This report aims to contribute a better understanding of the characteristics and dynamics of Gaza’s internal lines of tensions, as well as the patterns of interactions between international assistance and the conflict context on the ground. The bulk of information gathered for this report was collected through personal interviews and focus group discussions in Gaza, including experts in the fields of international cooperation, conflict resolution and political science.
For Gazans, the dominating overarching trend is one of increasing political and physical fragmentation. Within this trend of fragmentation four interrelated and mutually reinforcing lines of tension were analysed in this report: the factional split between Hamas and Fatah, the dividing and weakening effects from the physical blockade, the increasing differences in many spheres between Gaza and the West Bank, and the general population’s alienation from their leadership and institutions.
- The cumulative effects of these factors on Gazans consist of a shrinking “neutral” middle-ground, increasing distress and pressure on the social fabric, de-politicisation and at the same time an increased dependence on internal and external power holders, and considerably weakened governmental institutions. All of this is taking a heavy toll on the physical and psychological well-being of the male and female residents of Gaza.
- However, there are still many connecting issues and actors: Gazan society still has an immense capability of integrating different groups. There are no sharp vertical splits in this society and all interview partners stressed in their analysis that the political splits and differences are not irreversible. Due to shared values and cultural base along with a joint history and experiences of occupation and national liberation struggles, common ties are still strong. Furthermore, some civil society organisations have been instrumental in working against an increasing divide. They have pushed for joint agendas and facilitated the creation of joint committees, which have earned them to some extent the credibility of being steadfastly non-partisan.
- This report finds numerous interactions between international assistance and the Gaza conflict context. Some of these interactions follow patterns well-known from other conflict contexts. International programmes are felt to further weaken the social fabric by circumventing existing civil society organisations, by not involving the people enough in their programming and thus, increasing dependency on external aid. Aid is also seen as fuelling imbalances in Gaza, i.e. when salary levels are so different that jealousy is created between governmental and NGO staff.
- International involvement is directly, significantly and purposely feeding into the factional split. This is, together with the physical blockade and its devastating effects, identified as the most harmful factors in the lives of Gazans today. On a policy level of analysis, international involvement is also feeding into reduced accountability, corruption and militarisation – factors that have been cited by analysts as considerably weakening Palestinian society from within.
- International assistance and the way it is implemented in Gaza are often instrumental in further increasing fragmentation. The “no-contact policy” of many actors and the vetting of partners and/or beneficiaries epitomise the dividing instead of unifying effects of international programmes.
- Every organisation and intervention should thoroughly assess its interaction with the main fault lines of the existing context and make changes in order to become conflict sensitive and ‘do no harm’.
- Organisations should clearly abolish a general no-contact policy towards the de-facto government. It should be replaced by a transparent set of criteria for engagement with both authorities, based on the acceptance of international human rights standards and fine-tuned in a broad consultation process with local stakeholders. The practice of excluding partners and/or beneficiaries in Gaza on grounds of their political affiliation should urgently be abolished.
- On the level of programming, organisations should check the size of their programmes with a view of getting to a balanced resource allocation between the West Bank and Gaza. They should treat Gaza as an integral part of their strategic and programmatic planning and not as a separate entity.
- Donors should make sure that their interventions are indeed strengthening local institutions in Gaza and do not further weaken the social fabric. They should exert caution when applying a “working through West Bank-based organisations” approach. A real dialogue and partnership between donors and Gazans are necessary for international assistance to become a tool for unification, not separation.