A Year After Gaza Takeover, Hamas Shows No Sign of Ending Violence

Politics aside, the coup's negative implications for the personal lives of Gazans have been enormous.

"For many of us, the coup in Gaza meant the end of the Palestinian dream of a single Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, with a connection between them," said P., a resident of Gaza City's Sajiyeh neighborhood, on the one-year anniversary of the coup in which Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip.

"Israel will not agree to a Palestinian state in Gaza as long as it is under Hamas control, and the coup divided the Palestinian people in two," he continued. "Even in the Diaspora, Palestinians are divided between Hamas and Fatah supporters."

Beyond the coup's negative implications for Palestinian politics, its negative implications for the personal lives of Gaza residents have been enormous. Yet no small number of Gazans also mentioned positive changes that have taken place in the Strip in the past year.

"The age of the armed gangs has ended," explained B., a former Fatah member. "I remember getting in a dispute with a member of a large family. I went to the police to file an assault complaint. The police advised me to drop it so I wouldn't get hurt.

'Today, you will not encounter anything like that. Family connections are no longer of any importance, and anyone who violates the law is punished. The chaos, the stolen cars, the extortion and threats are all gone."

A., a resident of Beit Hanun, also reported a substantial improvement in personal security. According to him, there are fewer internal conflicts and gang wars. "I no longer feel the need to be constantly armed for fear of encountering someone else armed."

But A. is not unequivocal statement about the improvement in the situation. "When Hamas took power, it brought about a dramatic improvement in the enforcement of traffic laws," he said. "There was no order in that sphere in the past, but now, drivers must even get car registrations. But now, there are almost no cars on the road because of the gas shortage. So what did we gain?"

It seems that even the improvement in personal safety is relative. From the June 2007 coup until the beginning of this month, human rights groups say, 118 Palestinians have been killed in internecine fighting. Hundreds of Fatah members populate the jails as the result of political persecution, and arrests are carried out almost every day.

"We live better from the personal safety perspective," said S. "But what is it all worth on an empty stomach and an empty pocket? There was a dream of making Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East, but we have become Afghanistan."

On the list of pros and cons for Gaza under Hamas rule, poverty is the most significant con. About 50% of Gaza residents are unemployed. Two thirds live below the poverty line and need international aid to survive. Close to 90% of factories have been shuttered by lack of raw materials due to Israel's blockade. The construction sector is paralyzed. Most staples can be purchased only at sky-high prices. A. says tahini prices have doubled this year. So have fruit prices.

"Hamas gives out gas coupons every week," he said. "It's like living in the old Soviet Union. There is electricity three to four hours a day. It's impossible to go abroad, and impossible to travel with the children inside Gaza because of the gas shortage."

Poverty inevitably brings religious radicalization. According to B., not all Gazans have suddenly become religious, but many are growing beards and going to mosques to prove to Hamas that they are drawing closer to religion, and to the organization itself.

"Once, there were mostly older people at morning prayers," he said. "Now, more than ever, young people attend those prayers, too."