x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Two years on, trauma lingers for Gazans

Today marks the sombre two-year anniversary of the Gaza War, the 2008 offensive between Israel and Hamas.

Today marks the sombre two-year anniversary of the Gaza War, the 2008 offensive between Israel and Hamas that left over a thousand Palestinians dead and precipitated an international outcry over Israel's aggressive military response.

But while the conflict may have faded from the headlines, the effects of the war persist within the Strip two years on. Unemployment remains high despite Israel's reluctant easing of the economic blockade, and in the absence of efficient social services provided by Hamas, families are increasingly relying on humanitarian aid for basic needs such as food, water and medicine.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA), a lack of infrastructure persists, impeding economic and social progress. Housing projects, as well as water and sanitation facilities, have yet to be fully rebuilt, while school reconstruction has moved at a snail's pace. Because of this, around 20 per cent of the population in main areas such as Gaza City have access to running water only once every five days; 80 per cent have less access.

The war has also compounded the psychological toll of the Strip's restrictive atmosphere. Children continue to be in need of trauma counselling after Operation Cast Lead, which saw urban warfare take the lives of family members and parents. Women in particular also continue to suffer rising rates of domestic abuse due to unemployment and socioeconomic hardship following the war.

Internationally, Operation Cast Lead prompted broad efforts to aid Gaza's inhabitants. Efforts reached a fevered pitch last May, when nine Turkish activists were killed aboard a humanitarian aid ship by Israeli Defence Forces while attempting to break the naval blockade. The flotilla, which was a partial response to Israel's actions during the Gaza War, precipitated a freeze between Israeli and Turkish relations that has yet to thaw, despite ongoing talks with officials to normalise relations.

As peace talks stall and alternative solutions are brought to the table for Palestinian statehood, Gaza may not be the first item on the agenda for policymakers. But it must be considered as part of the solution if lasting peace is to be reached.

Though Hamas has done little but act as a spoiler throughout the negotiation process, it is Israel that is the ultimate impediment to peace talks- its refusal to renew a settlement freeze in the West Bank. Gazans, 1.5 million of them, await the day when incursions such as Operation Cast Lead will never again occur.