The fighting in Israel and the Gaza Strip entered its second week.
Israeli warplanes bombarded Gaza City on Monday morning as Hamas continues lobbing rockets on southern cities in Israel. Roughly 200 Palestinians have died, and officials say nearly half of them are women and children. Israel has reported at least 12 dead.
Of course, many more people have suffered in the long history of this conflict. Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on the area.
Khaled Elgindy, director of Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the Middle East Institute, answers some fundamental questions that get to the root of what’s happening in Gaza.
Questions About The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Answered By Foreign Policy Expert Khaled Elgindy
How did it come to be that millions of Palestinians are living in the Gaza Strip?
“The Gaza Strip, of course, is an entirely artificial creation that emerged in 1948 when roughly three-fourths of Palestine's Arab population was displaced, in some cases expelled, during the course of Israel's creation. And most of the refugees, they were sort of scattered across the region in neighboring countries like Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Some went to the West Bank, which came under Jordanian rule after 1948. And a very large number went to the Gaza Strip, which is this tiny little coastal strip between Egypt and what is now Israel. Today, the population of Gaza, about 70% of Gaza's population are refugees.”
Can Palestinian refugees leave the Gaza Strip?
“No. I mean, usually, they have one border crossing with Egypt and the other border crossings, the land crossings, are all with Israel. Egypt will occasionally open their border crossing for humanitarian assistance, like in the current crisis. But for the most part, the border is closed.”
Why is the border closed? And what effect has the blockade had on daily life inside the Gaza Strip?
“The stated reason for the blockade on Gaza was Hamas. Hamas forcibly took control over the Gaza Strip in 2007. Shortly thereafter, the Israelis imposed a complete closure on Gaza's borders. They declared Gaza to be an enemy entity. Of course, Gaza is not a state. Hamas, of course, is viewed by Israel and by much of the international community as a terrorist organization, including the United States, for their history of attacks on civilians and so forth. And so that was the stated official reason for imposing this blockade, to not allow Gaza to function normally, not to have a normal economy, to cripple the civilian infrastructure as a way of putting pressure on Hamas.”
Has the blockade succeeded in this goal?
“No, of course not. I mean, if anything, the blockade on Gaza has strengthened Hamas because the 2 million Palestinians who live there are completely dependent on whatever Hamas does to provide, you know, basic sustenance in Gaza. So you have this population that is completely dependent either on international aid or whatever economic and infrastructural developments the Hamas-run authority can bring to the people in Gaza. Life in Gaza is miserable: 97% of the water is unfit for human consumption, 50% of the workforce is unemployed and the majority of the population lives on food aid from the outside world.”
How do Palestinians living inside the Gaza Strip feel about Hamas and their governing tactics, considering the living conditions there?
“Of course, Hamas has its political base. They are at least the second-largest political force in all of Palestinian politics, second only to Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas, which dominates the Palestinian authority in the West Bank. And so they have a strong following historically. I think a lot of people have, a lot of Palestinians have grown very disaffected from both leaderships because they have essentially failed. Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have failed in their project to create a Palestinian state through negotiations and diplomacy. And the Hamas authority in Gaza certainly has failed to liberate Palestine or to bring about Palestinian independence or even a lifting of the grinding blockade in Gaza. So there's a broad sense of alienation, I think, from both of these leaderships on the part of Palestinians. And I think to add on top of that, I think a lot of Palestinians are frustrated with, you know, we know that when Hamas launches rockets into Israel that Israel's response will be far more devastating than anything Hamas hopes to achieve damage wise on the Israeli side. And so I think there is also a frustration there.
“But again, I think, you know, Palestinians don't really have a say here. They are on the receiving end of Israeli bombs and artillery. And in times like this, people tend to sort of rally around the flag. They will even rally around a leadership that they dislike because it's their only hope. And the reality is that while, you know, the kind of official talking points in Israel is that Hamas is entirely responsible for any death and destruction, not just on the Israeli side that they inflict, but whatever Israel inflicts also on the Palestinian side, Hamas is purely responsible. That argument is extremely disingenuous because it's Israel's choice to use overwhelming disproportionate force. And there is no Palestinian who will blame, they may blame Hamas, I think, for their poor decision making. But the carnage that we see in Gaza, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians put the blame squarely on Israel.”
How does Hamas get weapons despite the closed borders and blockade?
“Typically, [Hamas] had a very elaborate secret network of tunnels that go under the Gaza Egypt border and in some cases tunnels that burrow into Israel, you know, to be able to launch surprise attacks whenever they can. Part of the problem is that in neighboring Sinai [Peninsula], which is Egyptian territory, you have a bit of a security vacuum. There is a kind of low-level insurgency happening there. And the Egyptian state is not necessarily in control of all parts of the Sinai Peninsula. And so there's a very robust arms trade and collaboration between insurgent groups and militant groups in the Sinai adjacent to the Gaza Strip. And so that's one key avenue for Hamas to get weapons, which can be procured from Iran or from elsewhere.
“As long as you keep Gaza under this kind of intense pressure, whether it's Hamas or someone else, they will always find a way to obtain weapons and to pose some sort of threat to Israel. So the idea that Israel can solve all these problems through overwhelming military force just hasn't panned out. These are political problems. The blockade is a political issue. Hamas is a political issue. The occupation of the rest of the West Bank and Gaza, that is a political issue. And you simply cannot just deal with everything in security and in military terms, which is Israel's preference in order to avoid having to make any political concessions.”
This segment aired on May 17, 2021.