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Israel/OPT: Gaza life reduced to handouts and Hamas

By Middle East correspondent Matt Brown

For many Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, life is desperate and dangerous. But the future is looking more bleak than before.

Gaza is just a tiny strip of land on the edge of the Mediterranean on the south-west border with Israel. The people of Gaza rely on goods brought across several border crossings controlled by Israel, and around 85 per cent of them get the basics of life from international aid agencies.

Since the Islamist militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza last month, Israel has had an unusually tight grip on the crossings, and the prices of basic commodities like flour have been skyrocketing.

Ahmed Al Habash, an unemployed labourer, gives voice to the frustration increasingly common in Gaza these days.

He says his family should not be made to suffer just because Hamas is in control.

"It's not [a] concern for me who's [in] control here," he said.

"I want to live with my people, with my children, my wife, my family, nice, without a problem."

Israel has allowed humanitarian aid through. Around 70 per cent of the basic needs in Gaza have been shipped in.

But one of Gaza's most senior businessmen, Mohammed Telbani, says Gazans are being reduced to beggars.

"It leaves people only thinking [about] the food, and the border - 'What time it's open, what time it's closed'. Life, it's not only flour or rice," he said.

The people of Gaza now have a much deeper worry. While aid is being allowed in, no exports are being allowed out.

Job cuts

Mr Telbani has laid off most of his workers in his food-processing factory in central Gaza. And his is just one example of what has been happening throughout the territory.

Around 75 per cent of the factories in Gaza have either shut down or are running skeleton shifts, and tens of thousands of workers have been sacked.

If the economy keeps on the way it is now, Gazans will end up totally dependant on external aid - a life of handouts with no real prospect of work.

"This is very, very important for the worker to come to the work," Mr Telbani said.

"If he finds work in Gaza, [he is] very, very happy, and his family is very, very happy, because... [there is] no work in the Gaza."

Hamas has promised to safeguard security at the goods crossings, but Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter says Hamas cannot be trusted because Palestinian militants, including Hamas, have repeatedly attacked the crossings.

"Karni crossing point, for merchants, was for many years a target for terror attacks," he said.

"And some cases, unfortunately, they have succeeded, and murdered Israelis who used to work in that crossing point."

Frustration with Israel

In Gaza, where chaos has given way to order under the new Hamas rule, frustration with Israel is mounting.

Not everyone blames Hamas for the looming disaster, and some, like Mr Telbani, believe it is the result of a deliberate strategy on the part of Israel.

"The program of Israel is to make people in Gaza not alive, not dead. Like they only want the people poor, poor," he said.

But Mr Dichter says the hardship being experienced by Gazans is not the fault of Israel. He says it is the fault of Hamas and its desire to continue the conflict with Israel in the main Palestinian territory, the West Bank.

"They [Hamas in Gaza] are trying very hard to transfer the capabilities from the Gaza Strip into the West Bank, because the West Bank is well known as the land of options, of opportunities to hate Israelis," he said.

In the meantime, the 1.5 million people living in Gaza continue to queue for their rations, and wonder if life here will ever again offer much more than handouts and Hamas.


Australian Broadcasting Corporation