LET us look at the facts before the latest Israeli operation in Gaza. According to United Nations data back in 2012, the five year blockade had turned the region's economic situation topsy-turvy. 34% of its workforce was unemployed, 44% of Gaza residents were food insecure and 8 out of 10 Gazans were dependent on aid for survival. In 2011, per capita GDP was “17% below the equivalent figure in 2005, before the last Palestinian elections.” On the export side in that same year, less than one truckload of goods exited Gaza per day, which was 3% less than the average amount of exports during the first half of 2007. A third of Gaza's farmlands and 85% of its fishing waters were made inaccessible by Israeli-imposed restrictions. There were massive shortages of fuel and electricity cuts experienced by Gazans went up to 12 hours a day. The situation was equally grim on the health front with 90% of the water pumped out of the Gaza aquifer being unsafe for human consumption (without treatment).
The situation has gotten much, much worse since the fighting broke out this time round. With “collective punishment” being the Israeli strategy, Gaza's built-up area, which is already one of the most densely populated areas in the world (according to 2012 data: over 4,500 people per square km) has suffered immensely and the humanitarian cost is all but plain to see. When the fighting is over and the time comes for Gazans to look at the carnage left behind, they will experience a fresh wave of despair. Things were bad enough before, but with the economic blockade still in force, there are serious questions whether the Gaza can be rebuilt at all. A devastated infrastructure with essential utilities like water and electricity in tatters, it explains why some 80% of Gaza strip's estimated 1.7million residents fall below the $2 poverty line.
In order for the Gaza government to restore its infrastructure and economy, the blockade will have to go. It will have to be lifted for other reasons that are not economic in nature. For Israel's primary security concern is to secure safety for its citizens. That purpose has gone down the drain. Perhaps Israeli Premier Netanyahu was under the impression that if Israel's defence forces pounded the Palestinians hard enough, they would abandon Hamas. The exact opposite has happened. Fathers and mothers who will have to live with the pain of seeing their children die in their arms, from sniper fire, from shells crashing into their homes; and children, shell shocked and dazed will live with the horrors of war. The only thing beating in their hearts will be revenge -- an opportunity to settle the score, “an eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth,” a line condoned by Hamas and not by Fattah. Israel has in effect restored Hamas' political fortunes. The next generation of hard-line fighters have been created -- much to the glee of Hamas's political leadership.
As stated by Maha Yahya (Senior Associate, Carnegie Middle East Center) in a recent article: “The end of the blockade is a central point of contention and a critical component of any sustainable ceasefire agreement. It is also crucial to addressing the tremendous challenges of rebuilding the lives and livelihoods of Palestinians in Gaza, and to longer-term development, stability, even security.” What is now amply clear is that the blockade has failed to deliver on what Israel values most, and that is security. It has, on the other hand, been extremely successful in driving Gaza's economy to the ground and help build a well of resentment of ordinary Palestinians against Israel. This has been a boon for Hamas.
There is no reason to be relieved to see the current ceasefire holding. With the blockade in place, there is little prospect for Gazans to rebuild their shattered lives and their city. If it is Israel's hope that the latest “collective treatment” meted out by its security forces will have subdued the Palestinians, they are sorely mistaken. If it is a lasting peace that the Israeli government and its citizens want, they will have to rethink the whole blockade business that has hampered not only growth of infrastructure, but robbed an entire population of its livelihood.
There were no innocents among incumbents in this conflict. Both the Israeli establishment and Hamas are equally guilty of hindering peaceful settlement of this conflict. Hamas's insistence on the destruction of Israel has not helped the situation, nor has Israel's total disregard for human rights that comes through its indiscriminate shelling and firing on a largely defenceless population. Forget about a negotiated, long term peace treaty along the two-state solution.
Contrary to Israeli calculations, the horrendous human suffering caused by this war has the bulk of Gazans rallying to the Hamas cause. Even after all the suffering, Palestinians and Israeli negotiators still cannot sit face to face, they need Egyptian mediators rushing from room to room to carry proposals and counter proposals from one party to the other. That is not how you make peace; rather, that is how you negotiate a temporary lull in the fighting.
The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.