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Monday, 20 November, 2000, 18:15 GMT
Analysis: Hopeless in Gaza
Gaza scene
Gazans have seen little improvement from the peace process
By BBC News Online's Martin Asser

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on earth.

More than a million Palestinians are crammed into its 360 square kilometres, or at least into about three-quarters of this narrow strip of land at the south-west corner of Israel.

I would like Gaza to sink into the sea, but that won't happen, and a solution must be found

Prime Minsiter Yitzhak Rabin in 1992
The remaining 25% is marked out for the 6,000 or so Jews who settled Azza (its Hebrew name) after Israel seized it in the 1967.

Antagonism between the settlers and the Arabs has been a major feature of life in Gaza since then - that and the crushing poverty and deprivation suffered by the local population.

Click here for a detailed map of Gaza

Poor relation

Their economic plight has actually worsened in the seven years of the Oslo peace process, which began with secret talks between Israel and the Palestinians in Norway in 1993.

Gaza airport
Gaza has its own airport, but the customs are under Israeli control
Gazans have got poorer, with their per capita GDP stuck at just over $1,000, nearly 20 times less than their Israeli counterparts.

The situation is exacerbated by Israeli-imposed closures following terrorist and other attacks on civilians and the occupation forces.

Closures now have turned around the modest economic recovery Gaza witnessed in 1999, with more than 4% growth and a fall in unemployment due to a 15% rise in labour flow to Israel.

The bleak truth for the territory is that it remains completely dependent on Israel for almost everything.

Cauldron of protest

From the earliest days of Israel's military occupation, would-be settlers have regarded Gaza as a hostile and inhospitable place.

Clashes in Khan Younis
Some of the angriest protests have been outside Gaza settlements
Those who have come are mainly hardy religious-nationalist settlers, who often moved for political reasons.

As well as being the closest thing Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority has to a capital, since he returned to Gaza in 1994, the Strip is also a stronghold for the Islamic and radical movements that have rejected the peace accords.

It was the birthplace of the 1987-1993 Intifada, the grass-roots protest against Israeli occupation which persuaded leaders like Yitzhak Rabin that Israel had to make peace with the Palestinians by giving up some 1967 acquisitions.

Ring fenced

In 1992, Rabin famously expressed the wish that Gaza would just "sink into the sea".

A year later, with Yasser Arafat's agreement, he pulled his forces out of the Palestinian areas, which were fenced in and put under Arafat's control, while creating a number of broad settlement "blocs".

The population of the settlements has grown and become more entrenched since 1993.

That is the opposite of what the Palestinians were expecting. They wanted the phased dismantling of all settlements (which are illegal under international law) under Oslo.

Arafat's triumphant return to Gaza in 1994
Arafat's triumphant return to Gaza in 1994
Gaza has 16 settlements, the majority concentrated in two main blocs: Three along the northern border and 10 along the southern Mediterranean coast.

Three settlements are isolated from these main blocs: Netzarim, south of Gaza City, and Kfar Darom and Morag near Gush Katif.

Predictably, it is the heavily armoured thresholds of these settlements, as well as the Qarni crossing point into Israel, that have been the backdrop to the worst bloodshed.

L'Etat Arafat

Not only have ordinary Gazans seen their standard of living fall, many feel that the regime of Yasser Arafat is hardly more attractive than the Israeli occupation.

Women hold picture of death of Muhammad al-Durrah and caption Allahu Akbar
Gaza's most famous victim - Muhammad al-Durrah, shot outside Netzarim
He was welcomed with jubilant rapture when he returned from exile in 1994, but has since become a new jailer as far as many are concerned.

He has allowed corruption and incompetence to run riot - in 1997, almost half the modest Palestinian budget was squandered.

Nowhere is the venality more visible than in the luxury villas and skyscrapers which now line the Gaza seafront.

Close by is Shati camp, the one-kilometre-wide "temporary" home of 80,000 Palestinian refugees since 1948. Further along is Jabaliya camp, with its famously stinking lake of sewage.

Now pictures of dozens of Gaza's new victims decorate the buildings as examples to inhabitants who have given up earthly hope, and see them as martyrs.

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See also:

03 Oct 00 | Middle East
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