For some Gazans, Saturday morning’s surprise Palestinian attack into southern Israel seemed a justified response to a 16-year Israeli blockade. Others worried that the coordinated attack would only add to Gaza’s misery as the tiny enclave braced for a large-scale response from Israel.
The Palestinian territory of Gaza has been under a suffocating Israeli blockade, backed by Egypt, since Hamas seized control of the coastal strip in 2007. The blockade restricts the import of goods, including electronic and computer equipment, that could be used to make weapons and prevents most people from leaving the territory.
More than two million Palestinians live in Gaza. The tiny, crowded coastal enclave has a nearly 50 percent unemployment rate, and Gaza’s living conditions, health system and infrastructure have all deteriorated under the blockade.
Israel says the blockade is necessary to stop the flow of arms into the territory, but Palestinians and aid groups say it is collective punishment and exacerbates dire economic and social conditions.
Diplomats say that Hamas had repeatedly indicated in recent months that it did not want a major military escalation in Gaza, in part to avoid worsening the humanitarian situation so soon after the devastation of a war in 2021.
The Gazan authorities are still repairing buildings damaged or destroyed by Israeli airstrikes during previous rounds of fighting, including five days of war in May between Israel’s military and Islamic Jihad, the second-largest armed group in Gaza. And some Gazans are worried about losing access to Israeli work permits, a major lifeline for the enclave’s limping economy.
Gaza’s hospitals regularly suffer from equipment and medicine shortages because of the blockade, and Palestinians in Gaza must apply for permits to leave the enclave to seek treatment either in the West Bank or inside Israel.
In the past, Gaza’s sole power plant has at times been forced to shut down for lack of fuel when Israel has closed the border crossings for goods.
Civilians, especially children, in Gaza have paid a high price. In 2021, at least 67 children were killed in Gaza during 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas. In May, at least 12 civilians were killed by Israeli strikes during the fighting in May this year.
Israel’s military says that it conducts “precision strikes” on Gaza aimed at taking out armed groups’ commanders or operation sites, and that it does not target civilians. But Palestinians say that strikes on heavily populated areas amount to a collective punishment and that civilians have been targeted.