Since 1948 Gaza has been the neglected stepchild of the Palestine question, unwanted by either side because of the enormity of its social, economic and political problems. With its inclusion in the autonomous Palestine region created in 1993 by the coming together of Israel and the PLO as a first step, at least as far as everyone except the Israelis is concerned, towards the road to statehood, it suddenly became a focus of local and world attention, and what had been known to few outside the area about its desperate state of affairs, suddenly received international scrutiny. Sara Roy's study is the most recent and certainly the most thorough assessment of Gaza's present problems, supported by a very careful analysis of the region's modern history and its slide into the hopelessness and dire poverty that began in 1948 and was deliberately exacerbated during the Israeli occupation after 1967-the era of what the author calls "de-development." This is an awkward term, but no other word exists to adequately describe the Israeli policy of undoing what modest positive economic achievements had been made earlier. It was accomplished by deliberately undermining the social, political and economic fabric of this tiny, desperately isolated and overcrowded anomalous bit of Mediterranean coast(28 miles long, covering only 140 square miles).
The book is divided into four-the History up to 1967, the Israeli Occupation and De-development, Continued Economic Dislocations and the Face of the Future. In addition there are a lengthy bibliography, an index, two badly-reproduced and difficult to read maps, and numerous tables, though there is regrettably no listing of them anywhere, an irritating editorial oversight. The historical section chronicles the decline of Gaza from one of the most prosperous regions of pre-1948 Palestine to its present deplorable state. Fully one-third of the land of Gaza sub-district was arable during the Mandate period, and in 1936 the Gaza district accounted for at least 36 percent of the total area under cultivation in Palestine (p. 46). In 1944, 95.5 percent of the land in Gaza sub-district was Arab-owned, and in the Gaza district (which included Beersheba) the figure was 99.1 percent (p. 45). The population of the Gaza sub-district in 1944-45 was 137,000. After the establishment of the state of Israel, some 250,000 refugees poured into the area, trebling the population which by 1993 had reached 830,000. When calculated on the basis of Arab-owned land, this exceeds 12,000 people per square mile (p. 16).
Today nearly 40 percent of the land in the Gaza Strip is owned by Jewish settlers, who number only 4-5,000 and live in inconceivable luxury when compared to their Arab neighbors. "The disparities in land allocations between Jews and Arabs," observes the author, "are mirrored almost surrealistically in the physical contrast between residential areas" (p.176). These sixteen settlements are allotted, per capita, 84 times the amount of land allocated to Palestinians, and they consumed nearly 16 times the amount of water" (p. 17 and p. 167). Of the Palestinian population, 70 percent (583,000 people in 1993) were refugees of the 1948 war, and their descendants and the majority "live in eight squalid and overflowing camp sites first claimed by their forefathers in 1948." The relationship between indigenous inhabitants and the refugee community. Has often been strained, even hostile" (p.19).
Perhaps as result of the intense overcrowding and high unemployment "everyone in the Gaza Strip is a political being. Politics directly and immediately influence daily life. Every action, no matter how banal, has political significance" (p. 21). At least seven political groupings and their sub-factions claim the allegiance of the vast majority of Gazans and are basically divided among the secular groups affiliated with the PLO and the two religiously oriented parties, the Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Apart from a tiny minority of 2-3,000 Greek Orthodox Christians, all Palestinians in Gaza are Sunni Muslims, and the religious parties have strong support. The differences between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as the author is careful to point out, are considerable. The latter was part of Jordan for two decades, and its citizens hold Jordanian passports. Though twice as numerous as the Gazans they live in vastly less crowded circumstances. The Gazans were never annexed by their Egyptian occupiers during the period 1948-67 and are consequently stateless. “Socially the Gazans are far more traditional than the West Bankers" (p. 27), one of the reasons why the religious political movements have been so popular.
During the Egyptian occupation "little was done to improve the social and economic condition of the refugee community and the indigenous (pre-1948) population" (p. 66). Egypt had its own economic problems arising from overcrowding and "regularly emphasized the temporary political status of the Gaza Strip, a status it felt could only be resolved through. the total liberation of Palestine" (p.24). The four-month Israeli occupation from November 1956 to March 1957 ''brought greater Egyptian attention to the needs of Gaza's residents" (p. 71) once Egyptian authority returned. The local resistance to the occupying Israelis, whose control "Ben Gurion had long anticipated and had been intended as permanent" (p. 70), resulted within a year in the birth of Al-Fateh, which in turn led to the establishment of the PLO in 1964.
When the Israelis recaptured the Gaza Strip in 1967, they set about achieving the objectives they had ho d to implement in 1956, including the establishment of Jewish settlements ("or Jewish fingers as [Sharon] called them," p. 105). Here it would have been useful if the author had included a map clearly showing the Israeli settlements to indicate how much of the area they controlled (and still control) and how the Palestinians were confined to the least valuable land and denied access to most of the coast. The implementation of Israeli objectives "which reflected the ideological imperatives of Zionism, produced not only underdevelopment but de-development" (p. 117), in other words, "a deliberate attempt on the part of the dominant power to first incorporate and then pauperize the periphery's productive economic structure through a variety of measures, including land expropriation and the expulsion of the indigenous population" (pp. 119-20). These measures were to include "the deliberate...'de-skilling' and under-use of the Palestinian labor force, the segmentation and fragmentation of the economic sector in the Periphery, the usurpation of land and water...the alienation of the Arab labor force [and] the intentional denial of access to the means of production as a form of collective punishment" (p. 125).
In chapters 5-9 the author clearly shows how Israel did this while at the same time perpetuating in the West "the illusion that Israel's occupation has been benign"(p. 138). One of the most important goals of the Israeli occupation of Gaza (and all other occupied territories) was the control of the very limited water supply. But nothing was done to improve the overloaded and decaying sewage infrastructure of the Gaza Strip. Consequently, water quality was damaged by entry of sewage into underground water sources, and this and salinity were "exacerbated by Israel's own, often urgent, need to supplement its own water resources" (p. 165). Another key factor of the Israeli occupation, according to the author, lay in not providing adequate housing for the growing Palestinian population (p. 182). In all fairness it should be noted that the concomitant failure of the Gazans themselves to exercise any form of family planning (their reproduction rate is among the world's highest, p. 211) deserves some share of the blame. Unrestricted population growth is indeed one of the weapons the Palestinians have been able to marshal in their race to outnumber the more slowly reproducing Israeli Jews, but the latter should not be taken to task for failing to provide accommodation for these new generations of potential enemy soldiers. Another policy of Israeli de-development in Gaza has been that of preventing the exportation of the Strip's agricultural produce either abroad, or frequently within Israel itself. The same policy has been applied to local attempts at industrialization (pp. 240-41).
The final element in the de-development policy has been that of deinstitutionalization, or "the director indirect restriction and undermining of institutions that could plan for and support productive investment over time. In Gaza this restriction has come from the Israeli government" (p. 263). This policy also applies to the infrastructure. "Road construction was justified only....in order to supply Israeli employers with Palestinian labor. Gaza's roads are in terrible condition....The best roads are those connecting Israeli settlements...or for use by Jewish settlers who wish to bypass Palestinian villages" (p. 269). There are no Arab banks in Gaza, and thus no source of long-term credit. "The educational system is plagued by underfunding, overcrowding , inadequate facilities, poor physical infrastructure and inadequate resources'(p. 275).
The intifada began, not surprisingly given the total repression and neglect by Israel since 1967, in Gaza, and no area suffered more for its protests. It "seriously undermined Gaza's economy" largely due to "Israeli-imposed measures designed to further...[destroy] economic and physical infrastructure" (p. 303). Thus the state of the Gaza Strip as it achieved autonomy was one of total economic depletion, social demoralization and Political unrest, largely due, as the author has carefully documented, to deliberate Israeli policy. The impact of the Gulf War with the ensuing loss of revenue from those Gazans who had managed to emigrate to Kuwait and the Gulf and were forced to return further strained the already weakened social and economic framework.
It is too soon for the author to have been able to make any assessment of the impact of autonomy on the Gaza Strip. But she is not optimistic, if only because "the Gaza-Jericho agreement in its promise of autonomy will not eliminate de-development because, politically and economically autonomy remains within Israeli's ideological mandate" (p. 328). Gaza is still economically dependent on Israel. Until it is allowed free access to markets outside Israel, it will still suffer from the legacy of de-development, which even with the most generous of outside help will require years to overcome.
Dr. Roy's study appears at a fortuitous moment. As the autonomous Palestine region struggles to organize itself within a makeshift framework of conflicting and overlapping laws and regulations dating back to Ottoman times and complicated by British Mandate and Israeli additions and amendments, it is particularly useful to have a detailed analysis of the basic problems that need to be addressed. Her research has produced an excellent study, supported by sound, factual assessment, and presented in a lucid and admirably jargon-less style. Only a few points need to be questioned. On page 67 she refers to the All-Palestine Government of 1948 as "headed by the unpopular Mufti of Jerusalem, "whose name is curiously not given-and unpopular with whom? On page 149 she claims that the Gaza Strip "did not possess any real historic or religious significance for Israel." Tell that to Samson. 'Upon Philistia will I triumph," crows the Psalmist (Ps. 108:9).