THE BLOG
06/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Resentment Seethes in Gaza

Since the militant Palestinian group Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel has imposed a crippling economic blockade, sealing its border with the Occupied Territory and limiting the movement of most goods and people across it.

But the blockade policy, particularly following Israel's war with Gaza early last year, has had the opposite effect of what its leaders intended. Desperate and disenfranchised, even more civilians in Gaza have turned to Hamas, either for work or social services. As a result, the militant movement is at its strongest - and, perhaps, angriest - since assuming control over the Strip.

"The blockade is a recipe for continued radicalization in Gaza," said Ammar Hijazi of the Palestine Mission to the United Nations. Hijazi explained that 80 percent of the 1.5 million people living in Gaza are under the age of 30. "The young generation that wants to work will make desperate choices," he said, like joining a militant group such as Hamas, or even more extremist organizations.

The death and destruction caused by the war, coupled with the rigid restrictions on Palestinian movement outside the territory, have fueled unprecedented resentment towards Israel. "It doesn't take much to have a suicide bomber," Hijazi said. "You can see how much radicalization will happen because of the humiliation of occupation and controlled checkpoints."

Sara Roy, a senior research scholar at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, argued that extremism is inevitable when a population is "systematically impoverished through the deliberate policy of a government [Israel] along with the active participation of the international community."

"Especially young kids are driven to these extremist groups," Roy said. "They have been traumatized by war and the siege and know nothing but violence."

Meanwhile, a report released by the World Bank last week said that only about half of the industrial establishments destroyed during Israel's military operation have been fully or partially rebuilt. Less than a quarter of the workforce was rehired.

"The longer the closure goes on the more difficult it will be for businesses to resume normal operations," the report determined.

Since the war, many houses and schools remain ruined, preventing their occupants from carrying on with ordinary life. Basic utilities such as water and electricity are hard to come by. Sanitation has become a severe health risk due to the shattered sewer system.

"Generally speaking, you can't get raw materials imported [into Gaza], even if you can get the money to rebuild," said Geoffrey Aronson, the director of research and publications at the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington, D.C. Indeed, Roy estimated that Israel only allows 73 commodities into Gaza, including food, compared with approximately 3,500 before the siege began.

Israel, though, maintains that the blockade is necessary to contain - and weaken - Hamas, which it sees as a threat to the state's survival. The Islamist militant group has long fired rockets into southern Israel, and a barrage at the end of 2008 prompted Israel's sustained air and ground campaign, Operation Cast Lead. Now, basic humanitarian and food items are the only supplies allowed across the Erez border that divides Israel from Gaza. The Israeli government has argued that until the leadership in Gaza changes, or Hamas renounces violence and accepts Israel's right to exist, the siege will not be lifted.

Diplomats like Hijazi acknowledge the complexity of the situation. While he is quick to condemn Israel's military campaign in Gaza and the ongoing blockade, he concedes that Hamas's "behavior is continuing the siege." By refusing to reconcile with the moderate Palestinian government led by Fatah in the West Bank and sign on for informal negotiations with the Israelis, Hamas "is giving Israel carte blanche in Gaza," Hijazi said.

Recent clashes between Israel and Gaza at the beginning of this month were considered the most serious since the war ended in January 2009. Increasing numbers of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel throughout this past March. By April 2, Israeli forces responded by bombing at least four different alleged weapons manufacturing sites in Gaza that were thought to belong to Hamas.

However, recent news reports have also depicted Hamas as pursuing a slight strategy shift. Following the recent Israeli air strikes, it was widely reported that Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya was working to curb rocket attacks against Israel by smaller militant factions within the party and, in his own words, "maintain calm in Gaza for the national interest."

Aronson, of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, called this potential shift part of an "evolving relationship" between the Israeli government and Hamas in Gaza. Conversely, he noted that Hamas's stronghold over Gaza is challenging Israel to reconsider its relationship with the powerful militant group. "Israel is being forced to come to grips with the situation in Gaza," said Aronson, who suggested that Israel is moving towards the point of accepting the Hamas leadership in Gaza as permanent.

Nonetheless, Aronson acknowledges that there have been no significant changes in Israel's blockade policy. At best, the Israelis have made "one-off concessions" in the past year to allow certain building materials, such as glass, to enter Gaza, he said. These small gestures do not provide sustained relief or allow for real growth within the territory, but rather keep Gaza on the perpetual brink of a humanitarian crisis.

"It's not an inherently stable situation," Aronson said. "It works until it fails."

Or, until the fury in Gaza finally boils over.