The EU must give Gazan hope a hand

It is no longer fitting to wonder whether Gaza is a problem: of course it is, and will continue to be for as long as its residents are forced to survive on aid for lack of economic opportunity and are denied the simple freedoms to pursue a decent and peaceful life. Whenever violence breaks out in or around the Gaza Strip, whether Gazans are responsible or not, we end up bearing the brunt.

Shortly after the triple attack in southern Israel last Thursday, Israeli warplanes began a three-day retaliation campaign of bombing around Gaza. Earlier that day I was getting ready to leave Gaza to travel abroad on an exceptional permit.

On the way out of my apartment, without much second thought, I opened each of the windows a notch and lowered all shutters about halfway down. This has become standard procedure to help minimise damage from the severe vacuum any bombing creates. As I locked up my home I felt distress at how dark and cynical my outlook had become after so many years living there.

In retrospect, what I did was a simple response to what has become imprinted in the minds of Gazans; we may never be at peace and must conduct our lives accordingly. Those of us who strongly disagree with firing of rockets into Israel and with targeting civilians feel violated on a daily basis. Most of Gaza's 1.8 million residents still cannot move in or out of the area freely and continue to subsist on handouts from generous donors.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government flatly rejects any advance in peace negotiations and the US and EU acquiesce. As for Fatah and Hamas, they are reconciled on paper yet still divided in practice. In particular they have lost Israel's respect as adversaries worth negotiating with seriously.

The generous EU aid to the Palestinians is greatly appreciated, but it must now be coupled with political pressure on Israel, or it risks being seen as funding a disaster in the making, if not inadvertently delaying the end of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Without a firm focus on political resolution Europe will only continue sustaining residents in Gaza likely to produce more examples of desperation and loss of hope. And in the West Bank, it may end up having funded a Palestinian state-building project that Israel will turn into an example of failure if its policies develop unchecked.

Even if ample evidence existed that the attacks originated from Gaza, the brutal retaliation by Israel's airforce seems unwarranted. But that debate ought not overshadow the greater problem of Gaza that demands political resolutionfrom Israel and firmly united Palestinians as well as the US and EU, if violence is to be stemmed.

Sami Abdel-Shafi, co-founder and senior partner at Emerge Consulting Group, a management consultancy in Gaza City.

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