A Palestinian boy cries as he arrives at his home after walking through puddles in Shati refugee camp in Gaza City February 19, 2012
(Image by REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa) Permission Details DMCA
Even before the latest crisis resulting from a severe shortage of electricity and diesel fuel that is usually smuggled through Egypt, Gaza was rendered gradually uninhabitable. A comprehensive United Nations report last year said that if no urgent action were taken, Gaza would be "unlivable" by 2020. Since the report was issued in August 2012, the situation has grown much worse.
Over the years, especially since the tightening by Israel of the Gaza siege in 2007, the world has become accustomed to two realities: the ongoing multi-party scheme to weaken and defeat Hamas in Gaza, and Gaza's astonishing ability to withstand the inhumane punishment of an ongoing siege, blockade and war.
In the second war, Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was still in power. For the first time in many years, Egypt sided with the Palestinians. Because of this and stiff Palestinian resistance in Gaza, the strip miraculously prevailed. Gaza celebrated its victory, and Israel remained somewhat at bay -- while, of course, mostly failing to honor its side of the Cairo-brokered agreement of easing Gaza's economic hardship.
In relative terms, things seemed to be looking up for Gaza. The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt was largely opened, and both Egypt and the Hamas governments were in constant discussions regarding finding a sustainable economic solution to Gaza's many woes. But the ousting by General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of president Morsi on July 3 changed all of that. The Egyptian military cracked down with a vengeance by shutting down the border crossing and destroying 90-95% of all tunnels, which served as Gaza's main lifeline and allowed it to withstand the Israeli siege.
Hopes were shattered quickly, and Gaza's situation worsened like never before. Naturally, Cairo found in Ramallah, the de facto administrative capital of the State of Palestine, a willing ally that never ceased colluding with Israel in order to ensure that its Hamas rivals were punished, along with the population of the strip.
Citing Gaza officials, the New York Times reported on November 21 that 13 sewerage stations in the Gaza Strip have either overflowed or are close to overflowing, and 3.5 million cubic feet of raw sewage find their way to the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis. "The sanitation department may soon no longer be able to pump drinking water to Gaza homes," it reported.
Farid Ashour, the Director of sanitation at the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utilities, said the situation is disastrous. "We haven't faced a situation as dangerous as this time," he said. But the situation doesn't have to be as dangerous or disastrous as it currently is. It has in fact been engineered to be that way.
In an interview with the UN humanitarian news agency, IRIN, James W Rawley, the humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, depicted a disturbing scene in which the impact of the crisis has reached "all essential services, including hospitals, clinics, sewage and water pumping stations."
Israelis on the other hand, have been doing just fine since the last military encounter with Hamas.
"The past year was a great one," the Economist quoted the commander of Israel's division that "watches" Gaza, Brigadier Michael Edelstein. Due to the large drop in the number of rockets fired from Gaza in retaliation to Israeli attacks and continued siege (50 rockets this year, compared with 1,500 last year), "children in Israel's border towns can sleep in their beds, not in shelters, and no longer go to school in armored buses," according to the Economist on November 16.
"But Israel's reciprocal promise to help revive Gaza's economy has not been kept," it reported. Israel has done everything it its power to keep Gaza in crisis mode, from denying the strip solar panels so that they may generate their own electricity to blocking Gaza's exports. "In the meantime, Gaza is rotting away."
Desperate to find immediate remedies, Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh issued new calls to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a unity government. "Let's have one government, one parliament and one president," Haniyeh said in a recent speech, as quoted by Reuters. A Fatah spokesman, Ahmed Assaf, dismissed the call, for it "included nothing new."
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority decided to end its subsidy on any fuel shipped to Gaza via Israel, increasing the price to US$1.62 per liter from 79 cents. According to Ihab Bessisso of the Palestinian Authority, the decision to rescind Gaza's tax exemption on fuel was taken because sending cheap fuel to Gaza "was unfair to West Bank residents," according to The Times.