The Gaza Strip, or simply Gaza, is a Palestinian region on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. For 11 km, it borders Egypt in the south west. There is Israel on its east and north along a 51 km border. This small sliver of land of 360 sq km has 1.8 million people, of whom 98 % are Sunni Muslims. It generates a GDP of $ 6.6 billion and a per capita GDP of $ 6,000. Gaza has a 4,000 year history when various dynasties, empires and peoples ruled it.
Gaza expanded in the first half of the 20th century under mandatory Palestine. But after the 1948 Arab Israeli war, the population of the enclave exploded with Palestinian refugees. Israel occupied it in the Six Day war. But under the Oslo Accords Gaza was given over to the newly established Palestinian National Authority. In 2007, Hamas, a militant organisation seeking full independence from Israel, became the sole governing authority there. Israel could not tolerate existence of such an organisation so close to its territory and imposed many curbs on the movement of the people of Gaza. In 2008-9, Israel militarily attacked Gaza, killed 3,000 people and destroyed 4,000 buildings. Ever since then, Gaza has been periodically attacked by Israel to terrorise the people there.
Gaza is, therefore like, a major prison camp. The 1.8 million people who are crammed into 360 sq km are unable to move from Gaza to the West Bank or other areas and are subject to great harassment and abuse. Israel controls its airspace, territorial water and border crossings. Only Gaza's border with Egypt is open.
There is asymmetrical killing in Gaza too. More Palestinians are killed by Israeli rocket fire than the number killed by Hamas missiles. Thirty or more Israelis have been killed this time round against 800 or more Gazans killed till yesterday.
Since 2006, Israel has been 'collectively punishing' the people of Gaza for electing a Hamas government. It considers Hamas a 'terrorist organisation' bent on doing away with illegal Israeli settlements along Gaza border. These settlements remain a direct threat to the security of the Gaza people. Israel has stopped supply of all daily essentials to the Gazans; simple things like coriander, ginger and even daily newspapers are not allowed in.
Due to this lack of supply of fresh food the children in Gaza are the most malnourished in the world. Together with this, the unemployment rate in Gaza is over 50% of the population. How can Israel claim to be a democratic country when it oppresses children and young men and women by denying them basic opportunities? Today, 30% of the people of Gaza are below the poverty line. The world has silently tolerated Israeli aggression on the people of Gaza with bated breath. The only crime that the people had committed was to elect a government of their choice.
So what is likely to take place in the coming weeks in Gaza? There is no doubt that more Gazans are likely to be killed by Israeli bombs, ground assault and deadly projectiles. More blood will be spilt and more humanitarian suffering for the people of Gaza is in store. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has clearly said that in spite of the great odds, the Palestinian and Hamas fighters have made gains against Israel. He now seeks a humanitarian truce but is not willing to agree to a ceasefire until the plight of the Gazans is eased. Hamas clearly wants the Israeli forces to lift the blockade they have around Gaza. It is willing to suffer unless the humanitarian aspects of the plight of the Gazans are mitigated.
All this puts the Israelis and the US in a serious bind. They want a quick end to the war as it is causing too much bad publicity for them. US Secretary of State John Kerry is shuttling between various Arab countries asking them to put pressure on Hamas. The US and Israel both consider Hamas a terrorist organisation and therefore do not talk directly to them. Hamas rejects any proposal that does not come to it directly from Israel or the US. The cease fire brokered by Egypt recently, therefore, failed in a few hours. Hamas was not consulted. Hamas also remains in a dilemma. There is much blood letting and loss of lives of civilians. How long it can bear the brunt of this oppression is also matter of serious concern to Hamas.
An interesting development has been that Hamas has been able to inflict increasing losses on the Israeli military. Already, over 40 military men have been killed. This is making the military realise that the hostility cannot be allowed to persist. Another development is the banning of flights to Tel Aviv airport by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This is a body blow to the Israeli economy as tourism to Israel has already dropped and the economy has started to suffer. Hamas, by use of its missiles, has been able to threaten the air space of Israel and close it down. However, the FAA ban is likely to be lifted, if it has not already been. But Hamas has shown that it has the deadly capability to cripple the Israeli economy if it needs to.
Israel has also discovered that Hamas has dug many more underground tunnels between its borders and Egypt, and is able to smuggle sophisticated arms and ammunition into Gaza. The tunnels are also much more undetectable. This has sent fear through the spine of the Israelis. Finally, Hamas missiles are now long distance and getting increasingly accurate. This is keeping the entire Israeli population at bay.
For the first time in many decades the people of Gaza are seeing some hope for their future. If they are able to force the Israeli to agree to more humanitarian terms to a cease fire, and also if effective steps can be ensured to stop attacks on Gaza, there is every reason for the Gazans to stop crying and face the Israeli attacks a little longer to break the back of the camel. So don't cry Gaza, let us see the end of the conflict. This could be the silver lining that had eluded the Gazans for so long.
The writer is a former Ambassador and a commentator on current affairs.