On Monday, August 31st, an agreement was formed between Israel and Islamist group Hamas, putting a stop to weeks of tension in the area. Under this new agreement, Hamas would no longer be launching incendiary balloons, and Israel would put a stop to an onslaught of airstrikes. Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the Israeli government, said that such a deal would allow the commencement of projects aiming to “serve the people of Gaza, and alleviate the suffering amid the coronavirus wave.”
The Gaza strip, an area already overrun with suffering and human rights violations, experienced its first outbreak of COVID-19 last week. Palestinians and humanitarians alike are concerned that the Strip won’t be able to deal with more hardship than it is already experiencing. In an effort to alleviate this suffering, many groups are urging for the Israeli-led blockades on Gaza to be lifted. Under this new agreement, the Kerem Shalom crossing would reopen to allow for goods to be brought in, and the fishing zone near the coast of Gaza would be reopened should the Hamas attacks come to a halt. However, according to a COGAT statement, “if Hamas, which bears responsibility for that which takes place in the Strip, does not abide by its pledges, Israel will act accordingly.” Such action would likely take the form of fresh restrictions and increased violence.
Conflict between Gaza and Israel is not new. It is long-established, alive, and well. Both sides have seen incredible hurt and damage inflicted upon their people, and perhaps this is the very reason the conflict has persisted for as long as it has. This is especially true for the people of the Gaza Strip. According to the World Bank, 39% of the population is at or below the poverty line and 97% of Gaza inhabitants rely on water being delivered into the Strip by truck. Furthermore, the UN estimates that a million people there are classified as moderately-to-severely food insecure. Such problems, which are only a few of a large and ever-lengthening list, are only amplified by the effects of coronavirus. How is an area without access to stable water, electricity, and heart monitors supposed to treat victims of a disease that (according to the World Health Organization) has affected over 26.7 million others worldwide?
Should Hamas and Israel actually adhere to this agreement, there is a possibility that a path for life-saving improvements – as well as improvements to quality of life – may actually be paved. Similar negotiations between Israel and Palestinians have been made in the past, particularly with the intent to improve the economy for those living in the West Bank. While some of these measures have had some degree of positive impact (statistics from the World Bank show an 8% growth in the West Bank’s economy since 2009), there still exists violence that wreaks havoc on the people living in the area.
While these improvements are most certainly welcome, they are simply not good enough. For long-lasting peace to actually be brought to the area, people need to be treated like people. Access to several nautical miles of a fishing zone and goods outside of Gaza probably will help to bring stability to the economy, but it will not change the fact that children are still learning in rubble-filled classrooms and individuals are starved from the freedom of movement unable to escape and find refuge elsewhere. At the core of every person, there is a desire for safety and security. When a person lacks one or both of these things from their life, they will do everything in their power to find it. This in mind, it becomes clear that for tensions to be alleviated, people must be treated like people.
What would such a solution look like? It’s impossible to predict what exactly might need to happen in order to create peace in the area, but several possibilities exist. None are by any means perfect (perhaps not even realistic), but they are possibilities nonetheless. I believe that a promising beginning would start by investing in the people: creating programs to guarantee food security for every person; rebuilding schools that remain destroyed from the 2014 conflict; building a truly stable economy with an increase in profitable imports and exports; developing the necessary infrastructure for reliable electricity and clean water. Many humanitarian groups and non-profit organizations have already begun laying the groundwork for such plans, but it will take swift and united action to tackle such a large undertaking.
In the case of education, we have seen that schools run by the UN are a good model for what schools may look like in the future. 250 UNWRA run schools have increased the literacy rate of the territory up to 97%, but this does not account for the 547 schools that were damaged or destroyed in the conflict of 2014. Rebuilding these schools and bringing in educators to staff them so that UNWRA schools are not oversaturated would mean that young people would get a chance at a better education. Many of these UNWRA schools currently run on a ‘double-shift’ schedule, meaning that they are serving two entirely different school bodies in a day: one in the morning and one at night. Building more schools would mean that students could get an education through individual support rather than having to compete for help in classrooms of 40 students. We know how important education is to creating critically thinking and open-minded individuals, so it makes sense that building schools may very well symbolize building new beginnings as well.
Creating sound economic growth through imports and exports would require that Gaza gains access to the territory that is needed to cultivate these goods. Currently, Gaza has access to only 6 nautical miles of coastland for fishing, and this is even further restricted under the Israeli-led blockade. Giving individuals living in Gaza access to larger fishing zones and open trade routes would mean that the territory would generate income that it does not currently have. This money would improve the economy and eventually more of it could be invested back into creating specialized assistance programs for the people.
Such work cannot be left up to humanitarians alone. In an ideal world Israel would also ensure that such plans were fully executed. Currently, most of the territories’ energy and water comes from Israel, meaning that for Gaza to be able to have access to clean water and stable electricity, Israel must be willing to help. For such a relationship to be created and strengthened, it is likely that a neutral third party will be needed to keep peace while agreements are being found. Perhaps this third party takes the form of UN conflict resolution mediation; perhaps it is more similar to the Qatari convoy that seems to be at the centre of this new agreement. Regardless, it is clear that for the territories to be an environment in which people are able to live better lives, Israel must make an effort.
Years have shown that the conflict of Israel and Palestine is deeply complicated, and for this reason it is impossible to say what legitimate and long-lasting peace may look like. However, I truly believe that a good step towards peace is guaranteeing safety and security to all, so that officials may begin making larger negotiations. Though it is unclear what will bring about peace in this area, it is certain that we must begin to serve people at the individual level first and foremost.
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