radicals and a ticking bomb that may explode with serious consequences.

To avoid such an outcome, action must be taken right now. The world should not regard Gaza as a humanitarian crisis, but rather a political crisis. The PA must deal with Gaza as an entity that belongs to them, and represent the interests of the people of Gaza, not leaving them to be systematically denied access to basic rights and the right to movement. The PA works for a limited group of people who are becoming the new bourgeoisie of Gaza, while the great majority continue to suffer every day. Egypt and Jordan should also rethink how they deal with the population of Gaza. Not all are a security threat; in fact, none of them need pose such a threat if they are granted access to basic human rights.

Writer and activist from Rafah, Mahmoud Jouda, wrote on his Facebook page saying, " Do not listen to anyone who says there is hope in Gaza. Even if we achieve a political reconciliation, it will not work because it is based on a quota-based political division which will fail. Gaza's problem is bigger than its geographical borders. Gaza is a sinking vessel. The only solution is individual salvation. Jump from the sinking vessel before you die". This is the painful reality of Gaza and the story of a city that no one wants.

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Sourcing:

1. http://www.alhayat.com/Articles/14983089/ارتفاع-معدلات-انتحار-الشباب-في-غزة-يقلق-الفلسطينيين
2. http://www.alwatanvoice.com/arabic/news/2016/05/13/917186.html
3. http://www.wattan.tv/news/173368.html
4. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/01/07/opinion/l-gaza-city-state-could-be-singapore-of-mideast-365688.html
5. http://www.haaretz.com/top-pm-aide-gaza-plan-aims-to-freeze-the-peace-process-1.136686