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Okay, but what do the people living in Gaza thinks?
Have you ever seen Gaza? The first time I saw Gaza was in 2005. Israel had just retreated from Gaza. It was the times of the disengagement policy of Ariel Sharon. Gaza was under Palestinian rule. The initial impressions one could catch at a glance were: First, there was hung a flag with different color on top of each house. However, none of those flags was national flag of Palestine. Colors of flags varied from one neighborhood to another. Orange ones were al-Fatih flags, green ones were Hamas flags, black ones Islamic Jihad flags and red ones were Palestinian Liberation Front flags. One would easily understand that he/she is walking around a more political part of Palestine as compared to West Bank. Gaze was divided from one neighborhood to another. Second, the areas named Organized Industrial Zone were smaller and emptier than the small industrial sites in Turkey. Not much activity could be observed in the areas. Israel when retreating from the region has also taken economic activities along. Third, you would hit a child per minute while you are walking on the street. 50 percent of the Gaza population composed of children; one woman gave birth to 5.2 children in average. Fourth, unlike the capital city Ramallah, Gaza represented poverty. Cars were old and rugged, houses were about to collapse. Fifth, I saw with my own eyes that in Gaza, the residential areas called "immigrants' camp" were made of jerry built houses instead of tents. Sixth, when you turned the corner, you had to be careful not to hit the semi-uniformed militia forces holding missile launchers. In Gaza, more than two groups of armed forces existed.
Gaza looked worse than the Turkey of my childhood times. In Israel, there were two different countries one of which is developed while the other is not. At those times, everyone was trying to separate those two countries. And we, as TEPAV study group, on behalf of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchangers of Turkey, were trying to decide how an industrial policy framework can be developed for Palestine. Four years have passed; our study is still going on.
My last visit to Gaza was in June 2007. The direction of the course of events was already obvious back then. It was recommended not to walk on streets without having armed and uniformed guardians around. They would not let you walk around by yourself, anyway. Sitting at the seaside, eating a fish meal and chatting with your friends were completely irrelevant. Then, in August, Hamas by force took over the rule, or was forced to take over the rule in Gaza. Since then, the connection of Gaza with the rest of the world became significantly limited. Unemployment rose, it became hard to access convenience goods. Rocket attacks towards Israel also increased. Nothing became better for Palestinians or Israelis living around Gaza or Ashdot and Siderot. The anxiety that rose when the children left their homes to go to school did not decrease but increased within or around Gaza.
It is extremely easy to talk about what is going on in Gaza while sitting here safe. It is as well easy to assign people living there missions that they do not even think about. Have you ever thought what it would be like to live there? Have you ever checked the questionnaires conducted by Palestinians in Gaza right after Israeli attacks toward Gaza? In the questionnaires, two points become prominent: First, it appears that Israeli attacks have affected both Hamas and al-Fatih supporters negatively to the same extent. Palestinians as a whole are affected negatively by this operation. Second, Palestinians are really bored nowadays. Let us see what Palestinians are thinking about nowadays.
Ramallah based "Near East Consulting" group is carrying out questionnaires both in West Bank and Gaza. The group is interviewing with around 650 people per month and reporting the results. According to the results of the questionnaire carried out right after Israel attacks, 15 percent of the Palestinians in Gaza say that some of their family members lost their lives as a result of the Israeli attacks. 19 percent says that some of their relatives are injured because of the attacks. The proportion of the people saying that their houses were damaged is around 22 percent. That of people stating that Israel attacks affected their business negatively is around 61 percent. In this context, while the proportion of the people stating that they are unemployed was 29 percent in 2008, the rate rose to 36 percent in January 2009.
So, how do the responses given to the abovementioned questions vary according to the identity of the respondents? Is there any difference between Hamas and al-Fatih supporters as the damage being exposed to is considered? Of course, the respondents here are not militia forces, but are the supporters of the political movement. In this context, the share of the people saying that "some of our family members lost their lives" is 17 percent and 16 percent for al-Fatih and Hamas supporters, respectively. There is no difference. The share of the people saying that "some of our relatives were injured" is 18 percent and 23 percent for al-Fatih and Hamas supporters, respectively. While 29 percent of al-Fatih supporters say "our houses were damaged", the rate for Hamas supporters is 27 percent. And 64 percent of el-Fatih supporters and 59 percent of Hamas supporters say that "their businesses worsened". There is no difference up to this point. However, there appears a difference when between the rates of unemployment among the supporters of the two parties. While the share of unemployed supporting al-Fatih is 28 percent, the share of supporting Hamas is 42 percent.
So, what do these figures imply? First, Israeli attacks seem to affect al-Fatih and Hamas supporters as parties to a political movement. When it is considered that the respondents are not militant people, ordinary Hamas and al-Fatih supporters on the streets are affected by the attacks in a similar way. Second, unemployment is a more intense problem for Hamas supporters. Third, as the questionnaire reveals, while one-thirds of Gaza people believe that their and their families' security is the most important issue, one-fifth of Gaza people believe that the main problem is electricity. It is easy to state the fifth point by taking a look at these figures: Regions that felt Israeli attacks more can be distinguished from the other regions. It is observed that loss of lives is higher in North Gaza while loss of property is higher in the South Gaza. And in between these two regions, there exists a third region that did not face much loss.
So, what do Gaza people think after Israel attacks? 82 percent of the questionnaire respondents believe that the domestic political dispute in Palestine shall come to an end and the establishment of national unity is the highest priority. The Palestinians shall first decide what they will do as soon as possible.
This commentary was published in Referans daily on 07.02.2009