Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The State of Gaza #1: An Introduction

Few peoples of the modern day have been subjected to the type of oppression faced by the Gazan community. In this three part series, we will take a look at the dire economic and social welfare conditions the people of Gaza are living under. 

Gaza, Palestine is one of the most troubled areas not just in the Middle East (which, today, really is saying something), but in the world. In the first part of our 'State of Gaza' series, we will be introducing some of the points of context key to understanding the economic and welfare situation in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is part of Palestine, but it is separated geographically from the larger part of the nation, known as the West Bank. Now the West Bank has its own issues, but Gaza, being a region isolated from its mother country and surrounded instead by unfriendly Egyptian and Israeli neighbours, faces a number of unique problems.

If we're talking about context, it's key to understand that Gaza is small. Really small. If you heard that it had a landmass of 141 square miles (about the size of Bath and North East Somerset in the UK, or Detroit in the USA), you may not think it was too small. But, fill those 141 square miles with over 1.8 million people (1.2m of whom are refugees), and you have the recipe for one of the most densely populated lands in the world. For comparison, Detroit has a population of less than 700,000, Bath and North East Somerset 182,000.

Israeli government policy has played, and continues to play, a key role in making Gaza even more cramped. For example, in 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established a 'buffer zone of 3km from Gaza's border- effectively outlawing 44% of Gaza's habitable land, and forcing 250,000 Palestinians to move inland or face intense bombing that has sadly become all too familiar in the region.

What has been an even bigger barrier to any economic or social welfare progress has been the blockade enforced by Israel since 2007. Made in response to Hamas' election victory in 2006, the blockade prevents key materials and aid needed for development from  Gaza, whether from land, air or sea. Israel has been desperate to prevent Gazans from benefiting from any sort of supplies- even going as far as to infamously intercept and board a Turkish aid ship en route to Gaza, killing 9 aid workers and detaining 600.

The severe blockade has been repeatedly condemned by various global authorities, including the United Nations and the World Bank, but little tangible action has been taken to actually push for the policy to be withdrawn.

Israel's oppression of Gaza has gone further than restricting resources from entering, however, to actually destroying the place. The buffer zones mentioned earlier are far from the only areas feeling the force of Israeli weaponry. Periods of concentrated violence have become far too common, such as in 2014 when a 50 day assault by Israel's air force on Gaza killed 2,100 Palestinians.

Noam Chomsky, an outspoken critic of Israeli's policies regarding Palestine, claims such violence is cyclical in nature, part of what Israel itself has called "mowing the lawn": "The regular pattern is for Israel, to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it," he states in a 2014 article for "Until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality."
Israeli air strikes have caused huge devastation in Gaza.

Considering the tiny, packed nature of Gaza, and it is inevitable to anyone, let alone the Israeli military, that civilian deaths are inevitable in the case of air strikes. No matter how 'targeted' you claim your strikes can be, in such a densely populated area, it's almost impossible to avoid any civilian casualties. Yet the aerial onslaught has continued and is ongoing. Israel has even bombed UN relief areas, such as schools and hospitals- but again, while this has been vocally condemned by world powers, little has been done to resolve the issue itself.

Of course the most significant damage of this bombing has been the loss of life- but it has also disrupted the limited educations of the youth of Gaza, the healthcare system, and the economy as a whole, as we will go on to see.

The blockade, the bombing, and the sheer population density of Gaza's landmass has earned the region the tragic reputation of being known to many as "the world's largest open air prison". As a result, looking at the everyday lives and welfare of the Gazan people makes for interesting, though depressing, as we shall find out over the next week.

Join us for next week's article, in which we will be discussing welfare in Gaza.
Mohammad M Lone Editor

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