July 8 marks one year since Israel launched an offensive against the Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The resulting 50 days of conflict left 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis dead.

The fighting particularly devastated civilian areas. Israeli airstrikes in Gaza reduced 18,000 homes to rubble and left hundreds of thousands in need of emergency assistance.

Now, almost a year later, life in the Gaza Strip has improved little, if at all. Over 100,000 people are still displaced. On May 21, the World Bank released a statement addressing the current situation in Gaza, which it termed, “unsustainable.”

Since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, the Egyptian and Israeli governments have sealed their borders with Gaza in an attempt to stop the transfer of weapons to extremist groups. However, these blockades have also severely limited the Gazan people’s access to recovery supplies.

Both the blockades and the 2014 war have shrunk Gaza’s economy by close to half a billion dollars. The World Bank reports that Gaza has been “reduced to a fraction of its estimated potential.”

With the economy essentially cut off from the outside world, the well-educated population of Gaza has nowhere to turn for jobs. Gaza now has the highest unemployment rate in the world, with an overwhelming 43 percent of residents out of work. At the end of 2014, youth unemployment surpassed 60%.

About 1.8 million Gazans are restricted to a region smaller in area than the city of Washington D.C. They cannot leave without permits, and many supplies cannot pass through the blockade.

One Gazan woman lost her five-month-old grandson to exposure in the winter following the conflict. As of Feburary, she lived in the remains of a house destroyed by the war, where she feared for herself and the rest of her family. “This house isn’t adequate. We’re scared it’s going to collapse on us,” she explained in an interview with Vice News.

After last summer’s conflict, the international community pledged $3.5 billion for recovery efforts in the Strip. A year later, little more than a quarter of that money has been dispersed.

The remaining $2.5 billion are desperately needed. Nearly 40% of Gaza’s citizens live below the poverty line. Neighborhoods still lay in ruins, and an overwhelming majority of the population lacks access to electricity and clean water. Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, recently noted, “No human being who visits can remain untouched by the terrible devastation that one sees here in Gaza.”

The World Bank report calls for an easing of the blockade to allow reconstruction materials to reach residents. It also says that the Palestinian Authority must strengthen its leadership to rebuild a Gazan economy that is “on the verge of collapse.”

– Caitlin Harrison

Sources: The Guardian, The World Bank BBC Vice News UN News Centre
Photo: Daily Mail


human shields
The recent deaths of at least 15 Gazans taking shelter in a United Nations-run school last week have caused skepticism toward both sides, raising questions as to whether Israel is violating human rights protections or if Hamas is using innocent civilians as human shields.

As the conflict between Israel and Palestine enters its fourth week, already more than 700 Palestinian and 53 Israeli soldiers have been killed. Faced with incredibly lopsided casualties, Israel has been the subject of widespread criticism as to whether the state is violating human rights laws by attacking civilian forces. Yet, according to the Israel Defense Forces, the Jewish state warned the U.N. three days prior to the attack, and they failed to properly evacuate the school. The U.N. has condemned both sides for failing to take appropriate action against civilian casualties.

While Hamas also openly targets Israeli civilians, Israel’s missile-defense system has prevented most of these attacks from coming to fruition.  So far, only three Israeli civilians have been killed. Israel claims to take precautions in order to limit civilian casualties. The U.N. estimates that about 75 percent of the Palestinians killed have been civilians.

While Hamas’ launching of indiscriminate rockets into domestic areas may certainly be deemed a war crime, Human Rights Watch claims Israel is not completely innocent, either. Israel’s “warnings” hardly provide enough time for residents to flee, and an investigation failed to find evidence of Hamas military targets in areas attacked.

Yet evidence of Hamas supporting the use of human shields is growing. In a July 15 video clip, Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri commended these acts to a point of near heroism. “The fact that people are willing to sacrifice themselves against Israeli warplanes in order to protect their homes, I believe this strategy is proving itself,” said Abu Zuhri.

As tensions rise, officials around the world have voiced support of the need for a Palestinian state. While Israel has called for a cease-fire, Hamas has repeatedly rejected the possibility. Now, with the “ball in Hamas’ court,” many hope the cease-fire will prevent further accumulation of civilian deaths in the Palestinian state.

Nick Magnanti

Sources: USA Today, Yahoo News, Fox News, CNN
Photo: USA Today

israel and hamas
The third in a series of air strike conflicts since 2008 between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Operation Protective Eagle has been active for only two days, but has seen 430 Israeli air strikes, 41 Palestinian deaths and 160 rockets.

Late Tuesday, Hamas set off 40 long-range rockets, some of which were intercepted over Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There were no reports of injuries, but the attacks spurred the Israeli government to respond with even greater force. Israeli warplanes struck 150 sites said to harbor Islamist fighters in Gaza, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called up 40,000 reservists, so if it came to it, Israel would have the option of ground invasion.

Wednesday, Israel released at least 160 air strikes on Gaza. Hamas responded with just four rockets, one of which was an M302, the same type of missiles that were in a shipment Israel intercepted from Iran in March. Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Learner says even if Hamas forces pull back, Israel will not back down. “We’re beyond that point now,” he said to a CNN reporter. “Hamas are going to pay for the attacks that they’re carrying out – it’s just unacceptable.”

Israel tries to make up for the violence by warning Hamas targets of attacks. Occupants of a building about to be bombed are given a brief warning in Arabic to evacuate – usually around five minutes before being bombed – in Israel’s efforts to reduce civilian casualties and avoid charges of indiscriminate killings. These targeted houses belong to Hamas members involved in military activity, and many have been used as operations rooms.

This isn’t the first time Israel has practiced this policy. During Operation Cast Lead in late 2008, Israel used telephone calls and leaflets to tell occupants to leave before striking, or they fired missiles without explosive warheads onto the roof as a warning to leave before the real missile came. But, often the warnings are in vain, and groups like Human Rights Watch have criticized the attempts because they can’t truly pardon armed forces from their actions. Often, people die from the attacks anyway because they defy the warnings or don’t leave in time, and sometimes missiles don’t hit the building at which they were aimed.

Operation Protective Eagle seems like just a repeat of history, following Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. But this time, it looks like Israel is getting stronger, while Hamas’s position is weakening. Israel’s new defense against rocket attacked, based on the Iron Dome system, is more sophisticated. So far, in this attack, no injuries or deaths have been reported from the Israel side. Meanwhile, Hamas lacks allies it once had – Hizbollah and Syria – because of the Syrian war, and its alliance with Iran is under strain. Because it didn’t support President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Hamas has seen a sharp drop in financing from Iran. Israeli experts warn to also be careful of a weakened Hamas though, as it could lead to extremism.

– Rachel Reed

Sources: Reuters, CNN, New York Times, Telegraph Blog New York Times (2)
Photo: Reuters