Besides experiencing three destructive wars in less than ten years – Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense, and Operation Protective Edge – the Gaza Strip has suffered since 2007 from two unprecedented major political events that affect both the lives and future aspirations of the Palestinians: the Israeli blockade and internal division.
The Gaza Strip, now in its seventh year under Israeli blockade, remains isolated from the outside world. The blockade affects many fields including education, business, the environment, technology, and culture. What is more, there is the internal Palestinian division which has further exacerbated the situation. The political and social division among the two largest Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, has led to declines in many areas.
The ongoing Israeli blockade undermines development in all aspects of Palestinians’ lives. For instance, economic activity is stifled, leaving Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip heavily dependent on international aid. The rate of unemployment exceeds 40 percent, and 70 percent of the Palestinian community lives below the poverty line.
Education, too, is in no better situation. University and post-graduate level students encounter many difficulties when traveling to pursue academic studies in specialized fields. The educational system lacks good planning, adequate knowledge, skills, and up-to-date innovation. This fact contributes in stifling the intellectual advancement of young adults in Gaza. The lack of facilities, new information, and experiences has caused a marked deterioration of Gaza’s whole educational system. Gradually, the Palestinian people have become disconnected from the outside world. Although many international humanitarian and solidarity campaigns have been directed at Gaza, especially after last summer’s war, most of these campaigns were for relief rather than rehabilitation and development.
Along with the Israeli blockade on Gaza, seven years of a Palestinian division have further worsened the situation in Palestine. The absence of a unified Palestinian leadership undermines the efforts of the international community to settle the situation in Gaza. The division also widens the social gap between Palestinians of different political backgrounds and inspires pessimism in society about future aspirations and prospects.
It is true that a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas has already been approached, and a consensus/interim government has been formulated, however the division on the ground is still present, if not even worse. It has been eight months since the formulation of the new Palestinian government, yet they have not been able to hold parliamentary elections nor proceed with the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. There is a lack of strategic planning among the divided Palestinian leaders and elites.
This strategic planning cannot happen without proper strategic thinking – meaning that the emerging political, social, and economic structures in the Gaza Strip need support. Academics and experts must be enabled to constructively engage in the key issues of domestic Palestinian issues. These experts need assistance in finding feasible solutions, through the use of collective thinking, to the complicated technical, emotional, and political problems. This fact holds true in all possible scenarios.
This process needs a strong, constructive, and visible involvement of civil society actors. Only by doing so will the restoration and reconciliation process stand a chance of achieving the high expectations that the Palestinian population has set vis-à-vis the reconciliation agreement, elections, and a new government.