Sleepless in Sderot & Shuja’iya

 

Israelis hiding in a bomb shelter. Many families in the South of Israel could not leave them for days. (via Flickr/IDF)
Israelis hiding in a bomb shelter. Many families in the South of Israel could not leave them for days. (via Flickr/IDF)
During a brief ceasefire on 27 July, families return to Shuja'iya, or what's left of it (via Flickr/Oxfam International)
During a brief ceasefire on 27 July, families return to Shuja’iya, or what’s left of it (via Flickr/Oxfam International)

Today, 17 August, the Israeli government and Hamas are still in an uneasy truce, officially begun on 5 August. Much of the Israeli army in Gaza has been withdrawn, leaving a rubble-strewn mess. This has come after 28 days of “Operation Protective Edge”, the Israeli Defense Force’s name for this particular episode of “The Gaza Diaries.” For almost 2 months now, ever since the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers on 12 June, the media world has been exploding with opinions: ire, condemnation, and angry calls for support have culminated to create two lobbies, one for either side of the conflict. Both stand opposite each other, heated and feral, flinging rancid bits of misinformation and propaganda back and forth, some of which occasionally hits onlookers.

What can you do, then, when half the stuff you read online says that all Israelis have Shabbat dinners with the devil himself, while the other half claims that most Palestinians love Hamas’ spinoff of the classic 90’s rom-com, “10 Things I Hate About Jews”? (Hamas has, actually, published a music video on YouTube encouraging death to Zionists and the destruction of Israel. It’s catchy.)

Outside the Bubble is here to help. We do not profess to be professionals, or expert political analysts – we’re just a former radio show, standing in front of a scrutinizing audience, asking it to love us. (Or at least take a look at what we present.)

Below is a comprehensive briefing on the history of Hamas and the Gaza Strip, Israel’s current administration, and Israel’s current policies on Gaza. We try to filter out buzzwords and stick to what is explicitly proven: names, dates, policies are explained in basic terms, with little to no frill. Every section will have a “Sparknotes” version at the bottom, in bold, for those of you with little time for nuance.

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Hamas Revealed

Hamas poster showcasing a fighter posing with a picture of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (via Wikimedia Commons)
Hamas poster showcasing a fighter posing with a picture of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (via Wikimedia Commons)
  • For a few years after the 1967 war with Egypt (in which Israel appropriated the Gaza Strip), Israel not only tolerated but also encouraged Islamic activism in Gaza in order to counterbalance the secular Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), which it was fighting at the time.
  • This benefitted Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, setting the basis for his establishment of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yassin was peaceful towards Israel during the 1970s, the main enemy at the time being Fatah, the dominant faction of the PLO.
  • Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamic group that is considered a terrorist organisation by the US, EU and Israel, among other nations. It’s 1988 Covenant calls for the destruction of Israel and everyone in it, and the creation of a Palestinian state in its place, governed by Muslim law. It claims that to die in pursuit of this goal is honorable, and that any peaceful initiatives that may call for compromise are manifestly sacrilegious – “The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [Holy Possession] consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. No one can renounce it or any part, or abandon it or any part of it.’ (Article 11)”[1]
  • The First Intifada in 1987 led Yassin, who was the former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, and six others to found Hamas. However, it was not until 1989 that Hamas first attacked Israel, who at the time was still focused on fighting Fatah and had retained ties with Islamic activists in Gaza. The Israel Defence Forces arrested Yassin and deported several members of Hamas to South Lebanon. This is when Hamas began to build ties to Hezbollah, nourishing their anti-Israeli ideology.
  • In 1992 Hamas created a military branch, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigades (Al-Qassam Brigades), whose main goal at the time was to block the Oslo peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
  • The Brigades went on to attack Israeli soldiers and civilians, mainly suicide bombings and mortar attacks on Israeli towns in the South. From 1993-2002, dozens of suicide bombers managed to detonate and kill/injure Israelis in big cities such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva, and Netanya, detonating on sidewalks, in universities, and other civilian centers. Hundreds of civilians were killed due to suicide bombing, many of them women and children. A lot of the Brigade leadership was taken out in 2009 by Israeli forces.
  • In 2005, following the withdrawal of Israeli settlements in August, the Brigades, and Hamas, declared a ceasefire with Israel. The US and the EU were busy preparing Mahmoud Abbas (who had been appointed leader of the PLO by his controversial predecessor Yasir Arafat, following a 2003 UN, US, and EU ‘Road Map for Peace’ initiative) 2006 elections to the Palestinian Representative Council (PRC), which Hamas was also running for. Hamas won the 2006 legislative elections with 74 out of the 132 seats. Its victory is largely attributed to the social reforms and policies it initiated for Palestinians, who saw Fatah as corrupt, secular, and kowtowing to the West. Following its victory, Hamas activists announced that they would call off the campaign of suicide bombings in Israel.
  • Though Fatah won 45 seats and a reasonable  (42%) percentage of the popular vote, the fact that Hamas now had a legislative majority led the US, EU, Russia, and UK (aka the Middle East Quarter) to demand that the organization recognize Israel, stop violence, and respect previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. It refusal to explicitly do so led the Quartet to halt financial aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in April 2006. The resulting economic crisis led to a major recession and skirmishes between armed factions of Fatah and Hamas.
  • In the beginning of 2007, Mahmoud Abbas, the President of Fatah, and Khalid Meshal, the leader of Hamas (who was in Mecca at the time) decided to sign an agreement forming a national unity government, with Ismail Haniyyeh of Hamas as Prime Minister. The government’s aim was to create a Palestinian state with pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital. It did not formally recognize Israel nor condemn violence as a means of achieving its goals.
  • However, without economic aid from the Quartet, poverty increased and conditions worsened in Gaza, culminating in the 2007 Battle of Gaza, which ended when President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed Haniyyeh from his position on 14 June created a new, Fatah-led cabinet for the PA under PM Salam Fayyad.
  • Haniyyeh ignored Abbas’ decision and continued to rule the Gaza Strip with Hamas, beginning years of bloody in-fighting between Fatah and Hamas members in the Gaza Strip. Israel imposed a strict blockade on the Gaza Strip due to Hamas rule, which is still in place.
  • In 2012 Hamas and Fatah declared that they would work together to peacefully resist Israel and agreed on the establishment of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders if Israel stopped building settlements. However, in 2013 no concrete agreement was reached between Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
  • Fatah therefore continues to manage the West Bank, while Hamas has reign in the Gaza Strip. Western nations, as well as many advocates for peace in Israel, still consider Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as a key player in a negotiated peace. However, at 79, Abbas is old and threatening retirement. Technically, his term as president expired in 2009 – he is no longer considered President of the PA by the Haniyyeh government in the Gaza Strip, who sees the post as being filled by spokesperson for the PRC, Aziz Duwaik. Duwaik was arrested in June 2014 by the Israeli government following the kidnapping of the 3 Israeli teenagers in a West Bank settlement.

Sparknotes version: Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamic organization-turned political actor in the Gaza Strip. It funded dozens of suicide bombings in Israel  and actively opposes the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is considered by international actors as the legitimate head of the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, Hamas also used some of its funding to provide social programs, healthcare, and education (religious, largely extremist) and education to the people of Gaza, in conjunction with many Muslim charities. Hence, in the 2006 legislative elections for the Palestinian Representative Council, Hamas won a majority of seats. This led to the Middle East Quartet (UN, US, EU, Russia) to stop funding the PA, which led to a recession and infighting between Hamas and Fatah. A brief national unity government in February 2007 ended the fighting, but worsening living conditions for Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank caused Mahmoud Abbas, President of the PLO, to fire the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyyeh and appoint a new PM for the PA. Haniyyeh ignored Abbas’ decision and he and Hamas continued to rule the Gaza Strip. In 2012 a brief unity government was formed between the two, but it fell apart soon after. Hamas does not recognize Abbas as President of the PA as of 2009. It still does not recognize Israel as a legitimate state, and has begun and maintained an indiscriminately violent campaign of missiles and individual attacks 

1600px-Flag_of_Hamas.svg
Flag of Hamas via Wikimedia Commons

[1] http://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/880818a.htm

Sources cited:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/apr/09/israel; http://www.economist.com/node/21526779

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Basics on the Israeli Government 

The Israeli Knesset (Parliament)
The Israeli Knesset (Parliament) via Wikimedia Commons
  • Israel’s current Prime Minister is Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Netanyahu is currently serving his third term as Prime Minister, with the previous two terms being from 1996-1999, and 2009-2013. Netanyahu is the leader of the Likud party, considered right-wing in Israel due to its neoliberal economic policies and its religio-nationalistic policies*
  • It is important to note that Israel does not have an official constitution. It has a series of Basic Laws, many of which have to do with state provision of basic social services such as health, education, and welfare, as well as one (1958) outlining the law and structure of the Knesset. There is therefore much room to maneuver in Israeli legislation.
  • Now, Netanyahu’s Likud party is not strong enough to have unitary majority in the Knesset. It therefore continues to form coalitions with a number of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and uber-right nationalist parties. This initiated a tradition of strong ultra-Orthodox influence in Israeli government policy and action. Before the 2009 Knesset elections, Likud merged with the religious ultranationalist Zionist Ahi party, allowing Netanyahu to gain a majority in Parliament and, later, become Prime Minister after securing the support of Shas, Jewish Home, and Yisrael Beitenu, all right-wing, ultranationalist parties.
  • In 2012, Netanyahu agreed to officially join forces with Yisrael Beitenu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, who is also serving as Israel’s Foreign Minister. Recently, on 7 July 2014, due to the increasing antagonism from Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Netanyahu’s initial hesitation to begin a full-on ground invasion, Lieberman, who advocated a far stronger and more violent approach to Palestinians, withdrew his party from the coalition with Likud
Avigdor Lieberman (ultra-nationalist, militant) giving a speech as Israel's Foreign Minister (literally worst choice for FM ever)
Avigdor Lieberman (ultra-nationalist, militant) giving a speech as Israel’s Foreign Minister (via Flickr/Salaam Shalom)
  • Current political landscape: Likud (20 seats, including Bibi); Yesh Atid (centrist; 19 seats); Labor (left; 15 seats); Habait Hayehudi (ultranationalist, religious; 12 seats); Yisrael Beitenu (ultranationalist; 11 seats). The rest of the Knesset are made up of smaller leftist parties (Hatenua, Hadash, to a certain extent Kadima, and the National Democratic Assembly (Balad, made up of Arab MKs))
Benjamin Netanyahu sitting with PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat in 1997 at the World Economic Forum. Netanyahu was PM at the time. (via Wikimedia Commons)
Benjamin Netanyahu sitting with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in 1997 at the World Economic Forum. Netanyahu was PM at the time. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Sparknotes version: Arguably since 1995 and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister who signed the Oslo Peace Accords with Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO, in 1993, Israel has been turning right.** In 1996 Benjamin Netanyahu was elected for the first time, in Israel’s first separate elections for Prime Minister. He was Prime Minister until 1999. Shimon Peres, who also facilitated the Accords and was favored to win the elections, could not revive the hope for peace killed both by Rabin’s assassination and a series of suicide bombings by Hamas in February-March 1996. There have been a handful of left-ish administrations, and ones that began super right-wing and shifted left.*** But the failure of the 2000 Oslo II Accords, which was duly followed by the beginning of the Second Intifada, left many Israelis valuing immediate peace over any nebulous, long-term peace. In 2009, Netanyahu was again elected, following the 2008-9 war with Gaza. His party, Likud, did not have and still does not have enough seats for a majority, so he had to team up with ultranationalist and Orthodox parties such as Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu and Zionist Ahi, respectively. These parties are incredibly loath to make any concessions to Palestinians and value Israel’s Jewish-ness above its democratic virtues (which are eroding as we speak.)****

ESSENTIALLY,

Israel is now effectively split along partisan lines, with right-wingers violently opposing compromise and physically attacking left-wing or pro-peace demonstrators. Public officials toe the party line and have been persecuting online comments by employees or even students that betray any criticism or antagonism to the Israeli Defense Force. The left is doing what it can, organizing demonstrations and trips to certain Palestinian neighborhoods in the West Bank in order to encourage Israeli-Palestinian discourse.

*For example, Netanyahu recently put his support behind a law proposed by Knesset members to officially designate Israel as a “Jewish State”, rather than, as it has been since 1948, a de facto home for the Jewish people. Also, a bill was introduced to raise the threshold for parliamentary election from 2 to 3.5%, thereby precluding smaller (usually non-Jewish and/or leftist) parties from obtaining representation.

**Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Orthodox Jew, Yigal Amit, during a peace rally in what used to be the Kings of Israel Square, and is now Rabin Square, in Tel Aviv.

***e.g. Ariel Sharon’s admin from 2001-2005, which withdrew settlements from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. Sharon was, ironically, an outspoken nationalist at the beginning of his term, and a big supporter of settlements in the West Bank. He quit Likud in September 2005 and went on to found Kadima, a centrist party. Many believed he would contribute further to peace, but he had a stroke before the 2006 elections

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[1] http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.607838

Sources cited: http://www.haaretz.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.knesset.gov.il

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Mad Money: The Economics of Conflict in the Gaza Strip

1948-1967

Prior to the 1967 occupation, the Palestinian territories were relatively prosperous and economically vibrant. During the 1940s, the annual growth rates of the Palestinian economy were considerably healthier than those of their Arab neighbours, particularly the West Bank. Though Gaza was disadvantaged by the 1948 partition, which placed much of its farmland in Israeli territory, Gaza took advantage of its close ties with Egypt, allowing it to trade and cooperate with Eastern Europe, while the West Bank managed to develop in spite of hindrance from the largely underdeveloped Jordan. Both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip experienced an influx of refugees post-1948, yet their economies were substantially aided by funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine and the Near East (UNRWA), which was created for the express purpose of bolstering the Palestinian economy maintaining humane living standards.

Gaza in the 1960s (source: palestineremembered.com)
Gaza in the 1960s (Source: palestineremembered.com)

1967-2000

Even after the 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem and the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinian national economy grew approximately 6% per year from the mid-1960’s to mid-1980’s. [1] About 40% of workers in the Gaza Strip were employed in Israel by 1974, and most about two-thirds of the national GDP was comprised of wages gained from the services sector. Successful companies were usually those working as sub-contractors for larger companies in Israel. Manufacturing took a hit due to lack of credit and Israeli competition, while agriculture shrunk considerably due to a dearth of land, labor, and local markets.

The first intifada in 1987, followed by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, brought an economic downturn to the Palestinian Territories which markedly hampered their growth. Working hours for Palestinians in Israel were restricted after 1988, and checkpoints were erected which made leaving the territories difficult. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics conservatively estimated a drop of 1.8% GNP every year from 1987-1991, and Palestinian sources claim that the recession continued until the mid-1990’s due to the first Gulf War and a reduction of aid from surrounding Arab states. [2]

In the 1990’s, due to security issues such as suicide bombings, Israel gradually replaced them with immigrants, mostly from the Far East. In 1999 there were a peak 135,000 Palestinians working Israel or in the settlements, but this represented only 12% of the overall labor force. This, combined with population growth – catapulted by  rising fertility and falling child mortality rates – corruption, and the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000 led to a massive spike in unemployment – by 2002 less than 40,000 Palestinians were employed in Israel. [3]

Aftermath of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem by Hamas in 1996.
Aftermath of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem by Hamas in 1996 (via Wikimedia Commons)

2005-2007

On September 1, 2005, the Israeli Defense Force left Gaza, along with almost 10,000 settlers as part of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement initiative. In November, an “Agreement on Movement and Access” was signed by the PA and Israel in order to balance the needs of the economy of the Gaza Strip and Israeli security concerns. It called for the opening of the Rafah crossing to Egypt, allowances for Gazan agricultural exports, and the initiation of construction for a sea port. The AMA emphasized freedom of movement for Gazan products and easy access – by truck envoy or otherwise – to the West Bank. However, the keystone of the AMA was the PA’s establishment of “a unified system of border management” [4] as well as the development and implementation of security infrastructure (e.g. X-Ray scanners).

One year later, the United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said that the AMA had not proved effective in allowing the Gazan economy to develop; the Rafah crossing and several Israeli checkpoints became increasingly strict on Gazan exports due to multiple attacks on the crossing points (particularly the Karni crossing) as well as the discovery of tunnels. The operation of the crossings were further hindered by clashes between Palestinian militants and the IDF in August 2006 [5] (details below: see “Operation Summer Rain”) Israeli settlers had left behind approximately 3,000 greenhouses that could have been used to employ Palestinians and improve industry. Most were looted for glass and steel, even before the blockade.

There was no blockade at the time. A blockade was not even considered by Ariel Sharon, who was committed to establishing infrastructure that could improve the lives of Palestinians in Gaza.

Jewish settlers riot as the IDF forcibly withdraws them from the Neve Dekalim settlement in Gaza - 16 August 2005 (via Flickr/IDF)
Jewish settlers riot as the IDF forcibly withdraws them from the Neve Dekalim settlement in Gaza – 16 August 2005 (via Flickr/IDF)

The Blockade (2007-now)

In 2007, after Hamas unitarily took hold of Gaza in the Battle of Gaza – an incredible bloodbath – Israel established the blockade as a means to prevent Hamas from obtaining resources for its crusade against Israel, and as such prevented importation of necessary goods for Gaza’s ballooning population*. Egypt, under Mubarak, was also party to the blockade, and still is under al-Sisi. Conditions were eased under Morsi, but full opening of the Rafah crossing was never allowed; Morsi also wanted to keep Hamas at a certain distance.

Almost no building materials – such as concrete or steel – are allowed into Gaza due to the possibility that they be used to build weapons. This hampers construction and infrastructural development. Humanitarian supplies such as food or clothing is allowed in, but not at a rate that keeps most Gazans above the poverty line. The influx of supplies waxes and wanes according to the security situation.**

In 2010, following the Gaza flotilla raid incident, Israel promised to relax the conditions of the blockade and allow more supplies to come through. The availability of raw materials and foodstuffs increased, but chronic and dangerously high unemployment persisted along with shortages of food and water. Overall, continued restrictions on imports of building materials and a painstakingly layered approval process for any imports meant that industry remained underdeveloped (infrastructure was also damaged during Operation Cast Lead; see below, “Operations”). Furthermore, the exact list of banned goods, or the rationale behind certain banned items, remains absent; the arbitrary and nebulous nature of the blockade frustrates both Palestinians and human rights organizations attempting to satisfy some of the shortages of basic goods. [8]

Flotilla ship with supplies attempts to reach Gaza and breach blockade, June 2010 (via Flickr/Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Flotilla ship with supplies attempts to reach Gaza and breach blockade, June 2010 (via Flickr/Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Israel continues to provide medical care and supplies to the people in the Gaza Strip***; the World Health Organization (WHO) attributes shortages or deficiencies in this account to mismanagement of supplies and infighting between Hamas and Fatah [10] as well as the overall lack of development of the medical sector. The Israeli blockade prevents the repair or production of hospital equipment, as many of the machines need supplies currently under sanction. The use of hospitals and clinics by Hamas as weapons storage  launching sites has led to their destruction by Israeli armed forces during Operation Cast Lead as well as the current Operation Protective Edge, which does not help the dearth of treatment facilities.

Israeli field hospital on Gaza Border during Operation Protective Edge (via Flickr/IDF)
Israeli field hospital on Gaza Border during Operation Protective Edge (via Flickr/IDF)

During Operation Protective Edge, Israeli doctors – in conjunction with those of the Red Crescent – have set up a clinic at the Erez Crossing to treat wounded Palestinians and sent in necessary medicine and supplies. On 15 July the Israeli Magen David Adom emergency medical service offered to organize blood donation drives to mitigate shortages of blood for transfusions in the Gaza Strip. The offer was hastily rejected. [11]

Israel also provides Gaza with certain base amounts of electricity, water, and fuel. Due to incredible population density, however, and lack of infrastructural development, as well as haphazard organization and lack of basic resources – a result of both the Israeli blockade and Hamas appropriation of donated supplies and funding – many fundamental services are severely underdeveloped (most notably sewage treatment, running water, and electricity.) A 2012 UNOCHA report stated that facilities in the Gaza Strip are far below the standards of their West Bank counterparts and that aid or resource transferral between the two Palestinian territories is precluded by Israeli authorities, thereby hindering the viability of a two-state solution. [12] Furthermore, approximately 80% of the population rely on some form of food aid, supplied by the UNRWA.

Due to the blockade, as well as a deficient system of domestic production and industrial infrastructure, a thriving smuggling business, operated through a massive system of tunnels to Egypt and Israel, has emerged. The tunnels are used both for trade and for terror, and existed well before the blockade – in 2006 Gilad Shalit was kidnapped through use of a tunnel and held for five years by Hamas. . The destruction of the tunnels became a major objective of Operation Protective Shield, due to the multiple incursions by terrorists on small border communities in Israel.

Tunnels of Terror/Trade

An entrance to a 'terror tunnel' found in Gaza (Flickr/IDF)
An entrance to a ‘terror tunnel’ found in Gaza (Flickr/IDF)

There have been tunnels under the Gaza city of Rafah (bordering Egypt) for decades. They were mostly used for smuggling and trade, as the city was split between Israel and Egypt in 1979 in a peace deal. The tunnels were usually dug from the inside of people’s homes; to prevent the infiltration of foreign elements and to stem illegal trade, Israel began demolishing houses near the Rafah border – between 2000 and 2004 it is estimated that the Israeli government demolished some 1,700 homes. [18]

The beginning of Israeli awareness of Hamas’ tunnels of terror began in June 2006, when Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and taken into Gaza from one of the tunnels. After Hamas’ victory in the 2006 elections, and its subsequent bloody conflict with Fatah, the Israeli blockade was imposed, and underground trade flourished – thousands of tunnels were being built, providing steady but dangerous employment to Palestinians, many of them children.**** Millions of dollars worth of supplies was funneled into Gaza, all of it taxed by Hamas, which draws in a revenue of about $750 million per annum from the tunnel trade. Hamas then usea some of the money, as well as the building supplies coming in from Egypt, to construct tunnels leading into Israel.

The tunnels are extravagant – Hamas pours about 10 million dollars and 800 tons of concrete into each tunnel, equipping it with electricity and provisions to prepare for underground, Israeli hostage-keeping. Dozens of tunnels like this have been built, meaning that Hamas has dedicated hundreds of thousands of dollars and nearly a million tons of concrete to an operation wholly dedicated to terrorizing and killing Israeli civilians, in full neglect of its own civilian population.

In 2011, after the Arab Spring, Morsi was willing to allow a trickle of goods into Gaza, but not enough to put the tunnels out of business. Morsi’s government endeavored to destroy the tunnels leading to Gaza through various operations both at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, as they both encouraged illegal trade and allowed a flow of weapons from Egypt to Gaza[20]. After Morsi was overthrown, al-Sisi has continued the campaign to demolish the tunnels, which has become increasingly urgent during the current Israel-Gaza conflict, to prevent both the flow of refugees into Egypt and the transmission of weapons or other dangerous materials into Gaza. [21]

Some Quick Numbers

  • According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), 32.6% of people in the Gaza Strip live in poverty, compared to less than 20% in the West Bank
  • According to the World Bank, in 2012 the GDP for the West Bank and Gaza Strip stood at about 10 billion US dollars, with annual growth nearing 6% (a downturn from 2011)
  • From 2008-2010 the PA received approximately $7 billion in aid (as was promised in the Paris Conference), mostly from the United States and the European Union, as well as from non-profit organizations and multinational NGOs such as the World Bank and the UNRWA [14]
  • At $304 per person (in 2005 – the number is likely higher now) Palestinians receive the highest amount of aid per-capita in the world, rivaled only by the far more populous Democratic Republic of Congo [Ibid]
  • Where does the money go? A lot of it gets sent to private bank accounts abroad by corrupt members of Fatah [15]; much gets used to by multi-million dollar homes for Hamas leaders [16]; some gets sent to Palestinian convicts serving time in Israeli prisons [17] – so, yeah, not a lot left for the millions of Palestinians lacking basic necessities.

Sparknotes version: From 1948 to 1967 the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were suffering from land losses to the newly formed Israeli state yet were progressing moderately well. The Gaza Strip traded ably with Egypt and the West Bank was prosperous despite being run by a comparatively weaker Jordan. In 1967, after the Six Day War, Israel appropriated the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and helped both grow and develop industry, such that the Palestinian economy grew at a slow but consistent 6% for about 20 years. The First Intifada in 1987 – correlated to the founding of Hamas – majorly reduced Palestinian employment and business prospects with their main trade partner, Israel. That, along with the reduction of aid from Arab countries due to the First Gulf War, led to an economic downturn that lasted until the mid-1990’s. The Second Intifada (2000) further distanced Palestinian from Israeli business, and Israel began steadily replacing most Palestinian laborers with immigrants from the far east. In 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and Ariel Sharon (Israeli PM) and Mahmoud Abbas (PA PM) signed an “Agreement on Movement and Access” (AMA), in which it was stated that Israel would allow easier access between Gaza and the West Bank and work to help Palestinian exports and industry. However, the agreement depended on the PA’s ability to secure borders and prevent violent attacks on Israel. In 2006, Hamas was elected to govern the Gaza Strip, which deflated Israeli hopes for peaceful economic cooperation with the Palestinians; when Hamas forcibly took over Gaza in 2007, Israel discontinued relations and imposed a blockade in efforts to secure its border and prevent attacks on its people and territory. 

The Israeli blockade prevents the development of Gaza, though the Israeli government provides a certain amount of basic amenities to the Palestinians. However, inordinate population growth (5-6 children per wife, up to four wives per family) as well as the diversion of international donation to the coffers of corrupt Hamas and Fatah leaders, as well as the construction of illicit tunnels and the purchase of bombs, places stress on Gaza’s already weak infrastructure and produces dire shortages of water, electricity, and food. The city of Rafah has become a hub of illicit trade as goods and weapons are smuggled from Egypt to Gaza through underground tunnels. Both Israel and Egypt have long tried to stem the flow of smuggled goods by destroying the openings to tunnels (Israel stopped once it withdrew from Gaza in 2005). Hamas profits from the tunnel trade, as it places heavy taxes on all goods brought into Gaza, earning a revenue of approximately $750 million per year. It uses this money – alongside donations from various Qatari leaders, Iran, Muslim charities or humanitarian organizations, and its leaders outside of Gaza – to build and fortify concrete tunnels into Israel, for the purpose of infiltrating and killing/kidnapping Israeli civilians. It has used approximately 1 million tons of concrete for these tunnels. The Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world in Dubai, was built with 110,000 tons of concrete. Hamas’ use of the hard-to-come-by building material is therefore incredibly questionable.

The Palestinian Authority received $7 billion in aid from 2008-2010. That money was divided between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and much was mismanaged or appropriated by Fatah and Hamas leaders to fund their lavish lifestyles and/or forward an individual or group agenda. Corruption is rampant in both governments, and Hamas often directs funds toward its violent agenda toward Israel rather than public works projects or humanitarian aid.   

*Despite worsening conditions and the availability of birth control, Gazan families continue to grow, perpetuating crippling poverty and over-crowing in the small Gaza Strip. “The executive director of the Association of Family Planning and Protection, Muyassar Abu Mailaq, told Al-Monitor that the fertility rate for the people of Gaza has long been up to 5.7 children per woman. He said, “According to my work, family-planning methods in all government clinics and those affiliated with UNRWA are available. But some causes have led to increased fertility, thanks to eastern customs and traditions. Palestinian families like procreation, and they don’t consider five or six to be a large number.” [6] With men having up to four wives, it is not unusual for an immediate family to consist of over 50 individuals.

**Significantly, after the Hamas-Israeli understanding after a brief exchange of rocket fire in the summer of 2012 (see: Operation Pillar of Defense, “Operations”), defense minister Moshe Ya’alon approved the entry of 20 trucks of building material per day through the Kerem Shalom Crossing. In September 2013 this was expanded to 350 trucks per week. However, upon the discovery of a concrete-reinforced ‘terror tunnel’, in October, the allowances were stopped. [7]
 
***Said Israeli Health Minister Yael German, 28 July: “Israel is going through a very difficult time, but we still got supplies from our stocks and budgeted aid worth millions of shekels for the residents of the Strip, in addition, we offered full medical treatment to the Gaza citizens in any of our hospitals and will continue to offer that.”
 
****Hamas often used child labor to help build tunnels, as children are generally more small and agile. A 2012 report by the Institute for Palestine Studies estimated that about 160 Palestinian children died during construction of various tunnels. [19]
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 [1] p. 196, Owen, Roger and Svet Pamuk. A History of Middle East Economies in the 20th Century. Great Britain: n.p., 1998. Accessed through Google Books.
[2] p. 197, Ibid.
[3] p 154. Rivlin, Paul. The Israeli Economy from the Foundation of the State to the 21st Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Accessed through Google Books.

[4] http://www.un.int/wcm/content/site/palestine/cache/offonce/pid/12018;jsessionid=9982C162A06B9490D6585DC096159528

[5] http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/AMA_One_Year_On_Nov06_final.pdf

[6] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/04/gaza-growing-population-challences.html##ixzz39K7HrdlC

[7] http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2014/Pages/Entry-of-construction-materials-to-the-Gaza-Strip-26-Jan-2014.aspx

[8] http://www.inquisitr.com/1378231/palestinian-authority-refused-medical-aid-donated-by-israel-twice-in-one-week/#6Z8m7y8HgXuQOd0H.99

[9] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8654337.stm

[10] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7545636.stm

[11] http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.605331

[12] http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_gaza_blockade_factsheet_june_2012_english.pdf

[13] http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4361410,00.html

[14] http://www.meforum.org/1926/does-foreign-aid-fuel-palestinian-violence#_ftn8

[15] http://www.timesofisrael.com/eu-accuses-palestinians-of-wasting-e2-billion-in-aid/

[16] http://www.globes.co.il/en/article-the-phenomenal-wealth-of-hamas-leaders-1000957953

[17] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2614508/Palestinians-foreign-aid-money-convicted-terrorists-Cash-given-inmates-Israeli-prisons.html

[18] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140721-gaza-strip-tunnels-israel-hamas-palestinians/

[19] http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/180400/hamas-killed-160-palestinian-children-to-build-terror-tunnels#undefined

[20] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/02/201322619219970812.html

[21] http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/07/27/372991/egypt-destroys-13-more-gaza-tunnels/

_______________________________________________________________________________

Operations: Previous Conflicts in the Region

Operation Summer Rain (June-July 2006): One 25 June two Hamas militants snuck into Israel through an underground tunnel below the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel, kidnapping Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and killing two other soldiers. In response, the Operation was launched on 28 June, with Israeli Defense Force mobilizing ground forces and beginning a shelling campaign on Southern Gaza in an effort to find Shalit and destroy Hamas weapons caches and underground tunnels. [1] Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005, the number of rockets fired into Israel had exponentially increased: while only about 180 rockets were fired in 2005, that number jumped to 946 in 2006 [2]. Summer Rain was therefore also an effort to create a buffer zone on the Israel-Gaza border in order to stem rocket fire. A United Nations report published in August stated that 202 Palestinians were killed, with many forced to flee their homes due to the bombing. [3]

Gilad Shalit was kept in captivity for 5 years, until 2011. During that time, an international awareness campaign was initiated, maintaining hope and seeking his freedom (via Flickr/Josh Evnin)
Gilad Shalit was kept in captivity for 5 years, until 2011. During that time, an international awareness campaign was initiated, maintaining hope and seeking his freedom (via Flickr/Josh Evnin)

Operation Autumn Clouds (November 2006): In early November Israeli troops invaded the northern Gaza Strip in an effort to stop the continued shooting of rockets by Hamas militants into Southern Israel. The operation ended on 7 November with the withdrawal of Israeli troops. On 16 November Hamas fired more rockets into towns in Southern Israel, killing one soldier and one civilian. On 26 November Ehud Olmert – Israeli PM – and Mahmoud Abbas agreed to a ceasefire, which managed to reduce missile attacks from Gaza.

In May 2007, during the Battle of Gaza, rocket fire increased exponentially: out of the 783 rockets fired at Israel in 2007, 220 of them were launched in one week in May toward Sderot (town in Southern Israel).

In early January 2008, Israel completely closed off its border with Gaza due to increasing rocket attacks. On 22 January it penned a letter to the United Nations Security Council asking for support in its dire situation, and explaining the desperate need for help against Hamas’ continued aggression. The letter was ignored.*

Operation Hot Winter (February-March 2008): In response to ceaseless rocket fire onto Israeli towns, now more dangerous due to Hamas’ appropriation of Grad rockets that could reach the larger cities of Ashkelon and Netivot (they had previously only used Qassam rockets, with a more limited range). Israeli forces invaded Gaza on 29 February and attempted to destroy weapons caches and terror tunnels as well as rout out Hamas militants. The Operation ended on 4 March.

Egypt-brokered ceasefire begins on 16 June – will last 6 months.

4 November 2008: Small Israeli commando team enters Gaza to search for and destroy terror tunnels; 6 Hamas militants killed. Hamas claims this violates the truce, and begins fervently shelling towns in the Israeli Negev.

14 December 2008: Israel wants to extend truce, if Hamas is willing to stop aggression and negotiate the return of Gilad Shalit. Hamas refuses to discuss Shalit, and its terms for ceasefire are the discontinuation of the blockade and the opening of borders for commercial use and no more Israeli attacks. Furthermore, Hamas resolves to obtain a settlement freeze in the West Bank. [4] Israel government refuses; on 24 December Hamas notoriously launched 60 Qassam rockets in one day.

Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009): Also called ‘Gaza War’. 3-week Israeli air and ground offensive on Gaza Strip, resulting in what is considered Israeli tactical victory, with many Hamas militants killed and Hamas’ military infrastructure severely crippled. One week of intense aerial bombing followed by ground invasion (begun 3 January) supported by aerial attacks.

An Israeli white phosphorus attack on a UNRWA clinic in Gaza, January 2009 (via Wikimedia Commons)
An Israeli white phosphorus attack on a UNRWA clinic in Gaza, January 2009 (via Wikimedia Commons)

About 1,400 Palestinians died in the conflict, half of which were non-combatants.  [5] Hamas fired approximately 750 mortars and rockets at major Israeli civilian centers. During this offensive, it was reported that Hamas largely abandoned the civilian population, establishing military or weapons centers by schools, homes, and mosques (a tactic learned from Hezbollah in Lebanon) and not providing shelters for the Palestinian people. It also routinely shot or wounded Fatah activists and prevented Palestinians from fleeing their homes to the South of the Strip. [6] [7]

House in Israeli town of Sderot in the South destroyed by Hamas rocket fire, December 2008 (via Flickr/Jewish Agency for Israel)
House in Israeli town of Sderot in the South destroyed by Hamas rocket fire, December 2008 (via Flickr/Jewish Agency for Israel)

In the ten months after the end of the conflict, rocket fire from Gaza markedly decreased. Newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a 10-month West Bank settlement freeze on 25 November 2009.

Operation Pillar of Defense (14-21 November 2012): Israel aerial bombing of Gaza in response to intensified rocket fire as well as a series of IED explosions on West Bank border. During the conflict Hamas fired approximately 1,500 missiles into Israel and an additional 142 which fell within the Gaza Strip. Israel reported that it targeted approximately 1,450 posts in Gaza. [8] 167 Palestinians killed, 69 of which were combatants. Six Israelis killed, 2 of which were combatants. [9] Hamas was able for the first time to target Tel Aviv and civilian centers further north as a result of the appropriation of Iranian Fajr-5 (M75) missiles, which could travel up to 75 km. Jerusalem was also targeted.

Operation Brother’s Keeper (12 June 2014 – 1 July 2014): Massive police and military search operation (non-combative) in the West Bank as a result of the kidnappings of Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Ifrach in Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. IDF searched 2,216 West Bank homes and arrested 419 Palestinians, 276 of which were Hamas members. [10] The bodies of the boys were discovered on 30 June buried in a field a 10-15 minute drive from where they were abducted. On 1 July the IDF destroyed the homes of the two primary suspects, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, in the West Bank. They were members of Hamas. The operation prompted missiles from Gaza which were responded to by “surgical strikes” by the IDF. [11]

14433226962_3a955323d8_o
The three kidnapped Israeli boys (via Flickr/IDF)

Operation Protective Edge (8 July 2014 – ): Began as massive aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip. 72,000 Israeli reserves called, ground invasion begins 17 July.

As of 17 August, 1,948 Palestinians killed, 64 Israelis killed, and 485,000 displaced persons within Gaza. [12] Hamas has fired 2,630 rockets into Israel since the beginning of the conflict, many of which (particularly the long-range missiles) have been intercepted by the Iron Dome. [13]

There have been 5 attempted ceasefires on 15 July, 17 July, 20 July, 26 July, and 1 August. Hamas usually breaks the ceasefire within a few hours, even if it is for humanitarian purposes, in order to gain the element of surprise. On 1 August 2 Israeli soldiers were killed by Hamas and one, Hadar Goldin, was thought kidnapped until it had been more or less confirmed that he had died in battle.* [14] A ceasefire is currently in place, having begun on the night of 4 August 2014.

Coincidentally, that was the evening of Tish’a B’av, a Jewish day of fasting and mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Jerusalem Temples and the exile of Jews from Israel.

*It is suspected that he died as part of Israel’s ‘Hannibal Directive’, a military protocol in which, when an Israeli soldier is kidnapped, fellow soldiers are told to fire upon him and his captors in order to prevent a hostage situation. [15]

_______________________________________________________________________________

[1] http://israel_history.enacademic.com/742/Operation_Summer_Rain

[2] http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Terrorism/Palestinian/Pages/Rocket%20threat%20from%20the%20Gaza%20Strip%202000-2007.aspx

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/20/world/middleeast/20mideast.html?scp=2&sq=Ethan%20Bronner%20December%202008%20gaza&st=cse&_r=0

[5] http://imeu.org/article/operation-cast-lead

[6] http://www.haaretz.com/news/un-202-palestinians-killed-since-operation-summer-rain-1.195904

[7] http://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/Cracks-in-Hamas

[8] http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=6452

[9]http://www.btselem.org/press_releases/20130509_pillar_of_defense_report

[10] http://www.jpost.com/Operation-Brothers-Keeper/Large-number-of-IDF-forces-gather-north-of-Hebron-in-search-for-kidnapped-teens-361048

[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/01/world/middleeast/Israel-missing-teenagers.html

[12] http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_sitrep_04_08_2014.pdf

[13] http://mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/terrorism/pages/israel-under-fire-july-2014-a-diary.aspx

[14] http://www.wjla.com/articles/2014/08/israeli-soldier-thought-kidnapped-by-hamas-was-actually-killed-in-battle-105704.html

[15] http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/diplomacy-defense/39129-140804-israeli-army-employed-hannibal-protocol-to-prevent-officer-s-abduction

_____________________________________________________________________________

Well, there you have it. Hopefully you got through the exhaustive factual report, and are now well-equipped to maneuver through the whirlwind of biased news articles and vitriolic Facebook commentary.  Good luck.

______________________________________________________________________________

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