Don’t forget the prison that is the Gaza Strip
By : Daoud Kuttab
For a few days last week Gaza Strip turned into a large prison.
Ever since Oct. 24, the Rafah crossing point has been closed by the Egyptians following the huge attack on the army in north Sinai.
Israel has also closed all its crossings with Gaza on November 2, allegedly following the launch from Gaza on that same day of a single rocket that landed in a deserted area.
The Israelis reopened their crossing points Tuesday, but Rafah continues to be closed.
Egypt, which was stunned by a horrific series of attacks that caused the death of over 30 soldiers, has been searching for answers, and the army argues that the problem lies in Gaza.
Not only has the Rafah crossing been totally and completely closed since then, but Egyptian engineers have also been busy destroying houses on the Egyptian side of Rafah in order to create a 500-metre buffer zone that they hope will forever end the problem of the tunnels to Gaza.
The closures come at a time the reconstruction process is moving at a very slow pace. While the donor conference in Cairo produced better than expected pledges, the crucial unity between Fateh and Hamas has yet to produce a major breakthrough.
Hamas is still holding off turning over control of its side of the Rafah crossing to the joint presidential guards and EU monitors. This failure has allowed Egypt to continue its narrative that Hamas is part of the problem.
As a result, the Egyptian army and political leadership have had little problem in justifying this hermetic closure of the only crossing point enabling Gazans to leave and return.
The biggest problem today is the weather. The thousands of Gazans who lost their homes as a result of the 51 days of Israeli bombings last August will not be able to deal with the cold and rainy season in the tents or other ad hoc housing units that have become home for the repeat refugees.
Turkey’s promise to send 3,000 prefabricated houses to Gaza seems to have fizzled out, most likely because of the cold relationship between Ankara and Tel Aviv.
Palestinians in Gaza have been extremely frustrated by the Egyptian and Israeli closures. A look at social media entries of many Gazans shows comments of extremely irritated, highly discouraged and near suicidal individuals.
While the donor conference in Cairo produced better than expected pledges, the crucial unity between Fateh and Hamas has yet to produce a major breakthrough
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not been able to deal with the Gazans’ frustration, as he has focused most of his effort and time on the diplomatic mission of getting the UN (especially the Security Council) to recognise Palestine.
Abbas, who has been urged for months to visit Gaza, had promised to do so once the conciliation government meets in the strip. That happened, but Abbas has shown little interest in making the one-and-a-half-hour car journey to what is officially called the southern districts of Palestine.
Attention to Gaza was also diverted by the problems and violence in Jerusalem and the unprecedented Israeli decision to close al-Aqsa Mosque on October 29.
A Gaza woman who five months ago was running a newly established women’s radio station had her dreams shattered when the Israelis demolished, on the last days of the war, the 14-storey Pasha Building housing her Internet radio studio.
No one has come forward to help her rebuild her dream media outlet despite setting up a crowd funding call on indigogo.
In addition to her hope to re-establish her destroyed studio is an unusual dream, simply the chance to go for a visit to the nearby West Bank. Her home in north Gaza is literally a 20-minute drive from the south West Bank city of Hebron. The 27-year-old Gazan has never been to the West Bank.
The 1.8 million Palestinians who make Gaza their home are calling for help from anyone that is willing to hear them.
What they need is not only a roof to live under, but, more importantly, a horizon that can give them hope for the future.
Gazans, especially the young, want to know what they can look forward to and what they can plan for. Most Gazans see their future in emigration to a third country, whether legally or illegally.
Neither Hamas nor the PLO has done much to give people in Gaza have a goal.
The total sum of all these frustrations can be summarized in one phrase repeatedly echoed by the Palestinians trapped in the strip: Don’t forget Gaza.
Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame Street. You can read his blogs on DaoudKuttab.com and find him on Twitter @DaoudKuttab