Thursday, January 24, 2019 | ePaper

Gaza`s hospitals taxed by wounded from Israeli fire

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A Palestinian 25-year-old surfer, lies on a bed as his father, mother and brothers visit him, at the Shifa hospital in Gaza.

 AP, Gaza City :
Hundreds of Gaza Palestinians wounded by Israeli fire in two weeks of border violence are severely taxing the coastal strip's hospitals.
Palestinian health officials say nearly 1,300 people have been shot and wounded by Israeli soldiers during the mass border protests, called for by the territory's Hamas rulers.
The casualty figures are at the heart of an intensifying debate over the military's open-fire orders. The Israeli military has disputed the Gaza count of wounded, saying that at most dozens were struck by Israeli fire. But it has not offered supporting evidence and did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition, 33 Palestinians have been killed during this period, including 26 in border demonstrations. Israel says its sharpshooters have been careful, aiming only at "instigators" involved in attempted attacks. The on-going protests in Gaza have been a long time coming. They are also a wake-up call for the international community. According to any indicator, conditions in the Strip have become unsustainable. What little hopes Gazans had left have been dashed by failure of the latest round of intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks to deliver any improvements to their daily lives.
For the last eleven years, Gaza's inhabitants have been under a joint air, sea, and land blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. In addition, they face the legacy of three wars with Israel which have degraded Gaza's infrastructure and killed thousands, and more recently, sanctions imposed by President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority against Hamas and Gazans alike. The consequence is a man-made social, economic, and humanitarian crisis that will make Gaza unliveable by 2020 according to the UN.
Against this backdrop, it can be of little surprise that the anger and frustration felt by average Gazans has driven tens of thousands to protest-largely non-violently-along the border with Israel. While Hamas and other Palestinian factions have played an important supporting role, these protests are driven at the grassroots level by Gazan civil society which remains resilient despite numerous constraints.
Of course, these protests are useful for Hamas, which has allowed the emergence of a carefully controlled space for popular mobilisation. In doing so, Hamas hopes to deflect popular anger over the worsening humanitarian conditions away from it, and towards Israel and the PA. This is partly a means of short term survival, partly an attempt to leverage an easing of restrictions on the Strip. To a certain extent, this also reflects a debate within the Islamist movement about the merits of non-violence in its struggle against Israel.
Hamas's embrace of protests as a political tool could not be more different from Abbas who has sought to constrain and de-mobilize Palestinian civil society in the West Bank. The lack of any large-scale mobilizations by Palestinians there, either in support of Gazans, or against Israeli settlements, has less to do with popular apathy, and more to do with PA restrictions, through the detention of Palestinian activists, restrictions on freedom of expression, and close security cooperation with Israel.
Back in Gaza, results remain mixed two weeks into the protests. Protestors have put Israel on the backfoot, both on the ground and in the international spotlight, momentarily shown-up Abbas, and shifted the plight of Gaza back up the list of urgent crises facing world leaders. But the protests have not yet been a game-changer. Israel has inflicted a high Palestinian casualty rate, and prevented protesters from penetrating its border fence on mass, at a so far manageable cost in its foreign and media relations. Protesters have also done little to convince Abbas to reverse his policy. In fact, he has doubled down on his anti-Hamas rhetoric, and withhold the salaries of the thousands of PA civil servants based in the Strip.

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