Gaza on the Brink: What Causes Terrorism

The worst Israeli closure in years has led to unprecedented anger and the empowerment of Hamas. Still, the international community is yawning -- and withdrawing its aid.

'THE past is not dead,'' William Faulkner once wrote. ''It's not even past.''

He might have been speaking about the Gaza Strip, where, at present, the bitter conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is being reenacted with a cruel vengeance. Gaza seems to be on the brink of its most bloody explosion yet. But no one seems to be paying any attention. The April 9 terrorist attacks in Gaza, which left seven Israelis and one American dead and 40 injured by Palestinian suicide bombers, are a horrifying indicator -- though an understandable consequence -- of Gaza's internal demise.

The economic, social, and political deterioration in Gaza in the 19 months since the Oslo accords were signed has no precedent in the area's history. Unemployment is nearly 60 percent; only 8,000 Gazans are allowed to work in Israel, a decline from 30,000 in 1993 (pre-Oslo) and from 80,000 in 1987. Israel retains control over 35 percent of Gazan land. Israel's violations of the accords, the unblushing corruption and incompetence of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and donors' cynical disregard and unwillingness to challenge wrongdoing by either side, have introduced a new cycle of desperation and anger among Gazans.

A litany of troubles

During the last three weeks, the Gaza Strip has been subject to one of its most punitive and damaging closures. Following a little-reported incident in which a Gazan truck carrying explosives was discovered near the Israeli city of Beersheba, the Israeli authorities imposed heightened restrictions on the movement of goods between Gaza and Israel, a movement that had already withered under the pressure of other, virtually uninterrupted closures. The following has resulted:

* Israel will not allow any raw materials into the Gaza Strip. At present, for example, there is no cement in Gaza. Hence, $40 million in donor aid sitting in Gazan banks cannot be spent because needed project materials cannot be transported into the Strip.

* Israel now allows only certain foodstuffs and consumer goods to enter Gaza, including benzene, cooking gas, and sand.

* Of the 2,000 trucks in the Gaza Strip, only 10 have permits to enter Israel.

* Most Israeli goods entering Gaza must be offloaded onto Gazan trucks on the Gaza side of the Gaza-Israel border at Erez. Yet because of enormous security measures it takes 12 hours for a Gazan truck to get from the last Palestinian checkpoint in Gaza to the Erez border, a distance of less than one mile.

* Since the process of acquiring goods has become so onerous, Gazans are now boycotting much-needed Israeli goods except for milk and flour.

To make things worse, the Israeli government has announced it will not transfer $40 million in value-added tax revenues to the PNA as it is mandated to do by the Cairo agreement. Israel's violation remains unchallenged. Furthermore, on March 31, a six-month commitment by donor governments to pay the salaries of 17,000 Palestinian police ended. The donor community now says it will no longer fund these salaries. At present there is no money to pay the salaries of 17,000 policemen in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, many of whom are organized into various militia-like groups.

Punishing a population

Hardship has great precedent in Gaza. However, the difference between the current situation and previous times is not only a matter of degree but of the willingness of the population to tolerate it. Such tolerance is eroding in a context of disillusionment, betrayal, powerlessness, repression.

Israel's security concerns are clear. However, punishing and impoverishing an entire population for the acts of a few will only fuel the insecurity Israel is attempting to quell.

Indeed, in recent days the Gaza Strip has been flooded by leaflets issued by the military wing of Hamas calling upon the population to rise against its oppressors -- Israel and the PNA. Tensions between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are flaring.

During a visit to Gaza last month, I asked a close friend, a professor at a local university, what he wished for. He said, ''I wish I could drive three kilometers without being stopped.'' Today, his wish has never been further from being realized.

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