Israel-Gaza Conflict: Is There Hope?
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's a familiar story - Palestinian militants fire rockets into Israel; Israel responds with airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. In the last cycle of violence over the weekend, at least 25 Palestinians and four Israelis were killed. And as soon as it ended, people on both sides said they expected it to happen again. NPR's Daniel Estrin was recently reporting in Gaza, and he's now in the studio with us here in Washington to share some perspective on why this cycle keeps repeating and what the longer-term consequences could be. Hey, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So based on what you've seen, why do these patterns of violence between Gaza and Israel just keep playing on a loop?
ESTRIN: Yeah. Well, the big picture here is that there's been this 12-year standoff over Gaza, ever since Hamas took control there. Israel considers Hamas to be an enemy out to destroy it. So Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza. And every once in a while, Hamas fires rockets to pressure Israel to lift its restrictions on Gaza. So that's what we see over and over. And yet, you know, Israel keeps those restrictions in place, and it seems that Israel intends to keep doing so as long as Hamas is there.
SHAPIRO: We hear a lot about these restrictions that Israel and Egypt have placed on Gaza. When you are there reporting in the Gaza Strip, how do you see that play out on a daily basis?
ESTRIN: You see it every day. The borders are tightly controlled. So for instance, there's a list of more than 100 items, roughly, that Israel usually bans - things like cement, like wooden beams - that Israel's worried Hamas might use to build military infrastructure, like tunnels. And then also, the Palestinian Authority government, which is in the West Bank, has its own restrictions on Gaza. It is also opposed to Hamas. So they have reduced budgets for things like electricity. And when you don't have power, that affects really everything.
And then also with the border controls, people can't go to work in Israel like they used to. So there is unbelievable unemployment - above 50% - and very high poverty. The one thing that has changed recently is that Egypt has actually opened its border, so people are now fleeing Gaza. There's a real exodus.
SHAPIRO: When you talk to those people who are leaving, what do they tell you?
ESTRIN: I talked to a lot of young men at the Egyptian border terminal. They were with backpacks. They're waiting for their names to be called out so they can cross. We're talking tens of thousands who have left in the past year. Here's one of them, Mohammed Ibrahim Tarhouni. He's 24. He's a freelance web developer. And he says it's hard to find work, so he's leaving.
Where are you going?
MOHAMMED IBRAHIM TARHOUNI: I'm going to Egypt. After that, I will go to UAE, United Emirates. After that, maybe I'll move in Canada.
ESTRIN: You're leaving Gaza?
TARHOUNI: Yes, of course.
ESTRIN: Are you going to come back?
TARHOUNI: I don't plan that.
ESTRIN: So if you have work as a freelancer, why not stay here in Gaza?
TARHOUNI: Here, we have a lot of problems, such as Internet connections and electricity.
ESTRIN: So, you know, it's hard to be a web developer when electricity is spotty.
ESTRIN: He's an example of someone leaving Gaza. There are others who are staying. And there's this one woman who is - I cannot stop thinking about. She's in her mid-20s. She says she's a special effects makeup artist. And I was like, what? How can there be someone like that in Gaza? There's no cinema industry or anything. She works on small projects. But she is dying to leave Gaza, but she's unmarried, and her family doesn't want her to leave. So she's just one of the many, many talented young people in Gaza who really crave a connection to the world.
SHAPIRO: If tens of thousands of people are leaving Gaza, does that make life more challenging for the people who stay?
ESTRIN: Yes, and a great example is at the hospital. For instance, we spoke to someone, a nurse in the surgery department. His name is Mohammed El-Qotati (ph). And he says, since the border has been opened, doctors have left Gaza, and he just started ticking off names.
MOHAMMED EL-QUOTATI: Dr. Samora Hedosabra (ph), orthopedic surgeon. Mohammed El-Hadid (ph), general surgery. Mohammed David (ph), orthopedic surgery. Mohammed El-Haj (ph), cardiac surgery.
ESTRIN: So that's - you've counted at least four surgeons who left this past year.
EL-QUOTATI: I know them.
ESTRIN: In your department.
EL-QUOTATI: In my department. But we have a cardiac surgeon have experience - good experience - when he leave our country. This department was closed because he left.
ESTRIN: No cardiac surgeon?
EL-QUOTATI: No cardiac surgeon now.
ESTRIN: No heart surgeon?
EL-QUOTATI: No heart surgeon because he left.
SHAPIRO: So how do the two sides snap out of this cycle? Do you see any potential resolution on the horizon?
ESTRIN: As much as Israel fights with Hamas, Israel does not want to topple Hamas. So Hamas keeps stability. They keep out more extreme groups. And then, you know, we're back to where we started - Hamas is still there, and Israel is still blockading Gaza. One way out of this would be for the Palestinian authority to rule Gaza, not Hamas. The world would conceivably deal with the Palestinian Authority government, and theoretically, Israel would then lift its blockade on Gaza. But Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are enemies, and they are not coming up with an arrangement to really resolve the situation.
And then in Israel, there are those who think it's better to have the Palestinians divided in two warring groups like they are now. It makes it harder for them to fight for an independent state. So you've got 2 million people living in Gaza. They see this endless cycle of violence. And they've really just lost hope that that cycle will end, and there will be a resolution to this stalemate.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin, back in the States from his base in Jerusalem. Thanks, Daniel.
ESTRIN: Thanks, Ari.
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