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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 August 2007, 19:21 GMT 20:21 UK
Isolated Gaza a jail for its people
matt price
By Matthew Price
BBC, Gaza

Policemen in Gaza
Gaza's industries have been crippled by its outcast status

Passing from Israel to Gaza is like passing into another world.

The drive from Jerusalem to the crossing point takes just over an hour.

You can stop at a service station to grab a cafe latte. Then it is time to leave the modernity of Israel behind.

Your passport is stamped by soldiers in a smart gleaming departure hall. The metal blast doors in the huge concrete wall slide open remotely.

Israel's security services control who gets in - and out - of Gaza.

Hopelessness

And then, past the walls and the watchtowers, you enter a place of destruction and hopelessness which is sealed off from the rest of the world.

In Gaza City, a policeman in a fluorescent yellow jacket was directing traffic.

Cars were actually stopping at red lights - a rare sight before now.

Most people told us that law and order had improved since Hamas seized control in a bloody fight with rivals Fatah back in June.

But they also know that ever since Hamas was elected in January 2006, Gaza has been increasingly isolated.

map

Not everyone in Gaza supports Hamas but those who do see the group as liberators.

It is hard to measure exactly how many people here would vote for Hamas if elections were held again.

Much of the world regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation and will not deal with it while it refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist.

That is why Gaza is boycotted by much of the international community.

It is now almost entirely dependent on aid, with practically everyone reliant on handouts provided by the United Nations.

Gaza has also been abandoned by the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank - which is run by Fatah.

Many Gazans blame all their politicians for the situation they are now in.

"The Palestinians cannot make a decision to sit together and work together," Hanah Iloh told me.

A smartly-dressed Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, Ms Iloh is an architectural engineer.

Did she think the Palestinian politicians were making life difficult for the Palestinian people?

"Yes, I think they are responsible for this," she said.

"Yes, Israel is the occupier, but it's most important to have unity between us so we can make peace with Israel.

"It's very hard to make peace with Israel if we can't make peace with ourselves."

Gaza is sealed off - politically and economically.

The borders are shut and companies cannot export anything.

The people of Gaza want to live as humans, not in a prison
Ismail Abu El
Industrial zone director

Only 10% of Gaza's industries are doing any sort of work, according to the United Nations.

Since the middle of June when Hamas seized power, Gaza's industries have lost a total of $23m (11m).

Ismail Abu El is the director of an industrial zone on the edge of Gaza which has been crippled by the closures.

"This is killing the people indirectly. Not by the gun, but by economics," he told me, as he stood in front of a warehouse full of locally-made furniture packed and ready to be exported to Israel.

It will not be going anywhere soon.

The manager of the company that makes the furniture says because the order has not arrived on time he is now being fined every day for not meeting the contract, and there is a court case looming.

Misery and fear

Elsewhere factory workers are being laid off. The industrial zone is quiet.

"The people of Gaza don't need to live like refugees," Mr Abu El says.

"They want to live as humans, not in a prison."

The drive south through the Gaza Strip takes about 45 minutes, along dirty impoverished streets and children collecting water in plastic bottles from a standpipe in the road.

At the border crossing into Egypt, the man in charge showed us round an empty departure hall.

Gazans at the beach
The only escape for Gazans is a day at the beach

The metal detectors and X-ray machines were switched off.

The passport control computers gathered dust.

It is not just goods that are being kept in - so are the people.

Mahmoud Barhoum, a captain in Hamas' Executive Force, pointed to the room.

"This is the departure hall to the outside world," he said. "Anyone who wants to leave Gaza has to go through here. But right now no-one can pass."

Until Hamas and Fatah can come to an agreement on who will police the crossing, the gates into Egypt will remain firmly locked.

Gaza today is isolated like never before. There is misery and fear on every single Palestinian face you see here.

The only escape is the beach. Children play in the surf.

Women come out of the sea, dressed in their long black abaya, the Muslim garment used to cover all the body. Palestinian flags fly from the fishing boats.

This should be a Mediterranean paradise.

Instead it is a tiny, crowded strip of land, where the people feel abandoned.


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