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After years of violence, isolation, and failed peace efforts, Gaza may be reaching a long-anticipated breaking point. The strip has been in a state of deterioration for over a decade, but now analysts fear Gaza is reaching a total economic collapse. The most recent figures from the World Bank rank the overall unemployment rate at 42%, and youth unemployment at 58%. Moreover, 80% of Gaza civilians are reliant on international aid.
Since 2007, Israel has imposed a blockade, limiting the movement of resources and people in and out of Gaza. In 2013, under new leadership, the Egyptian government further reduced travel and commerce along the Rafah Border and destroyed over 1,000 smuggling tunnels used by the Hamas. These actions amplified the effects of the blockade. While both the Israeli and Egyptian restrictions have been in flux over the years, the general result has been economic depression.
Most recently, in an effort to dissolve the Hamas’ legitimacy within Gaza, the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) has enforced sanctions, eliminated the salaries of P.A. employees living in Gaza, forced early retirement upon thousands of civil servants, disabled social assistance to hundreds of families, and reduced electricity and fuel payments to Israel. The P.A. has also resumed tax collection, which all Gaza residents were exempt from after the Hamas took power in 2007. The U.S. has also cut its funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) by 83%. The U.S. is the largest contributor to the UNRWA, which is the main relief agency in Gaza. The result will be less food aid, medical services, and schools run by the UNRWA.
These tactics have amounted to a dire situation. U.N. Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov said, “we are well beyond a humanitarian crisis, but on the verge of a total system failure in Gaza, with a full collapse of the economy and social services with political, humanitarian, and security implications to match.”
In hopes of mitigating the rising tensions, Israel has called upon the international community for aid. With financial assistance, they claim they would be able to complete a number of reconstruction projects, such as a sewage treatment and desalination facility, and a gas and power line, according to The Associated Press. Critics argue that it is up to the P.A. and Israel to ease the blockade, and allow more goods and people to flow, thus stimulating the Gaza economy, and reducing the state of the humanitarian crisis. However, both Israel and the P.A. fear that this would allow the Hamas to gather supplies and spread terror.
As authorities debate over a plan of action or inaction, the situation is debilitating for Gaza’s 2 million residents. Al Jazeera reported that 54 Gaza residents died after Israel rejected their medical request to seek treatment outside of the strip in 2017. Stores are idle as residents have no income, and jails are filling with debtors. Infrastructure is crumbling and power outages are on the rise. In turn, most of the water is contaminated, causing fear among relief agencies of a cholera outbreak. All the while hospitals are running out of fuel and supplies.
As of now, desperation among Gaza residents is rising. Activists are promoting peaceful protests. Others predict a fourth war as conditions become unbearable and the Hamas runs out of options.