Gazans feel abandoned by all, including Hamas
Jihadist militants in northern Sinai, photo by AFP
By Oliver Miles, Al Shafie Miles, email newsletter
January 24, 2014
Events in the region have left Hamas more isolated than before and increased the pressure on Gaza, where some commentators predict an explosion. The humanitarian situation and living conditions generally in Gaza remain deplorable. A brief statement by the UN spokesman dated 24 December condemned recent violence causing deaths and injuries in both Israel and Gaza and called for restraint, the preservation of the ceasefire, and commitment to a two state solution to end the violence permanently.
Gaza lies between Israel and Sinai, at the mercy of developments in Israel and Egypt. Egypt under Mubarak was concerned above all to maintain the unpopular peace with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mursi had the same problem, but was a natural ally of Hamas. Events in Syria led Hamas, confident in Egypt, to abandon its traditional link with Damascus and its de facto alliance with Hizbullah. The anti-Muslim Brotherhood position of the new military-backed government in Egypt is a reversal which leaves Hamas politically isolated.
Egypt’s most serious internal security problems are in northern Sinai, adjoining Gaza, and Egypt accuses Hamas of backing al-Qa’ida-linked groups there, which Hamas denies. Reuters was told by Egyptian security officials that the Egyptian military rulers plan to undermine Hamas by supporting their political rival Fatah and anti-Hamas activity in Gaza. Since the military came to power last summer Egypt has destroyed most of the 1,200 tunnels used to transport food, weapons and goods of all kinds into Gaza, reinforcing the Israeli blockade. Asked why Egyptian intelligence is not going after Hamas now, another senior security official said: “Their day will come.” But Hamas has an estimated 20,000 fighters, with another 20,000 in its police and security forces, and long experience fighting Israel.
Two Palestinian militants were killed in northern Gaza by an Israeli air strike on 22 January, but according to both Israeli and Palestinian sources they belonged not to Hamas but to one of the militant splinter groups responsible for rocket and mortar attacks on Israel. Hamas claim to be taking measures to prevent “individual actions” and preserve a ceasefire.
The report below is from the Christian Science Monitor.
The deterioration in Gaza since Egypt cracked down on smuggling tunnels has left Hamas weakened – and looking to mend fences with Palestinian rival Fatah.
By Christa Case Bryant, Ahmed Aldabba, Christian Science Monitor
January 21, 2014
Gazan Adnan Abu Dalal, a father of seven, spent years dependent on aid after losing his job in Israel when the second intifada broke out.
He finally found work with a local construction company, but he was left jobless again this summer when Egypt cracked down on the smuggling tunnels along Gaza’s southern border. The tunnels secured nearly 70 percent of Gazans’ commercial needs, including construction materials, as well as cheap Egyptian fuel that powered everything from generators to wastewater treatment plants.
While life here has been hard for years, there has been a distinct deterioration in recent months. Electricity is down to eight hours a day or less; prices have spiked; the streets have been flooded with sewage on multiple occasions; and unemployment has shot up to 43 percent, up from 23 percent in the first half of 2013.
Digging for water in Gaza. What is found is usually brackish and contaminated.
“I believe pet animals abroad have better lives than ours. I don’t care if Hamas or Fatah rule, what I need is a bright future for my children,” says Mr. Abu Dalal, who says he is embarrassed that they have to wear last year’s school uniforms because he couldn’t afford new ones. “The government is careless and the other Arab and foreign countries are doing nothing to end our suffering.”
The deterioration comes as Hamas finds itself increasingly squeezed between Israel and Egypt, both of which have been hit hard by terrorist groups operating in the Sinai peninsula and in recent months have improved military cooperation to tackle the mutual threat. As both countries crack down on terrorist links between Hamas-run Gaza and Sinai, frustration with the increasingly poor conditions in this crowded coastal territory could boil over, presenting an additional threat both to Hamas and its neighbors.
“It’s probably the Egyptians to blame, but Israel cannot bury its head in the sand because it does have consequences for Israel as well – there may be spillover from growing frustration of Palestinians,” says leading Israeli defense reporter Amos Harel.
Over the past week, there has been an escalation of rocket fire between Gaza and Israel, with a Katyusha attack on the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon last week prompting an Israeli strike on Islamic Jihad operative Ahmad Saad. Hamas is reportedly deploying troops to the Israel-Gaza border to prevent rocket attacks by other factions in the Strip, but that may not be enough to cork the bottled-up frustration. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas today that Israel would respond forcefully if the spate of rocket attacks did not cease.
“Will [the situation] blow up?” asks Harel. “I think we already see the signs that this is where it’s heading. It’s no longer a drizzle of one rocket per day.”
It’s not just causing tensions with Israel, though. It is also putting significant pressure on the Hamas government. Seven years after violently ousting its secular Fatah rivals from the Gaza Strip, Hamas is finding itself in a much weaker position in reconciliation talks.
“Anger with Hamas is boiling, which is basically causing Hamas to rethink its current policy toward Palestinians,” says Mukhaimer Abu Saada, professor of political science at Gaza’s Al Azhar University.
Pushed toward reconciliation
Last week, Hamas released seven Fatah activists from prison in an effort, leaders said, to create a better atmosphere for reconciliation. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh also announced that his government would allow Fatah members to return to Gaza.
“Such steps are good and welcomed, but we have an agreement that we both accepted and signed, so I invite Hamas to start implementing them,” says Faisal Abu Shalha, a Fatah legislator in Gaza.
Those agreements include recognizing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as interim prime minister of a unity government that would prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections within 90 days of its formation.
“In the past, Hamas had the strength to maneuver and imply its conditions to reach a reconciliation deal,” says Prof. Abu Saada. “But now Hamas will have to accept any proposal and give concessions that the movement considered red lines in the past.”
The timing of Hamas’s outreach may have something to do with the US-led peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, says Talal Okal, a political analyst in Gaza. If a peace agreement is reached when Hamas and Fatah are cooperating, Hamas is more likely to share the political gains and gain international acceptance. It could also partake in the windfall that donors have promised the Palestinian Authority if it signs a peace agreement.
Hamas may also feel less popular pressure to campaign for one of its founding principles: the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation, which many Gazans have stopped talking about. Their conversations now are all about the shortages; shortages of food, gas, electricity, freedom of movement, and human dignity – demonstrating that it’s not just economic troubles that weigh on Gazans’ minds.
No essentials are on tap for Palestinians in Gaza; water, gas (above) and petrol have to be fetched in barrels and carried home, usually by children.
“Money has never been a problem for me, but what would money do for me at war times?” asks Khaled, a young accountant with a BMW and a villa who is thinking of taking a job in Qatar, even though the salary is much lower. “What would money do when I can’t go out of Gaza whenever I need to? You may buy a car, an apartment or modern clothes with money, but you can’t buy freedom with money.”
Changing regional dynamic
In 2011, Hamas abandoned its longtime allies Syria and Hezbollah, thinking that Egypt’s ascendant Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies such as Turkey and Qatar would provide badly needed aid and help bolster its legitimacy.
But after the Egyptian coup this summer, Cairo has openly said it is cracking down not only on the Brotherhood, but Hamas as well. In addition to destroying tunnels, Egypt has also severely limited Gazans’ ability to exit at Rafah, Gaza’s main access to the outside world.
Israel responded by easing restrictions on people and goods moving through the two crossings it controls, Erez and Kerem Shalom, though with minimal impact. In August, for example, Israel allowed 24 percent more entries through Erez, but that compensated for only 6.5 percent of the Rafah decrease, according to Gisha, an Israeli NGO focusing on Palestinian freedom of movement.
Many Gazans still blame Israel for what they see as a policy of collective punishment carried out in concert with Egypt.
“The people are the ones who really suffer. They have been penalized for doing nothing. By doing this, Israel is not only harming Hamas, but also the common people who are being impoverished by the blockade,” says Jamal Khodaty, an independent legislator in Gaza. “The closure has caused social, economic, psychological, and ecology disasters to Gaza. The international should stop speaking about the blockade and start working to lift it, actions speak louder than words.”
The first solar power project to generate electricity in Gaza schools has been installed by Gaza’s ministry of education in collaboration with Islamic Relief.
By Hazem Balousha, translated by Steffi Chakti, Al Monitor/Palestine Pulse
January 22, 2014
Abir al-Hurqali got dressed and put on makeup as she prepared to leave her house in the Shujaiyya neighborhood of Gaza City to attend her cousin’s wedding. The ceremony was being held in a wedding hall in another part of the city. Hurqali was shocked when she tried to operate her electric wheelchair only to discover that the battery had died and needed recharging, which would take at least an hour.
When she tried to recharge the battery, Hurqali realized that the electricity was off. This left her frustrated, since she was the last person in her family to leave the house. She had to call one of her neighbors to give her a ride to the main street, where she could take a cab to the wedding. The side street leading to her home was not designed to accommodate cars, so cabs could not drive to her door.
Hurqali is one of Gaza’s many physically disabled residents. She uses her electric wheelchair on a daily basis to go to university, where she is majoring in multimedia studies. Her movement, however, is often restrained by electricity outages. Every time she wants to go somewhere, she has to check whether the battery will last long enough to get her to her destination and then back home.
“I have struggled a lot with the continuous electricity outages,” Hurqali told Al-Monitor. “Frequently, I can’t leave the house because the wheelchair battery is dead and or doesn’t have enough power for me to reach my destination.”
“Recently, I began calculating the time it takes me to reach my destination and how much power will be left in the battery, since it has died on me in the middle of the road more than once. When this happened, I had to call one of my family members to pick me up in a cab and take me to the closest place that has electricity available to recharge the battery,” she said.
Gaza has suffered from a severe electricity shortage since mid-2006, after Israel bombed the territory’s only power plant. The crisis was then compounded by the political disputes between Hamas and Fatah and issues surrounding importing the industrial fuel required for the movements’ operations. Electricity is provided for eight hours a day, and is periodically cut for another eight hours.
As part of a project implemented by the Salam Club for the disabled in Gaza, a few months ago Hurqali received a solar panel to recharge her wheelchair battery when electricity is unavailable from the grid. It has been a great help to her.
Hurqali offered, “Now I go to university without any problem. I don’t think about recharging the battery using electricity, because I have my solar panel. It restored [the usefulness of] my wheelchair after I thought for years that it was useless. Now I can go anywhere without having to calculate how much battery power is still left.”
Gaza: A solar-powered oven, panel supplied by the UN, used by Fatheya to dry fruits and herbs for local sale.
Many Gazans have started to rely on solar energy to generate electricity as a replacement for other methods, such as generators that operate on fuel imported from Israel. Gaza is struggling with a scarcity of fuel, in addition to its high price, after smuggling through tunnels on the Egyptian border ceased in mid-2013.
Ali Hussein, an engineer and owner of a company involved in solar energy, told Al-Monitor that the demand for solar energy systems has been increasing among Gazans. The high price of the systems, however, limit the purchasing power of many residents.
According to Hussein, the cheapest system for home use costs around $1,350, an extremely high price for the majority of Palestinians in Gaza. The system can provide lighting for hours and operate television sets and other light electrical appliances.
Some public institutions recently began to rely on solar systems in some of their facilities. At the Nasr Children’s Hospital, the nursery for premature children relies completely on such a system. In addition, the water-pumping station in Khan Younis is currently functioning on solar power as are some schools in the Gaza.
In general, systems that use solar energy are categorized as negative or positive, depending on the way they use and transform solar energy and distribute it. The technologies using a positive solar energy system involve the use of photovoltaic panels and a solar thermal collector, in addition to electrical and mechanical devices, to transform sunlight into a useful form of energy.
Gaza resident Ayman Ayyad said that 70% of the energy used in his home is solar. After a long struggle with the ongoing electricity outages, he turned to solar power eight months ago. The outages were particularly hard on him because he has a lung disease and must operate a ventilator every few hours.
“I feel relatively better now in terms of electricity. I no longer struggle [to operate my ventilator] since I installed the solar energy system at home. Although it was very expensive, costing more than $4,000, my need for electricity is priceless because of my medical ventilator,” he told Al-Monitor.
Gazans have been trying to find alternative means to alleviate the electricity problem since it emerged. At first, they relied on small, fuel-operated generators, and then they turned to rechargeable batteries, called inverters, and used for lighting. The current trend appears to be toward solar energy, but financial hardship is impeding it from becoming widespread.
Notes and links
The water is running out in Gaza: Humanitarian catastrophe looms as territory’s only aquifer fails,
Middle East Children’s Alliance, reposted from Independent, 2013
You can donate to the Gaza appeal of the British Shalom-Salaam Trust, JfJfP’s sister organisation. To do this, please go to the donation page where the various ways of sending funds to BSST are explained. BSST needs to know that your gift is for Gaza, so if you choose an electronic method of donation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to say that you have made a donation for Gaza.
or you could give to the Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) appeal
The ‘Gaza to run out of drinking water by 2016′ petition produced by Thirsting for Justice and run by Avaaz hopes for more signatures. Send this to others, and if you haven’t signed yet, click here. The number of signatures has crept up very slowly since September 26th 8,731 by Sunday November 17th, 9,837 by January 12th and 9,883 by January 19th. They hope to reach 100,000 to present it to EU leaders.
To the United Nations, the European Union, the Quartet, the Arab League & Israel: We demand that you end the blockade and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, ensure the free flow of supplies by land, sea or air, and help to broker the ceasefire which civilians on both sides desperately need.
This petition aims to get 150,000 signatures. It had 109,257 on January 16, 2014. Click headline above to sign.
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Gaza drinking water petition
Click headline above to sign the petition.
The Thirsting for Justice campaign for Palestinian water rights needs your help! If this petition reaches 100,000 signatures, campaign ambassadors will lobby European governments and deliver them your signatures, and demand that they take concrete action. Don’t wait until Gaza’s aquifer collapses, sign this petition now, and help us to ensure water rights for Gaza!
Gaza’s population of 1.6 million Palestinians are without clean drinking water. The only source of water they can access—the underground water aquifer—is being over-utilized and is now highly polluted with sea water and sewage intrusion. The UN warns that unless a solution is found to provide Gaza with safe and affordable water, Gaza’s aquifer will become unusable by 2016, and irreversibly damaged by 2020.
Today, only 5% of the water Gazans extract from the Coastal aquifer is now safe to drink. Most families in Gaza are forced to buy drinking water from private companies at high cost, with some paying as much as a third of their income on water.
The portion of the Coastal aquifer running beneath Gaza represents only a small percentage of the total freshwater resources available to Israelis and Palestinians. Israel continues to exploit 90% of the available freshwater for exclusive Israeli use – particularly the underground Mountain aquifer in the occupied West Bank – while Palestinians have access to less than 10%. It does so in violation of international water law, which calls for these resources to be shared “equitably and reasonably” between Palestinians and Israelis.
There is a solution, and it starts with the implementation of Palestinian water rights. If Palestinians have access to their rightful share of the available water resources, and if Israel lifts its blockade over the Gaza Strip, which restricts water imports as well as the entry of materials and goods needed to upgrade and repair its deteriorating water infrastructure, many of Gaza’s water problems would be solved.