There may or may not be a major Israeli incursion into Gaza to “root out” (the words are in quotes because the operation cannot possibly succeed, as previous ones have failed as well) Palestinian militants firing Qassams into Israel. Since there is at least a 50% chance of invasion AND the situation on the ground grows increasingly desperate by the day, and because there is very little direct reporting from Gaza by media sources (and none from Israeli papers), I thought it important to feature this Middle East Progress interview with N.Y. Times Gaza reporter, Taghreed El-Khodary. In this climate devoid of hope, with the same bleak news day after day, it is all too easy to lose sight of the real human beings who are suffering there. El-Khodary provides a bracing antidote to that telling us what’s happening to the average Gazan.
And for my pro-Israel readers, don’t expect a whitewash of the situation. El-Khodary is critical of both Fatah and Hamas, along with Israel. Here are some of the most telling passages from the interview:
This is the worst time that Gaza has ever gone through. The situation is deteriorating on a daily basis because of the harsh effects of the closure. It touches every element of daily life in Gaza.
…There are hundreds of students with scholarships to study in different parts of the world. But because of the closure they cannot leave Gaza—they cannot leave through Israel, they cannot leave through Egypt. So they are stuck. The young people are so desperate. Last year they were desperate, this year they are more desperate. They have no goal in life. You have a generation that finished high school but they cannot go abroad if they wish to study, they cannot find a job if they want to work, they cannot go to university at home because their family cannot even afford to send them to local universities. So they are being asked to wait until the situation improves.
People are not starving in Gaza, thanks to UNWRA. The international community has insured basic supplies for every household. But people tell me that they are realizing that life is not all about food. Life is about other things, too. They tell me that they see Hamas has insured internal security and that’s maybe the only thing they have insured. There are no gangs in the street, no people with guns…
But people are saying, internal security is not everything, you need the other elements in life—you need to have a job, you need to see a future for your children. Young people need to plan for their future. They should not feel suffocated.
Should there ever be a really catastrophic incident in Gaza (I don’t even want to conjure what form that might take), remember this statement:
I’ve been meeting with the senior leaders of Hamas the past week and they all are interested in reconciliation, period, there is a sense of desperation from Hamas for reconciliation. Because they know that the effect of the closure has been so harsh that people cannot take it any longer. Gaza is like a bomb ready to explode. It hasn’t yet, and nobody knows when it might finally explode and where that explosion will hit.
Interestingly, El-Khodary notes that the average Gazan is highly critical of the terror attacks against Israel:
The Qassams have definitely been criticized by people in the community, as have all the fighters and the military factions. People cannot understand, for example, why they would be hitting Israeli crossings when these crossings allow for basic supplies and fuel to come into Gaza. It doesn’t make sense. You want fuel from Israel so why hit the checkpoints? It leads to a huge gap between the leadership and the people. One of the senior Hamas leaders came out with a statement for the first time criticizing any group that hits any crossing, because the leadership understands that people know it doesn’t make sense.
The problem is that Gazans feel, rightfully so, that Israel and the U.S. hold all the cards here. Until their predicament eases, they have no interest, motivation, or even ability to take things into their own hands and pressure militants to rein in their attacks.
The Israeli siege reminds me of a donkey owner who decides the best way to get his animal to move is by beating it mercilessly with a stick. Of course, this only makes the animal dig in its heels. Have you ever tried to move a stubborn donkey? It never occurred to the man to try a carrot.