Gaza Strip economy on ‘verge of collapse,’ World Bank says

The New York Times reports: Gaza’s war-battered economy is on the “verge of collapse,” dragged down by soaring unemployment rates that followed last summer’s war with Israel, border restrictions and government dysfunction, the World Bank says in a new report.

Infighting between Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, the report said, is delaying reconstruction of the tiny territory, which suffered widespread damage during the war.

The report, issued late Thursday, said Gaza’s unemployment rate now stood at 44 percent, 11 points higher than before the war — and the world’s highest level. The youth unemployment rate, at 60 percent, is the highest in the Middle East, the report noted.

The report said that 40 percent of Gaza’s nearly 1.8 million Palestinians lived in poverty, even though around 80 percent received some sort of aid. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas says ISIS has no foothold in Gaza Strip

Reuters: Islamic State sympathizers in the Gaza Strip are making their presence felt on social media, but the enclave’s Hamas rulers said on Thursday the group has no real foothold in the Palestinian territory.

Statements signed “Supporters of the Islamic State” have appeared recently on Twitter and several websites, accusing the Islamist group Hamas of arresting dozens of jihadists and threatening attacks in Gaza unless they are released.

Hamas said it had detained what it described as “lawbreakers” after an explosion earlier this month near a Hamas security headquarters and another blast outside the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

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Hamas cracks down on Salafists in Gaza Strip

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: The confrontation between the Salafist jihadist movement and Hamas-led security services in the Gaza Strip has returned to the surface following a two-year truce between the two sides.

Strong tensions returned after security services arrested Salafist Sheikh Adnan Mayt, a prominent Salafist jihadist activist, April 6. This was followed by the arrest of other Salafists and raids of their homes, an April 29 statement by Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya (Arabic for “supporters of the Islamic State”) said.

The arrests increased following the two roadside bomb blasts that detonated in the Gaza Strip on April 18, which the Interior Ministry described as “primitive.” One of the blasts exploded near the outer wall of the UNRWA headquarters, and the other went off near the UNRWA general prosecutor’s office. A third explosion took place a day earlier near the Abu Mazen roundabout in western Gaza. [Continue reading…]

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In Gaza, rubble lies on top of rubble

Matthew Duss writes: Two weeks ago saw the latest blow to the on-again-but-mostly-off-again reconciliation between the two leading Palestinian political factions, Hamas and Fatah. A Fatah delegation from the West Bank entered Gaza for what was planned as a weeklong visit to address the sticky issue of payment to some 40,000 Hamas government employees, which was one of the main drivers of Hamas’ decision to accept a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, largely on Fatah’s terms. Instead, the Fatah delegation stayed only one day, departing after claiming that Hamas had prohibited it from traveling from their beachfront hotel to their offices. Hamas, for its part, responded that the makeup of the delegation had not been appropriately cleared in advance.

A few days later, as Israelis celebrated their Independence Day, the first rocket was fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in four months. An Israeli tank barrage into Gaza followed shortly after.

It was not the first rocket launched since the August cease-fire that ended Operation Protective Edge, the summer of 2014’s hugely destructive Israeli assault on Gaza that lasted 52 days. Back in February, Hamas lobbed two rockets into the Mediterranean, ostensibly to test their launch system and intimidate Israel. Omar Shaban, a Palestinian analyst who runs the small think tank, PalThink, in Gaza, had a different interpretation. “They’re sending you a message,” he told me. “You should be wise enough to hear it.”

The message is that Gaza is creeping toward another explosion. It’s a depressingly similar pattern. Just like after previous conflicts, Israel’s cease-fire demands have been met. Hamas has prevented rocket fire, while the group’s demand for an end to the blockade that has suffocated Gaza for nearly a decade has not. Last month I visited the coastal strip to view the damage from the summer’s war, assess the state of reconstruction, and explore the possibilities of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

I’d last been to Gaza in February 2012. There have been two wars since then, in addition to a number of smaller incursions and exchanges of fire. In February 2012, much of Gaza City remained in rubble from December 2008-January 2009’s Operation Cast Lead. This time, there was rubble lying atop the rubble.

Shaban pulled up next to a huge pile of broken cinder block and twisted metal. “Here’s the Finance Ministry.”

Despite Hamas’ role in the escalation that led to the war, however, polls have shown that the group retains a significant measure of public support. One poll taken immediately after Operation Protective Edge found, for the first time since 2006, Hamas would best its rival Fatah in both presidential and parliamentary elections. Part of this has to do with Hamas being seen, unlike Fatah, as a party willing to fight the status quo. Part of it has to do with Hamas’ strategic distribution of resources to activists and supporters. But it’s also related to the fact that their civil servants are actually respected for the work that they continue to do in hugely difficult circumstances. [Continue reading…]

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Ex-U.N. official John Dugard: Israel’s crimes are ‘infinitely worse’ than in apartheid South Africa

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‘Kill anything': Israeli soldiers say Gaza atrocities came from orders for indiscriminate fire

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The IDF’s new tactics

Neve Gordon writes: Several months ago, a young woman working in Kibbutz Dorot’s carrot fields noticed a piece of paper lying on the ground with a short inscription in Arabic. It looked like a treasure map. She put it in her pocket. Some time later, she gave it to her friend Avihai, who works for Breaking the Silence, an organisation of military veterans who collect testimony from Israeli soldiers to provide a record of everyday life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Avihai was in the middle of interviewing soldiers about their experiences during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip last summer. He recognised the piece of paper as a leaflet that had been dropped by an Israeli plane above Palestinian neighbourhoods in the northern part of the Strip; the wind had blown it six miles from its intended landing point.

The leaflet helps explain why 70 per cent of the 2220 Palestinians killed during the war were civilians. The red line on the map traces a route from a bright blue area labelled Beit Lahia, a Palestinian town of 60,000 inhabitants at the north edge of the Strip, and moves south through Muaskar Jabalia to Jabalia city. The text reads:

Military Notification to the Residents of Beit Lahia

The IDF will be undertaking forceful and assertive air operations against terrorist elements and infrastructure in the locations from which they launch their missiles at the State of Israel. These locations include:

From east Atatra to Salatin Street. From west [unclear] to Jabalia Camp.

You must evacuate your homes immediately and head toward southern Jabalia town along the following road:

Falluja Road, until 12 noon, Sunday 13 July 2014.

The IDF does not intend to harm you or your families. These operations are temporary and will be of short duration. Any person, however, who violates these instructions and does not evacuate his home immediately puts his own life as well as the lives of his household in danger. Those who take heed will be spared.

‘The significance of this leaflet,’ Yehuda Shaul, the founder of Breaking the Silence, told me, ‘cannot be appreciated fully without reading our new report.’ The report is made up of 111 testimonies, provided by around seventy soldiers who participated in the fighting.

One thing is immediately clear from the interviews: the IDF’s working assumption was that once the leaflets were dropped, anyone who refused to move was a legitimate target: [Continue reading…]

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Pro-ISIS group in Gaza says Hamas is ‘worse than Israel’

RFE/RL reports: Tensions are rising in Gaza between the Palestinian group Hamas and Jamaat Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya Fi Bayt al-Maqdis (The Supporters Of Islamic State In Jerusalem), a Salafist faction that considers itself loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group.

The flare-up was sparked on May 3 when Hamas destroyed a mosque belonging to the Supporters Of Islamic State In Jerusalem (SISJ) in the coastal enclave’s Deir al-Balah city.

SISJ responded to the demolition of the mosque by issuing a statement threatening to carry out actions against Hamas targets if the Palestinian group did not release several SISJ militants who were detained in Gaza last month. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli soldiers cast doubt on legality of Gaza military tactics

The Guardian reports: Testimonies provided by more than 60 Israeli soldiers who fought in last summer’s war in Gaza have raised serious questions over whether Israel’s tactics breached its obligations under international law to distinguish and protect civilians.

The claims – collected by the human rights group Breaking the Silence – are contained in dozens of interviews with Israeli combatants, as well as with soldiers who served in command centres and attack rooms, a quarter of them officers up to the rank of major.

They include allegations that Israeli ground troops were briefed to regard everything inside Gaza as a “threat” and they should “not spare ammo”, and that tanks fired randomly or for revenge on buildings without knowing whether they were legitimate military targets or contained civilians.

In their testimonies, soldiers depict rules of engagement they characterised as permissive, “lax” or largely non-existent, including how some soldiers were instructed to treat anyone seen looking towards their positions as “scouts” to be fired on. [Continue reading…]

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Banksy finds a canvas and a new fan base in Gaza’s ruins

The New York Times: Very little of Abu Shadi Shenbari’s family home remains in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip. Only a concrete bathroom wall was left standing when Israeli forces flattened the neighborhood near the border with Israel during the war with Hamas last summer.

Though Mr. Shenbari had all but abandoned that last panel of erect concrete, in recent days he began building a wood and wire-mesh fort with a flimsy nylon roof to protect the bombed-out bathroom wall, which is now home to a 10-foot-tall depiction of a kitten.

The spray-painted mural was created by the elusive British graffiti artist Banksy, who slipped in and out of Gaza in February, leaving his mark on three slabs of rubble left from Israel’s 50-day fight with Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza.

Gaza residents, largely preoccupied with the slow pace of reconstruction after a cold and wet winter in this impoverished and isolated Palestinian coastal strip, have been waking up to the value of the Banksy artworks that appeared amid the ruins.

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In the rubble of Gaza, militias prepare for inevitable war with Israel

Bel Trew reports: The fighters in Gaza are preparing for a new war every day. It could come at any time: In the past few weeks, Israeli planes and drones have been increasingly circling the 26-square-mile coastal enclave. The Israel Defense Forces have repositioned troops at the eastern borders, an area almost entirely flattened during last summer’s 51-day war.

“The war could start any minute,” says Abu Mujahid. “There is a lot of kinetic movement, so all the fighting groups evacuated the bases, we’ve postponed training sessions, and many of the men have moved underground.”

“There are people right now under your feet,” his wiry second-in-command, Abu Saif, 28, adds with a toothless grin.

Gaza today is a powder keg waiting to explode. The key aspects of the cease-fire agreement that ended the war last summer remain unfulfilled — both Israel and Hamas feel that only more violence can force their enemy to assent to their demands. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of Gaza has stagnated due to Israeli restrictions on letting material into the territory, as well as the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, sapping Gaza residents’ hope for a better future and leading them to believe that there is no alternative but armed struggle. [Continue reading…]

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‘Empty words': Donors fail to deliver pledged Gaza aid

Al Jazeera: Just a quarter of the $3.5bn in aid pledged to rebuild Gaza in the wake of last summer’s devastating war has been delivered, according to a new report.

The report from the Association of International Development Agencies, released on Monday, found that only 26.8 percent ($945m) of the money pledged by donors at the Cairo conference six months ago has been released, and reconstruction and recovery have barely started in the besieged coastal enclave.

“The promising speeches at the donor conference have turned into empty words,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, which was among the report’s signatories.

“There has been little rebuilding, no permanent ceasefire agreement and no plan to end the blockade. The international community is walking with eyes wide open into the next avoidable conflict, by upholding the status quo they themselves said must change.”

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Italy migrant boats: Palestinian boy tells harrowing story of journey from Gaza to Europe

The Independent reports: A Palestinian boy who fled Gaza has told his harrowing story of being kidnapped, beaten, imprisoned and starved in his battle to reach Europe for a better life.

Yusuf, not his real name, is one of more than 8,000 migrants have made the treacherous crossing to Italy in boats run by ruthless traffickers since the start of this year alone.

Save the Children cared for the 17-year-old when he arrived in the port of Lampedusa last month. Despite the horrors of his long journey from Gaza, Yusuf said he knew he was lucky to have made it.

Almost 1,000 migrants had to be rescued by Italian authorities during a 24-hour-period last week, when at least 10 people died after their boat capsized. [Continue reading…]

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Do Israelis have any idea how bad it is in Gaza?

Haggai Matar writes: “I’m extremely concerned that if you leave Gaza in the state it’s currently in, you’ll have another eruption, and violence, and then we’re back in a further catastrophe, so we’ve got to stop that,” warned Quartet envoy Tony Blair during a visit to the Gaza Strip on Sunday. It was his first trip to the Gaza since the last war, and Blair spent his time meeting with ministers and surveying the progress – or lack thereof – toward rehabilitating the Strip.

The scope of destruction in Gaza remains enormous. According to the UN, over 96,000 homes were either damaged or destroyed by Israeli air strikes. The donor states that have pledged to transfer money have yet to do so, re-building is going nowhere, many are still seeking refuge in UNRWA schools and the winter storms have only increased the damage to the homes and neighborhoods that survived.

The Israeli blockade, which prevents exports, economic development and importing building materials not previously approved by Israel, and which includes firing at fishermen, continues to choke the Strip. Furthermore, the Egyptian government has only tightened the blockade on its end over the past months. Egypt has destroyed all the tunnels into Sinai, keeps the Rafah crossing closed on a regular basis, and has destroyed large parts of Rafah in order to create buffer zone between the city and its Gaza counterpart. And all this after the Egyptian government banned Hamas’ military wing, calling it a “terrorist organization.” [Continue reading…]

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Gaza’s plight grows worse

The Washington Post reports: In almost every way, the Gaza Strip is much worse off now than before last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas. Scenes of misery are one of the few things in abundance in the battered coastal enclave.

Reconstruction of the tens of thousands homes damaged and destroyed in the hostilities has barely begun, almost six months after the cease-fire. At current rates, it will take decades to rebuild what was destroyed.

The economy is in deep recession; pledges of billions in aid have not been honored; and the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the enclave, refuses to loosen its grip and is preparing again for war.

Diplomats, aid workers and residents warn of a looming humanitarian crisis and escalation of violence.

“After every war, we say it cannot get worse, but I will say this time is the worst ever,” said Omar Shaban, a respected Gaza economist. “There is no sign of life. Trade. Import. Export. Reconstruction. Aid? Dead. I’m not exaggerating when I tell my friends abroad: Gaza could collapse, maybe soon.” [Continue reading…]

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Gaza suffers in growing isolation

Zvi Bar’el reports: “What do they give us here? Three pitas and a little food; it’s not enough even for a small child,” Alaa Kullab complained to the Palestinian news agency Safa. He said his eight-person family, which has been living in a school in Rafah ever since this summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, received only five beds.

“We have no heaters, and we’re forbidden to use hotplates,” added Kullab, who began a hunger strike along with another resident of the school a few days ago.

More than 20,000 of the 450,000 people displaced by the war still live in schools or other shelters arranged by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Last month, UNRWA announced that it would no longer pay displaced families’ rent or fund reconstruction of their houses, because it was out of money, having received only $135 million of the $725 million it needs.

“People come to our offices crying and threatening, but we have no way to help them,” an UNRWA employee told Haaretz. “Children are freezing cold, they suffer from malnutrition and even the little food they get is unsuitable.”

Next week, cleaning workers at Gaza’s hospitals are expected to strike again, since the Palestinian government hasn’t produced the back pay it promised to persuade them to end the last 16-day strike. Some 45,000 government employees in Gaza have yet to receive their January salaries, and they may get only 60 percent, as they did last month, because Israel has frozen tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority. The PA says the transfers amount to over half the costs of these salaries.

In October, a donor conference netted pledges of $5.4 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction, but only about 2 percent of this amount has arrived. Both the reconstruction and the reopening of the border crossings, especially with Egypt, depend on implementing a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, but due to disputes between the rival organizations, this still has not happened. [Continue reading…]

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Threat of violence silences Palestinian journalists

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: How loud is the voice you hear when you sit down to write a press report? How small is the prison cell you imagine yourself ending up in once you publish your article? The man you imagine pointing a gun at your head, is he wearing a mask? These are thoughts that lead one to delete the most important and powerful piece of information from an article. Some thoughts even lead you to delete the article entirely.

A late 2014 study by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms found that 80% of Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza practice self-censorship of their writing.

Journalist Ghazi Bani Odeh, who conducted the survey, “The Official Media and Freedom of Expression,” told Al-Monitor that attacks and harassment, and thus fear of them, are the main causes leading journalists to censor themselves. [Continue reading…]

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Abbas backs Egypt crackdown on Gaza tunnels

AFP reports: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he supported Egypt’s crackdown on tunnels linking the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the Sinai Peninsula and any other action the country took to protect itself from militants, according to a media report Thursday.

“We have supported all the precautionary measures taken by the Egyptian authorities to close the tunnels and stop the trafficking of arms and the passage of people between Gaza and the Sinai,” Abbas said in an interview with Egyptian magazine Al-Ahram Al-Arabi due to be published on Saturday, extracts of which were published by MENA news agency.

“We will continue to support any measure protecting Egypt from danger,” Abbas was quoted as saying. [Continue reading…]

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