New Internationalist

Absurdistan

'Things are a bit better today,' said my colleague, down the phone from Gaza. 'We still have no electricity, but at least there is bread in the shops right now.'

The Gaza Strip has become Absurdistan. Israel's full-scale closure of the Strip has lasted 28 days, with no sign of a let-up, and life inside Gaza gets grimmer by the day. I live in Gaza City but as I explained in my previous couple of blogs, I've been stranded here in Jerusalem for several weeks because of the closure and can't return home.

Abid cannot get back home either. He managed to leave Gaza in September, to attend a training course in the US. But when he tried to return, he found himself stranded in Jordan because the Israeli authorities would not allow him to travel across Israel to the Gaza border crossing at Erez. Eventually, Israeli officials permitted him to come to Ramallah, but that was after the closure, so now he spends his time waiting for Erez to open. He desperately wants to make it back home for the Eid festival next week, so he can be with his family.

'The Israelis told me that I am not allowed to move outside Ramallah,' he tells me. 'I feel like a non-person, just waiting to reach my family.' He thinks a lot about how the situation inside Gaza is unravelling. 'I hate the occupation,' he says. 'But I do wish those arseholes would stop firing rockets towards Israel.'

When the Tahdiya, or temporary ceasefire, between Israel and Hamas came into force back in June, one of the agreements was that armed groups inside Gaza would stop launching rockets towards Israel, and that Israel would stop military operations inside Gaza, and also open the commercial border crossings so goods could flow into the Gaza Strip. When Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets, jeopardizing the Tahdiya, rumours started to circulate that Palestinian entrepreneurs who owned tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip were paying some militants to fire the rockets.

These entrepreneurs, so the rumours went, didn't want the commercial crossings open because it was going to spoil their lucrative trade. As Israel massively restricted the flow of goods into Gaza, the tunnel trade boomed. Now, the same ugly rumours are circulating once more. Some people claim the tunnel traders don't want the current closure to end, because they are making a lot of money, albeit out of the misery of 1.5 million people imprisoned inside Gaza.

As we sit in a Ramallah café, Abid and I talk about this and other economic conundrums haunting Palestine. For example, there are thousands of Palestinians employed in the illegal Israeli settlements across the West Bank, and the Separation Wall that is being constructed around the West Bank has been built mainly by Palestinians working for Israeli construction companies. Many Palestinians say they have no choice but to work for Israelis because they need to support their families and have no other work: but this still raises ugly and rarely answered questions about the role Palestinians are playing in the occupation of their land. Is this economic necessity, or collaboration?

Abid is scathing about Palestinians who work for the Israeli occupiers.

'We build the Israeli settlements, and the Wall. We are massively divided as a nation, and we have weak leaders who line their own pockets,' he says. 'There is no military resistance in the West Bank, and Israel is very smart. They know that as long as rockets are being fired from Gaza, then we have very few friends who will speak up for us. We have contributed a lot to our own downfall.'

With Palestine increasingly fragmented, and its leaders in the West Bank and Gaza fixated on retaining their own power and crushing each other, Israel is managing the occupation brilliantly, portraying itself as the victim vis à vis Gaza, while paying thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank to prop up the settlements, and the Wall, and effectively work against their increasingly frail chance of Palestinian self-determination.

Abid and I know the closure of Gaza could drag on until early next year, and maybe even until the Israeli elections in February. He could be stuck in Ramallah for months. But we also agree that, if the militants did stop firing rockets, Israel would soon be forced to open the borders. But with business from the tunnels booming, the stakes are getting higher. The Tahdiya expires on 19 December, and no-one knows what will happen next.

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