Gaza Is Outwardly Rebuilding, but Inwardly Fearful - The New York Times
New York Times
22nd February 2017
BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip — In her new home, finally finished after she lived two years in a trailer across a dirt road, Samaher 40, showed a video on her cellphone of a cute preschooler: her son Majdi. He was singing: “I am a son of Palestine, I have a right and a cause … Even if they shoot me and I die as a martyr, I will not forget the cause. ” Majdi, who was 6, lived through two Gazan wars, though his old family house was toppled by bulldozers in the 2014 fighting with Israel.
But the day after he ended kindergarten last year, he caught his hula hoop in a metal door in the trailer. The door was heavy, the frame shoddy. It fell on him and crushed his skull, killing him.
“Something is missing,” his mother said eight months later, in the living room of her house, built on the plot of the old one. “You asked me if this is better. Yes, it’s better.
But I’m missing him. His bedroom was waiting for him. ” So it is in Gaza, outwardly rebuilding and moving on from war, inwardly far from recovered.
Gaza seems at a loss for what might be next. After so many years of isolation, residents of Gaza find themselves ever further from Palestinians in the West Bank, their future clouded by rising doubts that they could ever unite and work toward a lasting peace. Two million tons of rubble have been cleared — about a ton for each person who lives in this cramped coastal strip.
of the 160, 000 damaged homes have been rebuilt, as have half of the 11, 000 that were destroyed. Roads are better, travel faster. People gawk at their first real mall, with a food court and 12 escalators, both rarities in Gaza.
But they are not buying much. Unemployment is high, especially among the many young people graduating from college. In all, 50, 000 people remain displaced.
Electricity and water supplies are still near crisis levels. Hamas, which governs Gaza, elected a new leader. Tunnel building goes on (and, presumably, so does the construction and smuggling of weapons).
On the Israeli side, the political right talks of a new war in the spring over Hamas’s rearming and expresses a desire to inflict a decisive blow. As has been the case for a decade, the strip remains encircled. Israel tightly controls most going in and out: food, building supplies, people.
Two children died recently for lack of drugs or medical access, one of cancer, the other of a heart problem. “The blockade of Gaza is something I can compare to the Middle Ages and the besieged castle that can fall at any moment,” said Dr. Fadel Ashour, a psychiatrist in Gaza since 1994.
“People in Gaza are not satisfied with who governs this castle. They lack the tools to change it. They live with armed militias, and the institutions are not clear as they are in the West Bank.
They know they are paying a price for something they don’t want. Or deserve. This increases their depression and hopelessness.
” It is unclear how the flickers of change elsewhere in the conflict will ripple to Gaza, which is surrounded by Israel on two sides, by Egypt to the southwest and by the Mediterranean. With President Trump in office in the United States, Israel’s right seems to feel empowered and is likely to push more settlements in the West Bank, even to toy with annexation, despite Mr. Trump’s call to slow the pace.
The Palestinian Authority, which has wide backing in the West, seems to be looking abroad for ways to push its immediate future, including persuading the world to recognize a state of Palestine, threatening action in the United Nations and encouraging Israeli boycotts. Leaders of Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the United States and by many other countries, do not have the same backing from the West. Interviews with political and business leaders, academics and ordinary people can divine only a basic strategy: improve the lives of frustrated residents as its leaders put off as long as possible what they see as the next inevitable war, then fight when it happens.
(Life could be better, Hamas’s critics contend, if the group spent less on war preparations.) Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official, said that with years of failed talks, settlements expanding across the West Bank and Mr. Trump’s apparent ambivalence about a Palestinian state, “You have two options: either to cooperate with the occupation or the resistance.
There is no option,” he said. “Where is the solution?” Interviews make it clear that there is a growing distance between Gaza and the West Bank — a central reason cited by Israelis for the impossibility of negotiations. Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and took control of Gaza in 2007.
“Now, Gaza is something and the West Bank is something else,” said Ibrahim a columnist for the news outlet Al Risala. “It’s a fact. You can’t connect the two realities.
You will get lost. Things have changed. ” Mr.
Madhoun and several others raised a possibility, a very long shot, one that could conceivably be acceptable to Israel’s far right: Someday Gaza — with defined borders, no Israeli occupation and no settlers — could become the basis for a Palestinian state as settlements gnaw away at the West Bank. “If there is going to be a Palestinian state, it’s going to be Gaza,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, associate professor of political science at University in Gaza. “Politically speaking, it’s not right.
But this is what’s coming. ” Otherwise, he said, “I don’t think there is a grand strategy where Gaza is in 10 years or 20 years. I know Hamas will never want to give up Gaza as long as it is capable of keeping control.
” Residents say they are focusing on getting by. Industrious and, for the most part, educated, they have cleared and rebuilt to the point that in places it is hard to tell there have been three wars in six years. One giveaway is that the concrete on the houses is fresh dark gray, rather than and weathered.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have underwritten minicities, as caravans and tents slowly empty. The Islamic University has patched the two buildings bombed in two wars and, with great effort, installed an impressive array of 450 solar panels on the science building, even though there is a fear the panels and the building might make a big target in the next war. Capital Mall opened in January, with four floors of upscale shops.
One woman lifted her niqab briefly for a photo in front of a Valentine’s Day flower display. Another posed for her husband, who is in an Israeli jail. “I feel happy here,” Sana Shanghan, 50, said, visiting with some of her 13 children.
“Here, I feel I’m outside Gaza. I forget about Gaza’s problems. ” The feeling was similar inside the steamy domes of Hamam Gaza’s only remaining bathhouse, heated with olive wood and, its owners say, predating Islam’s arrival over a millennium ago.
“People are tired, kids and old people,” said Salim Abdullah 66, who runs the house for his family. “More and more come here for psychological support. ” He added: “There is no progress.
It’s just survival. ” Mona Ghalayini is betting on more than just survival. One of Gaza’s few businesswomen, Ms.
Ghalayini, 46, has built a small empire that began with a shop in 2003. For most people in Gaza, the sea is simply a place where fishermen work waters constricted by Israeli patrol boats. But she sees potential in the current stability, recently buying two seaside hotels.
“We have brains,” she said, inhaling from a shisha on the patio of one of her hotels. “We have smart people. We can survive, even with the blockade.
But we need connection. We don’t want isolation. ” Tourism is the future, she said.
Then she reconsidered. “Who visits Gaza?” she asked. “No one.
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