Dr. Usama Antar is an Independent Political Analyst living in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. Here we talk about the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Israel, and more.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the current sociopolitical situation from the view of Gaza Strip?
Dr. Usama Antar: You cannot describe the Gaza Strip in a straightforward way. It is complex. We are talking about a multi-dimensional conflict. There is an internal conflict within the Palestinians themselves, and there is an external conflict with Israel.
Let us consider the last few years, there is a political split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. As you know, the Gaza Strip is small. It is about 360 square kilometres.
However, in approximately the last century, the Gaza Strip was the main actor in Palestinian politics and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Gaza Strip remains the focal point with the different political personalities, the novel ideologies, the new thoughts, and the changes in the political approaches.
There were real dynamics moving forward. What does this mean? In Gaza, there is the roots of the Fatah movement and the roots of the Hamas movement too.
For example, due to the political split between Gaza and West Bank, President Abbas was unable to enact the Israeli-Palestinian peace process without the approval of the Gaza Strip. The small Gaza prevented in some way the whole peace process.
I don’t think that the Gaza Strip will be alone as the Palestinian state in the future. Even if the Palestinians in Gaza will have good life conditions in 10 years to 20 years, they will want not to be separated from the West Bank, and will want to have a Palestinian state with the West Bank.
After a 12-year siege, the situation is tricky with a radicalized mentality of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; the people became more radical compared to 10 to 20 years ago as well.
Jacobsen: In terms of social outlook, economic views, and travel restrictions, what increases Palestinian radicalization?
Antar: There are several factors. As noted, one is the siege or the blockade imposed by Israel since 12 years ago, and the collective punishment imposed by the Palestinian Authority since a couple of years ago. Same with the Egyptian side with the closing of the Rafah crossing border. It is less than 1% of the whole society that can travel to the world outside of Palestine.
Most Palestinians live in perpetually harsh conditions. No freedom of movement or free import-export of goods. Few know the real world outside of the Gaza Strip. Anybody after three wars and 12 years of an air, land, and sea blockade will become radicalized. This happened to the Palestinians in Gaza.
The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are asking for simple demands, namely a real social and economic perspective. What does an economic and social perspective mean here?
It means halting of the high 46% unemployment in the Gaza Strip. This is the highest unemployment in the world. Declining the poverty rate, which reached about 70%.
What does a social perspective mean here? The social perspective means to have the access of movement and to be allowed to travel and relate with the world outside of Palestine.
For example, if I want to travel to Europe, I need about 3 days to travel from the Gaza Strip to Cairo, and I need another 4 to 5 days to return from Cairo to the Gaza Strip.
There are many restrictions and many checkpoints on the Sinai, the way between Gaza and Cairo, and just 200 people can travel daily and cross the borders.
In order to have a real social and economic perspective, the Palestinians are looking for sovereignty and identity as the Palestinian people with an independent Palestinian state.
Jacobsen: If the blockade was lifted, how would this impact Palestinians?
Antar: If Hamas remains in power, the siege will stay. Even if we have a progressive government in the future, it is uncertain if the Israelis would lift the siege.
The Palestinians in Gaza sent messages through the Great March of Return. They want to live and let others live. The majority of the Palestinians don’t want to harm the Israelis. They want to live in peace and prosperity.
During the three wars on Gaza in the last decade, the Israeli military targeted civilians, business owners, farmers. Many companies and factories were destroyed during the wars. The businesspeople are angry due to destroying the factories, and the normal workers are angry, because they lost their jobs.
Man can say, Israel is targeting the whole society with the imposed siege since 13 years, not the Hamas people alone. The goal of the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian society in the Gaza Strip is to maintain the control on it.
Jacobsen: How does a blockade, a lack of resources, a sense of despair and want of revenge among some of the population, affect people’s abilities to form families and people’s abilities to raise their children in what their children sense is a safe and nurturing environment?
Antar: [Laughing] it is like a joke. Even the children understand war, we are not safe. No place in the Gaza Strip is safe. In the recent attacks, it was hurtful. Why? We cannot do anything. If we get a rocket targeting our building, we are helpless. We demand to stop all kind of violence from the both sides, the Palestinian side and the Israeli side.
Jacobsen: What has been the experience in life for you?
Antar: I lived in Europe for about 12 years. I know, what it means a real good life in Europe. With my family, we travelled and enjoyed our life before. My family is now unable to travel abroad since more than 14 years ago. There is huge restriction on access and movement, and the travel way from Gaza to Cairo is horrible.
If you know the normal life, the good life, in Europe, and if you compare with the current life in Gaza Strip, you get crazy. I cannot travel elsewhere. If we have an escalation or a war in the Gaza Strip, the border will close immediately. Even if you have money, you cannot escape. In any case, most Palestinians do not have money.
You are trapped. It is your fate, survive or not. We have this dead feeling. In the war in 2014, for 51 days, we were scared. We tried with our little children to make some jokes, to show TV, and to make some plays.
However, we know the statistics well from the war in 2014. We are talking about 500 women, and more than 200 children, killed because rockets targeted buildings, that contains women, children, or elders.
Jacobsen: What is the sense of the conflict? What is a fair solution to the conflict?
Antar: The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip want to live a normal life with dignity and respect. They want some money to live with their families. They want normal access of movement.
A fair solution would be according the international resolutions and the two-state solution. How to achieve it? The Palestinian in Gaza and West bank tried the non-violent protests several times.
The Palestinians have to choose between non-violent resistant, negotiations, or a diplomatic approach. Negotiations led after 25 years of Oslo Accord to big Zero.
And the military resistance is idiocy, because the Palestinians have primitive weapons, and they are unable to fight Israel. Israel is strong. Israel can demolish the Gaza Strip within two days. The international community sides since decades with the Israeli side.
Jacobsen: What are historical reasons for internal political split and in easing of the tensions?
Antar: Hamas governs the Gaza Strip and Fatah governs the West Bank. There is one-party system in the West Bank and one-party system in the Gaza Strip. The one-party system will not change soon, and will be dominant in the next few years. For that reason, there is no democracy or pluralism. Both sides want control of the government.
Both Fatah and Hamas are dominating the polarization in the society; then about 90% of the society identifies them with either Fatah or Hamas. The real problem is the acceptance of the others.
Therefore, there are different political approaches. One is for resistance, and the other one for negotiation. Both approaches failed against Israel. This created the split between Fatah and Hamas. This split eliminated the culture of democracy and pluralism.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Antar.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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