By Sami Abdel Shafi
Gaza is a place of captivity. Yet, when the violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas erupted on our streets this week, my wife and I wanted to defy them. We did not want to be held hostage again in our home, which happens every time these so-called titans clash. So we went to see friends.
Shortly after crossing an intersection on our way back, there was a deafening explosion followed by the crackle of gunfire. Not daring to look back, I put my foot down. When I did look back, I could see that a minivan had been blown up with what we later learnt was a rocket-propelled grenade.
Four days on, the Gaza Strip has seen acts of appalling slaughter and brutality. Nearly 30 are dead and hundreds have been wounded. These shameful events, and the almost total breakdown of Palestinian leadership and governance we are now seeing, have not come out of the blue. All the while, Israel’s government has avoided dealing with the renewed Arab and Palestinian peace initiative of earlier this year. The Palestinian unity government has been kept in a state of bankruptcy because Israel is withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax and customs monies.
The Gaza Strip has long been a virtual prison where the movement of goods and people in and out is unbearably difficult. What is under-publicised is how disastrous the siege imposed on Gaza’s 1.4 million inhabitants by air, land and sea is, when coupled with the overwhelming sense of uncertainty about the future felt by most of us here. We feel isolated, stowed away on the edge of the earth.
Peace initiatives have gone nowhere, a new government with a peaceful programme has been incapacitated, and the agonies of daily life grow harsher with an absence of medical care, municipal services and any semblance of normal civil life.
Now it is clear that the factional fighting in Gaza will serve no advantage but to Israel. Israel will not only claim it has a weak partner, or none, for peace but it will have more room to further its military policy against Palestinians, in the Gaza Strip particularly, by claiming it now has no functional partner.
The suffering for civilians here can only grow worse. We have not abandoned hope for an eventual peaceful outcome, but right now it feels as if Gaza is staring into an abyss.
-Sami Abdel-Shafi is co-founder and senior partner at Emerge Consulting Group, LLC, a management consultancy in Gaza City (Published in the Independent, UK, June 15, 2007)