Back Africa A year on: Operation Pillar of Cloud

A year on: Operation Pillar of Cloud

Jessica PurkissExactly a year has passed since Operation Pillar of Cloud, or defence as it has since been rebranded as, ended. The operation's stated goal was to deter the rockets being fired into Israel by Hamas' military wing and weaken the Islamic leadership.

After 8 days of hostilities, Hamas emerged as a self-proclaimed victor, yet in the shadow of victory Gaza emerged with its infrastructure in pieces, shelled homes to rebuild and 171 lost lives to mourn.

A year on people are still attempting to rebuild their shattered lives.

"In the one year nothing has changed, every day feels the same. The only change is we don't hear the sound of drones over our heads or the explosion of bombs. The people with dead family members still remember them every day. We are still suffering," said one young Gaza resident named Waleed.

Under the crippling financial burden of surviving in Gaza the 20 year old has been forced to give up his studies. The continuation of studying has had to be reserved for a more stable time.

"I really need just one cent to make a difference in my life; I have nothing, just the words of others to be strong," he said speaking from Gaza.

"I remember the joy of hearing of the ceasefire and the sounds of the drones gone. We danced in the streets and thanked God we could sleep again. But the suffering is still the same as from the siege," he said.

In the world of politics a lot can happen in a year. For Gaza, that year has seen a growth in isolation as they attempt to negotiate a new political terrain.

The Syria conflict separated the strip from allies Iran and Hezbollah. They both steadfastly support Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad, with Iran and Hezbollah sending fighters and finances to prop up the governments troops. Hamas' open condemnation of their support of the regime was not received well by Iran, a financial backer of Hamas.

One of Hamas' only remaining allies following the fallout over Syria was Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi. The overthrow of Morsi by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his military backed replacement, was a major blow for Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The change of leadership has had a devastating impact on the people of Gaza. Egypt's Rafah crossing, the only accessible crossing linking Gaza's 1.7 million residents with the outside world, has been closed for long stretches.

Students waiting to carry on their studies in Cairo or further afield and medical patients requiring treatment have to wait. At one point more than 40,000 people used to travel through Rafah in both directions every month, the trickle now permitted, usually medical patients and foreign passport holders, means every announcement of the crossing being open leads to long, relentless queues of people.

The overthrow of Morsi has led to a brutal crackdown on the underground tunnels used to smuggle people and goods from Gaza into Egypt and vice versa. In a bid to gain control over the turbulent Sinai region and isolate the remnants of the Brotherhood the Egyptian forces had reportedly destroyed over 800 tunnels this year.

The tunnels are a lifeline for Gaza residents. Since Israel's complete blockade of Gaza following Hama's takeover of power in 2007, the tunnels have been used to meet the basic need of the people for food and medical supplies. An official has estimated a monthly loss of $230 million to its economy as a result of Egypt's closure. For the trapped enclave this is a loss they cannot afford.

Over an estimated quarter of a million jobs have been lost across all sectors, with construction, services, transport and storage, manufacturing and agriculture taking severe hits since the closures.

"If they could cut off the air they would, they want to cut us off from everything. The tunnels help our people smuggle simple things to make life as normal as it can be," said Waleed.

"This is a humanitarian, not a political issue," Gaza municipality's Saad El-Deen Al-Tbash to Reuters.

His comment was in response to the sewage that had filled the residential streets of Gaza City last week. The main largest waste water treatment plant, which served 120,000 residents, stopped for lack of fuel, leaving the manholes to bubble over with putrid smelling water. Gazan municipality officials warned that other waste water facilities may soon run out of petrol to fuel generators.

The plentiful and cheap supply of fuel from Egypt has virtually halted completely, leaving Palestinians no other option but to buy Israeli imported petrol at double the price - 6.7 shekels ($1.9) a liter. For many homes and businesses who dealt with the electricity shortages faced in Gaza by using generators, the shortage and added expense of fuel means they can no longer operate even the generators.

Palestinian Minister of Health in Gaza Dr Mufid Al-Mukhalalatii explained that: "the electricity operates for eight hours per day and the generators that compensate for the electrical outages throughout the remainder of the day have become too costly to run, requiring 500 thousand litres per month of diesel fuel to operate. They are also unsafe to use around patients." He added that "most medical devices will soon stop working" when the generators stop.

It is hard to forget Operation Pillar of Cloud in Gaza. A year on, shelled houses still remain damaged in the streets as the impact of the closures have been felt deeply in the construction industry. The building boom experienced in Gaza has been crushed, with 25% of Gaza's needs being met and prices are around 30% higher.The price of a ton of cement has jumped from 380 NIS to 550 NIS.

A military parade marked the year anniversary of the operations commencement in Gaza. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited soldiers at an army base close to the Gaza border. "The responsibility for any collateral damage that is liable to be caused to the residents of Gaza lies squarely on Hamas's shoulders. I would like to express my appreciation and that of the nation to the IDF and the security forces in the sector," he said.

"Israel thinks they have killed everything, but they cannot kill truth, they try but they cannot kill it," said Waleed.

On the situation in Gaza, he finished by saying, "There is sadness in our hearts that we can't explain; some sadness there are no words for."

As the anniversary is marked, the world is watching the ongoing peace talks between Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Meanwhile Gaza quietly fades from the eyes of the politicians and the public.


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