Flowers are one of the few things Gazans can export. After four and half years of the Israeli blockade and the partial destruction of Gaza’s industry in the Israeli offensive three years ago, what is life like for Gazans today?
Farmers are continuing to grow things like cocktail tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables despite the fact that access to West Bank markets is denied them.
PALTRADE, the Palestinian Trade Centre says 60% of Gaza’s industrial companies are ready to export if they are granted permission.
In the meantime the economy survives on the drip-feed provided by tunnels from Egypt. Israel insists the blockade is a matter of life and death, as it says Hamas would otherwise import weapons with which to attack settlements close to the Gazan border.
There were six customs posts available to Gaza. Two were closed when Hamas came to power, another two are only partially open, and two others are only for specific purposes. None allows trade with Israel, or fellow Palestinians in the West Bank.
Industrial zones like Karni were reduced to rubble in the three-week Israeli offensive of 2008-2009, during which 1,400 Palestinians died, most of them civilians. Israel suffered 13 casualties, most of them soldiers.
In September 2009 the UN’s Human Rights Council published its report on the offensive. Chaired by the South African judge Richard J. Goldstone it found both the Israeli army and Palestinian militants guilty of war crimes.
The report again revealed the gulf between Hamas and Fatah, which retains power in the West Bank. At the 16th session of the Human Rights Council in March this year the way was cleared for the Palestinians to haul Israel before the International Criminal Court. It has not happened, as they cannot agree.
A few days later Goldstone retracted his findings although his fellow judges stood by the report, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for it to be binned.
“Israel didn’t deliberately target civilians, and our investigative bodies work according to the highest international standards, which of course is not the case for Hamas,” said Netanyahu.
But the Palestinian divisions will not last forever. Egypt has begun brokering talks between Fatah, Hamas and 13 other factions, and there appears to be a desire to reunite the Palestine Liberation Organisation family. They all know a strong PLO will make more progress in international forums.
One of the key issues is the release of prisoners. There are between 7,000 and 11,000 of them according to different estimates.
The Palestinian’s Prisoners Minister Issa Qaraqe and a delegation of former prisoners came to the European Parliament at the start of December to put pressure on Israel to respect prisoner’s rights.
“If the Israelis have nothing to be ashamed of in the way they are detaining Palestinian prisoners then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t allow us to visit the prisoners and find out for ourselves,” says the chairman of the delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council Proinsias de Rossa.
Life remains hard for Gaza’s 1.6 million people, but it may, just may, be about to improve.