Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo February 9, 2009

Gaza Faces Ice Age on Eve of Israeli Elections


Media file: 712.jpg


Inside Gaza

Gazan healthcare facilities have been strangled by an Israeli blockade since June 2007, when Hamas...

author #1 image author #2 image
Multiple Authors

"It doesn't matter who wins in Israel, they are all the same to Gaza."

Such was the sentiment of Said Sharafa, 26, a Gazan employee of DHL Express, with regard to upcoming Knesset elections in Israel. Sharafa's statement points to a general sense of foreboding that overshadows an already dark horizon for Gazans, regardless of their political affiliation.

Looking at the lineup of Israeli Knesset tickets, there are no bright spots from the Palestinian perspective. In the wake of Israel's 22-day offensive against Hamas — which left over 1,300 Palestinians dead, half of them civilians — none of the major candidates for Prime Minister has mentioned anything about an olive branch.

Major candidates have stressed that no negotiations over Gaza's borders will take place until Hamas releases Gilad Shalit, a young IDF soldier captured in a cross-border raid in 2006. Israel launched a blockade against Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory from Fatah security forces in 2007. Without the flow of building materials across Gaza's borders with Egypt and Israel, reconstructing hundreds of demolished homes and government buildings will be all but impossible.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, of centrist Kadima, was a prime architect of the recent assault on Hamas. Before the Gaza assault, Israel's right wing decried the cabinet's paralysis in the face of sustained rocket attacks on southern towns like Sederot and Ashkelon, and many here suspect that Livni launched the offensive in a cynical attempt to appease adversaries and woo hawks in the run up to elections.

In current polls, Livni is running a close second behind Likud's famously hawkish leader and one-time Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, of left-leaning Labor, co-architect of the Gaza offensive, has dropped to a distant fourth in the polls, while Avigdor Lieberman, of far-right Yisrael Beiteinu, or "Israel is Our Home," has rallied his way past Barak and into contention.

Netanyahu and Lieberman have no blood on their hands from the recent operation — but dovish they are surely not.

Netanyahu shot to the top of the polls after spinning the Gaza offensive as an abortive failure. Scoffing at Israel's unilateral ceasefire, he vowed, "the next government will have no choice but to finish the job."

Lieberman founded Yisrael Beiteinu as a platform for swelling numbers of Russian immigrants who felt marginalized by Israeli government and society.

Israel is home to some one million Russian immigrants, roughly a seventh of the population, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) recruit heavily from the pool of recent arrivals.

Lieberman's brutal lack of subtlety in his approach to Hamas appeals to military hard-liners and nationalists who believe the death knell of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process sounded long ago.

In a speech to university students during the recent offensive, Lieberman blustered, "We must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II."

He went on to tacitly recommend the use of nuclear weaponry to make the military reoccupation of Gaza "unnecessary."

With right-wing Likud poised to capture between 25 and 27 of 120 seats in the Knesset, and extreme-right Yisrael Beiteinu forecast to win as many as 18, the strongly conservative governing coalition that will inevitably emerge after Tuesday's election — no matter who becomes Prime Minister — promises new fears and frustrations for all Palestinians.

Yousri Al-Ghoul, an employee of the Hamas Ministry of Culture and a former schoolteacher, disagrees with Sharafa — in his view, no Israeli politician holds a shred of promise for Gaza, but some are worse than others.

According to Al-Ghoul, the likelihood of a Likud-led Knesset with Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm is a more alarming prospect than a Kadima or Labor government.

"Netanyahu talks tough about fighting Hamas and starting the bombing again," said Al-Ghoul, "but the real problem is the settlements, and the war against Hamas is just a distraction."

Al-Ghoul, 28, currently studying for a Masters Degree in Middle East politics from Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, fears that "Netanyahu will expand the settlements in the West Bank and bring the settlers back to Gaza."

In 2005, Netanyahu resigned his post as Finance Minister in fierce opposition to President Ariel Sharon's Gaza Disengagement Plan, which led to the withdrawal of settlers and IDF troops from the territory. Old grudges die hard, and if Netanyahu's campaign rhetoric about full support for settlers in the West Bank and Golan is any indication of his plans for Gaza, Al-Ghoul and his fellow Gazans surely have cause for alarm.

Slouched in his chair at Popeye Coffee Shop, three blocks from the ravaged hulk of the Hamas Legislative Building, Said Sharafa draws a bleak picture of Gaza's internal political landscape.

"There is no political freedom here. Hamas can arrest you or shoot you in the legs if you disagree with them." Asked about Fatah's presence in Gaza, he said, "Fatah is hiding, and even if they weren't, they're all corrupt anyway."

On the eve of what will almost certainly be an ice age in the long chronology of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Gazans like Sharafa feel that their own political parties have frozen Palestinians out of the discussion.

"Hamas will not recognize the state of Israel, so Israel calls them a terrorist organization and refuses to talk. Fatah talks, but what have their agreements gotten us? Checkpoints and settlements."

The future is too daunting for Sharafa to hold much hope.

"If DHL could get me out of here, I would go," he said. For now, however, like all 1.5 million Gazans, Sharafa will remain trapped within Gaza's physical and political boundaries.


a pink halftone illustration of a woman speaking a microphone while raising a fist


Democracy and Authoritarianism

Democracy and Authoritarianism

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues