Friday, September 09, 2011


The subtitle of this book, "Days and Nights in a Land under Siege," accurately describes the subject. The period covered is roughly from the first intifada, 1987, through the first election of Benjamin Netanyahu, 1996, and effectively the death of the Oslo Accords. It is not about the current situation in Gaza, but it provides valuable background material.

Of course, the misery of the people of Gaza documented here has grown only worse now that we are into the fourth year of Israel's blockade.

Ms. Hass is an Israeli journalist, living in the West Bank, who spent a great deal of time in the Gaza Strip, a situation giving her a unique perspective.

Ms. Hass has a clear journalistic style and an eye for detail, and her story is full of facts and observations you do not typically find in our press concerning Gaza and Israel. She definitely gives you a powerful sense of the frustration and pain of being a Palestinian in Gaza.

Here are just a few of her interesting facts. According to the organization, Physicians for Human Rights, during the five years of the intifada, a Palestinian child under the age of six was shot in the head every two weeks. According to United Nations Relief records, nearly 1,100 people treated at its clinics during the first four years had been shot in the head, with about 15% of that number being women. During the four years, over sixty thousand Gazans were shot, severely beaten , or tear-gassed.

With Israel's tightening of work permits - one of the important themes of the book - Palestinian per capita income fell by 7.14 % in 1992 and by 26.53 % in 1993 - this in a poor and overcrowded place.

The truly frightening thing that emerges in the book is Israel's gradual creation of a stultifying system of electrified fences, elaborate application requirements for work permits, refusal to grant all but a small portion of the applications, and frustrating line-ups for those with permits to use them,. Even the few with work permits had to show up at the exit check-point only at specified hours, then they often waited for hours to have their permits checked. The slightest thing out of order saw them ordered to return home. The logistics of getting back and forth to their work places often are horrific - once there were large numbers of taxis but even taxis are reduced to a small number - and Palestinians are not allowed to stay over at their place of work even if their employer desires it.

It is important to appreciate that with Israel's original driving of Palestinians off their land and out of their villages - and Ms. Hass describes some of the Israeli army's tactics to drive Palestinians out - Gaza became effectively a crowded refugee camp, inadequate to sustain a modern economy, and for many in Gaza, work in Israel is their only hope for a meager livelihood. With Israel's control of borders and even the sea, it is by default the only accessible market for the products and services of Palestinian businessmen.

Even before the current blockade, Israel literally had created a stranglehold on the (now) one and half million people of Gaza. They could not visit family in the West Bank or East Jerusalem without difficult-to-obtain and restrictive permits. They could not go to hospitals without the permits, and even when the permits were received in a timely fashion, parents often were not allowed to accompany children or spouses their mates, and for people on a course of treatment, as say chemotherapy, they must obtain new permits each time. Young people also cannot attend university or technical schools without permits.

When workers do obtain permits, they are not allowed to stay overnight in Israel, even though their employers may be eager to have them do so, as when working on a rush job. After waiting since dawn at the check-point to exit Gaza, and that often for hours, they travel with difficulty to their jobs, work for wages lower than an Israeli would receive, and must return home each night - an exhausting and costly routine, yet one these impoverished people are only too glad to do if allowed.

Israel also issued permits only to certain classes of people, men under thirty not being eligible. Imagine a society in which all the young men to the age of thirty cannot work, and we must remember that with high birth rates, Palestinian society is a young society with a relatively high proportion of young people.

During the period of the Oslo Accord, Israel had wanted to see businesses created in Gaza to employ people, yet they set the conditions that ultimately made this difficult or impossible. Israel began strangling the opportunities for businessmen in Gaza - farmers and small manufacturers - to export to Israel through its great increases in restrictive security measures. Although it was advertised in Israel as a part of the period of adjustment to Oslo, the entrepreneurs in Gaza found themselves starved of markets.

Israel gradually imposed immensely complicated rules for produce and goods being transferred from Gazan trucks to Israeli trucks. Given also the requirements for inspections and the often hit-or-miss nature of other arrangements, truckloads of produce not infrequently ended up wasted. The many small businesses doing things like running sewing machine workshops for Israeli clothing firms found themselves shutting their doors, putting people out of work.

While Ms. Hass does not use the term apartheid, that is precisely what we see established here. Gaza is a Bantustan in which large numbers of people are kept penned up, separate, and with almost no hope ever of building a viable economy.

As you read these pages, you ask yourself, what possible future is there for people bottled-up in this way? And I cannot see an answer. Israel simply has created a situation which is not tenable over the long term, although for today or tomorrow the Palestinians manage to cope.

They have been artificially removed from their original homes' and all their traditional ties of work and farming have just about been severed. Ms. Hass tells us how the older Palestinians, as when traveling through Israeli territory for work, know precisely the places now demolished and/or renamed as Israeli places and just where their homes and farms were located. Severed, too, were the family connections with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Palestinians are people for whom extended family is quite important.

It is a bleak, go-nowhere situation, which since Israel's savage attack and blockade has become only bleaker. The book offers no prescriptions or recommendations. Ms. Hass remains throughout that fairly rare being, a truly objective journalist.