GAZA CITY: Saad Al-Farra was among the thousands of Palestinians who rejoiced at the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip on 2005, but today he appears pessimistic and frustrated.
“We did not know that the occupation would (leave), and that division, corruption, poverty and unemployment would come in its place.” Al-Farra who was a farmer on land owned by his family adjacent to an Israeli settlement in the Gush Qatif settlement, south of the strip, told Arab News
The majority of Palestinians living in Gaza believed that their lives would improve after 38 years of occupation when, on Aug. 15, 2005, Israel began implementing its “unilateral disengagement plan” from the small coastal strip, which has an area of roughly 360 square kilometers. Israel evacuated 21 settlements inhabited by around 6,000 settlers, which had taken up around 35 percent of the Gaza Strip.
But for Al-Farra, and many others, that optimism has turned to frustration at the subsequent deterioration in the quality of Gaza residents’ lives.
“Nobody prefers the occupation. But our reality is worse than it was before the Israeli withdrawal. What have we done since?” he asked, clearly angry. “We fought, divided, and dispersed, and our youth scattered and emigrated. And many of them died in the sea (trying) to escape from Gaza.”
He continued: “We used to think that we were liberated from the occupation, and we did not know that we would remain besieged by the occupation from the land, sea and air, and besieged by our own division and disagreement. Everything has deteriorated — in all aspects of life. There is no work or electricity.”
Since Israel tightened its blockade in mid-2007, after Hamas took control of the strip by force, Gaza has been subject to a stifling electricity crisis, and an unprecedented rise in poverty and unemployment.
“Israel has not actually withdrawn, as it is still controlling all aspects of life,” said Samir Abu Mdallala, professor of economics at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, adding that although Israel had withdrawn settlers from Gaza, its control over the strip’s residents remained such that “it is able to count the breathing of the Gazans.”
As a result of Israel’s blockade, its control of the sea and commercial crossings, and its ban on both the majority of exports from Gaza and many imports — including raw materials, economic conditions have worsened dramatically, leading many residents into despair, Abu Mdallala suggested.
Professor of political science Mukhaimer Abu Saada referenced an old statement by the Israeli National Security Adviser during the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza — in which he framed the withdrawal as a way to block the establishment of an independent, interconnected Palestinian state — and suggested that the current dismal state of affairs is what Israel intended all along.
“Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza, but it was killing Gaza by blocking all other methods,” Abu Saada said.
The professor does not blame Israel alone for the current situation in Palestine as a whole, however. Like Al-Farra, he stresses the damage done by Palestinian leaders themselves, who have failed to present a united front.
“It was possible to (deal with) the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in a better way,” he said. “But what the Palestinians did was the exact opposite. They devoted themselves to internal battles.”
Political analyst Hani Habib agrees that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and, before that, the Oslo Accords of the early Nineties, offered the Palestinians an opportunity: “Can they manage their affairs by themselves?”
Habib told Arab News: “We showed the world our inability to manage ourselves by ourselves and the experience of governance in Gaza is the greatest proof.”
Hamas MP Atef Adwan acknowledged that the Palestinians have failed politically to make the most of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, but said that the reality of the Arab region, which he described as “flabby,” and ongoing international bias towards Israel were among the reasons for that failure.
But Adwan claimed that some positive results have been achieved following the withdrawal. Specifically, “developing the resistance” and achieving “self-sufficiency in some crops” thanks to agricultural projects on the land once occupied by Israeli settlements.