A public opinion survey carried out in Gaza shows that Hamas rule there has not made its populace very happy. Carried out by a Norwegian agency and published this week by the Palestinian Authority's Wafa news agency, the poll shows the following numbers:
51% of the residents say they do not have the medicines they need (compared with 36% last month).
42% of Gaza's residents suffer from a shortage of food (compared with 34% last month). A clear disparity is found between Fatah and Hamas supporters: Among Fatah supporters, more than half say they do not have enough food, while the rate is 23% among Hamas sympathizers.
Poverty rates continue to rise as well: 71% of Gaza's residents live below the poverty line, and more than half of these are described as living in "severe poverty." Unemployment stands at 22% - though it is only 14% among those who support Hamas.
Over 4/5 of Gaza's businessmen and shop owners say they face grave difficulties in receiving necessary raw materials.
Freedom of speech is becoming more and more hard to come by in Hamas-controlled Gaza, sometimes known as Hamastan: 53% said they cannot freely express themselves under Hamas rule. Just yesterday (Tuesday), 300 Fatah supporters had to brave beatings and bans by Hamas officials just to conduct a protest demonstration.
And the bottom line: 40% of Gaza's residents say they would like to leave if they could. This is true for more than half of Fatah supporters, and only one-eighth of Hamas sympathizers.
Meanwhile, the promise that with the Jews gone, Gaza's Arabs would finally be able to thrive remains unfulfilled. Construction work on 300 new homes in the sand dunes next to the former Jewish town of Rafiah Yam - the only such project in all of Gaza - merely paints in strong relief the stagnation everywhere else.
Gaza's airport and seaport, both of which were supposed to be the gateways to a "Middle East Singapore" according to Gaza visionaries, are now standing empty and, in the case of the airport, largely destroyed.
A New York Times article this past February stated, "The Israeli withdrawal [from Gaza in 2005] raised Palestinian hopes for new homes, schools and businesses, and an easing of the overcrowding in the Gaza Strip... But internal Palestinian turmoil, the conflict with Israel and a lack of money have kept the abandoned settlements looking almost exactly as they were the day the Israelis left" - namely, piles of rubble.
The only structures standing in almost all of the former Jewish towns are booths for the armed guards who are there to keep their fellow Arabs out. In addition, the many greenhouses Israel left behind sit ruined or idle, a sad reminder of the thousands of agricultural jobs they once were thought to offer Arabs in Gaza.
Violence on All Sides
Hamas troops clashed with a local clan in Gaza on Tuesday, leading to two dead and 30 wounded. The local clan, known as the Dormush, is responsible for the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and BBC reporter Alan Johnston; the latter was held for four months before being released last month.
Also Tuesday, IDF troops engaged in anti-terrorism activity in Gaza killed 11 terrorists and possibly two civilians. They also arrested 100 suspected terrorists, and confiscated a host of weapons and equipment. Among the dead were six Islamic Jihad terrorists in an Israel Air Force strike in Khan Yunis, near the former site of N'vei Dekalim, and two Hamas terrorists nearby.
Possibly the only bright spot for Hamas is its military capabilities. Confirming intelligence reports, IDF troops who took part in Tuesday's fighting said afterwards that Hamas fought more like a real army than ever before, with a full-fledged command hierarchy, radio communication and military deployment.
Contrary to popular conception, Gaza is far from the most densely-populated area in the world. Statistics from 2005 indicate that Singapore and Hong Kong both have more than twice as many people per square kilometer, while Cairo is nearly ten times more densely populated than Gaza. Calcutta and Manila are 12 and 13 times more densely populated than Gaza, respectively.
Photo: John Pendygraft