The summer of 2005 was especially hot in Israel, but not just because of the high temperatures and Middle-Eastern climate. That summer the heat was political, as Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Thousands of Jewish residents were evicted to temporary residences, their houses demolished. The Israeli Defence Forces emptied its bases and left the strip. Israelis across the country hoped that this withdrawal might help build trust and peace between Israel and the Palestinians as they watched images of the abandoned synagogues set on fire and burn to the ground by gloating Gazans. It wasn’t long before Hamas took over the strip. The showers of rockets into Israel proper never stopped.
Yet Palestinian leaders, activists and even UN bodies continued to insist that Gaza somehow remained “occupied” by Israel.
Seven years later, Mahmoud al-Zahar, co-founder of Hamas finally admitted the obvious. In a recent (18.9.2012) interview to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency he declared that “Gaza is free of occupation.” This is not the first time al-Zahar had implied that there is no occupation in Gaza. In January 2012, as the region’s upheavals spread, al-Zahar declared that the kind of demonstrations witnessed around the Arab world would not reach Gaza: “Against whom could we demonstrate in the Gaza Strip? When Gaza was occupied, that model was applicable.” This time he not only went beyond implication to outright affirmation, now he went even further!
Contrary to common language of anti-Israel propaganda, he also provided proof that Gaza is not under “siege”, stating that “contiguity with the outside world is easier as visitors from all over the world visited the coastal enclave.”
The developments that inspired these statements also affected the economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, which have improved noticeably. According to Ma’an the Gaza Strip has became more self-reliant. Al-Zahar also claimed that Gaza is “self-dependent in several aspects except petroleum and electricity.”
This economic improvement is especially significant in relation to the economic troubles faced by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, where recently Palestinians took to the streets to protest delayed salaries for public-sector workers and the increasing cost of living. Al-Zahar bragged that “people in Gaza receive full salaries, and all the money the Ramallah government transfers goes to Fatah supporters only.” He argued that the economic conditions in the Gaza Strip are better than in the West Bank and that the demonstrations in the West Bank were a result of economic reliance on the United States and Israel, who, he claimed, control the Palestinian economy.
While over-dependence on foreign aid, deceasing tax revenues and corruption are factors in the economic crisis in the West Bank, the case could be easily made that Gaza itself plays a major role in the financial mess the PA finds itself in. No tax revenues from Gaza are collected by the PA, yet it pays salaries for most public sector workers in the Hamas-controlled entity. Hamas, however, seems to be completely uninterested in helping ease or resolve this crisis in solidarity with West Bank Palestinians and to help strengthen the overall Palestinian economy. He certainly didn’t offer to start sending the taxes Hamas collects to Ramallah, or for Hamas to take over paying doctors and teachers in the strip. Instead, Al-Zahar seems to have other plans for Palestinian political leadership, stating that the replacement for the PA, in case it officially collapses, is all ready – in the form of “the resistance program.”