Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Plight of Gaza

With tensions running high, our man in Gaza says that Gaza’s problems have not been helped by a series of air and tank strikes from Israel, the last on the morning of Thursday, 9 January 2014. However, our Tel Aviv members explain that these were in response to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel at the time of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Israel. The counter attacks by Israel killed one Palestinian and wounded several others. The death of Ariel Sharon has now heightened fears of an escalation in violence. Again Palestinians struck Israel with rocket fire that morning but the onslaught was brief.

Meanwhile the overall situation in the Gaza Strip is deemed by Hamas as one of Gaza’s lowest points in almost 40 years. Late December saw a heavy winter storm, known as “Alexa”, wreak havoc across the entire Middle East. Snow in Syria put further strain on stricken families who have little protection against the cold in areas such as rural Damascus, while Egypt and Cairo saw snow for the first time in 112 years.

However, it is Gaza where the effects of Mother Nature were felt hardest. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) for Palestine Refugees said that large swathes of Gaza had "water as far as the eye can see". More than 5,000 people were evacuated from their homes and relocated to schools and other temporary shelters because of severe floods after four days of persistent rainfall. Some Gaza homes could only be accessed by rowing boat.

People found themselves trapped in their own homes fighting against the rising water and cold temperatures.

Around two-thirds of Gaza’s estimated 1.8 million population (there are no accurate figures) are classified by the United Nations as refugees from the 1948 war. One refugee camp, in the north of the strip, at Jabaliya, was completely flooded with water rising up to 2m (6.5 ft) in places. Raw sewage mixed with flood waters also greatly increased the risk of disease. According to NCF members in Palestine, parts of Ramallah, El Bireh and Bethlehem, as well as East Jerusalem also experienced power outages of the kind that are already commonplace in Gaza.

Even prior to the adverse weather conditions, Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants had been enduring daily electrical blackouts. These power cuts now regularly last between 12 and 16 hours with many homes left without power altogether in the aftermath of storm Alexa. Our members in Gaza say that though electrical power has now recovered, outages remain common every eight hours.
Initial assessments of storm damage indicate a $64 million price tag on the swathe of destruction from the storm. Qatar has stated it will allocate between $5 and $10 million in aid to Gaza residents in addition to the $450 million worth of constructional projects it is already developing in Palestine. Israel’s Mekorot water utility service has sent four water pumps into Gaza to help control the flooding, which has allowed some residents to return to their virtually destroyed homes. In recent days aid has arrived from Turkey.

Though the flooding has now subsided, hundreds of people are still struggling to return to their homes. 
Politically, Gaza remains beset by the difficult relationship between Hamas and Fatah, who are currently locked in debate over the timing of the next Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. The squabble has now reached trivial proportions. According to our man in Gaza, Hamas are seeking for elections to be held six months after any agreement is reached on Government Unity between themselves and Fatah. On the other hand Fatah want polls three months after any agreement. 

Some respite from Gaza’s troubles has been offered in the shape of the opening of roads between Gaza and Egypt in the last fortnight, with 300 refugees being allowed to leave Gaza thus far but relationships between Egypt and Gaza remain tense.