The suffering of Gazans continues
It has been 70 years since the creation of Israel and 101 years since the Balfour Declaration, calling for a national home for Jews in the former Ottoman lands. On whatever occasion the beginning of the longest running land dispute in the Middle East is dated, the Arab-Israeli conflict has undoubtedly dominated modern politics in the region, as well as created recurring scenes of humanitarian disasters. Today, the focus of the struggle is the Gaza Strip, the 365 square kilometers of self-governing coastal enclave where 1.9 million Palestinians live in horrid conditions and an absolute Israeli blockade since 2007.
The rectangular strip was under the custody of Egypt until Israel formally occupied it after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. One year after the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the election victory of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) led to sanctions and later the Israeli and Egyptian blockade when Hamas forcefully removed Palestinian National Authority (PA) representatives from the district and took over its governance.
For Israel, Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel, disavow violent actions and accept the previous agreements between Israel and the PA was the main reasons for the blockade, while Egypt worried that Hamas’ control would mean an increase of Iranian influence in the strip and the weakening of the legitimacy of the PA. The latter and the failure of repeated attempts at national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, two opposing Palestinian factions, also explains the reluctance of the PA to escalate its quarrel with Israel on account of Gaza.
Besides political squabbles, the years of blockade in effect meant incalculable human suffering for the Palestinians stranded thereö as the living conditions have gradually deteriorated over the years. Today, 64 percent of the strip’s population are in need of humanitarian assistance according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
With living conditions declining considerably in recent years, Gaza has experienced periodicly violent confrontations between Israel and Hamas. The latest tension began when Palestinians started to mobilize for the “Great March of Return” protests in front of the border fence from March 30 onwards to emphasize their right to return to their homes in the Israeli occupied Palestinian territories. The protests were meant to peak on the day of the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence on May 14, which was irresponsibly chosen by United States President Donald Trump as the day to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Fifty-three Palestinians had been killed during the protests along the border until May 14, when 62 more were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded by Israeli soldiers in a single day, which is the highest number since the 2014 Gaza War, known as Operation Protective Edge in Israel. While Israel argued for its right to defend the border against mass infiltration and accused Hamas for triggering the events, there was a widespread international condemnation for its disproportionate use of force. The U.N. Human Rights Council voted on May 18 to set up an independent investigation. While the U.S. and Australia voted against the resolution, 29 members were in favor with 14 abstentions.
Although a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah was reached on October 12, 2017, after a decade of a political rift, it is still early to expect radical change for the Palestinian unity until the general elections at the end of this year, as agreed by main Palestinian factions led by Fatah and Hamas. Still, the future is uncertain as most Palestinian youth are equally frustrated and distrustful of both groups. In the meantime, the suffering of ordinary Gazans continues daily while the world at large watches.