Gaza 2015: A few steps forward, several steps back
Following the 2014 military operation, Protective Edge, which caused unprecedented death and destruction in the Gaza Strip, senior Israeli officials changed their rhetoric on Gaza. From the minister of defense to the chief of staff, political leaders and security officials talked about the importance of reconstruction and the connection between the state of affairs in Gaza, Israel’s security and regional stability. In public statements, policy-makers have nimbly questioned whether pressure applied to Gaza over the years was a mistake and some have even supported ostensibly far-reaching measures like allowing a seaport to operate in the Strip.
The change in rhetoric has been accompanied by a handful of measures meant to ease the closure, some of them symbolically significant compared to previous years. Some changes in policy on access for movement of people led to a 128% increase in exit of Palestinians via Erez Crossing compared to 2014, and a 200% increase compared to 2013. Israel’s policy on entry and exit of goods also changed. In late 2014, the seven-year blanket ban on the sale of Gaza-produced goods in the West Bank was partially lifted, followed by permission for very limited sales in Israel in early 2015. As a result, the average number of trucks departing Gaza every month rose from 19 in 2014 to 113 in 2015.
Figures and statistics alone can’t present the full picture and context for the situation on the ground is sorely needed. While Israeli officials tout the increase in the number of exits through Erez, the majority of Gaza residents, whose median age is lower than 18, know they will not be able to travel for academic studies, work, professional training, or reuniting with family. The increase in the number of trucks departing from Gaza is rather dramatic compared to previous years, but is still just a fraction of the potential, compared to past economic activity, and has failed to make a significant dent in alarming unemployment rates – 38.4% in the last quarter of 2015, more than 50% among young people. The sense of inertia with regard to access policy, Gaza’s floundering economy, and crumbling infrastructure augment a feeling of hopelessness that many cite as indication that the next eruption in violence is only a matter of time.