Some of Gaza’s Palestinians are torn between joy and despair. They are happy their land is being returned to them, but they face little prospect of any immediate change in their daily lives. The departing Israeli settlers rip a hole out of the local economy, that for the moment is impossible to fill. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth, and one of the poorest. Half of its population of 1.4 million are war refugees. Unemployment stands at 60 percent.
Muhammed worked in a Jewish settlement. Today his job has gone, but he still has a family to feed; “Gaza’s very bad and the jobless rate here will rise because of settlement workers who’ve lost their jobs. I hope the national and international communities, other Arab nations and the International Bank will stand with us to improve the situation,” he says. It is estimated two to three thousand Palestinian families are facing the same dilemma, with no way of replacing their lost income. It is a worrying situation for the Palestinian Authority and Khan Younis’s Mayor; “Many projects are planned for this area, and many Palestinians will benefit, especially those unemployed because of the withdrawal or the closing of borders,” Hosni Zorub said.
“Thousands of graduates also can’t find work in their chosen fields, and our plans will help them. There will be new fishing jobs, and farmers will find new export markets.” Israel’s attitude will be crucial. Gaza lacks resources, and outlets for its products. At the end of the 1990s it opened its own airport, but it has been in ruins since the second intifada. Israel controls Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, and last summer it was closed for 19 days, sparking a humanitarian crisis.
The Rafah terminal is Gaza’s only lifeline with the outside world, and the Palestinians want control of it. For the moment, the port can only be used for goods, not passengers. For the time being, the settlers may be gone but the Palestinians are far from being masters of their own land.