Magazine article The Spectator

Generation Jihad

Magazine article The Spectator

Generation Jihad

Article excerpt

The only growth industry in Gaza is extremism and radicalisation

Driving through Gaza City last weekend, in an armoured UN land cruiser, I ask our guide what the ubiquitous green flags symbolise. 'Hamas, ' he replies.

And the black ones? 'Jihad.' It is almost five years since Hamas won 74 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council election, in a massive rejection both of the corruption of Fatah politicians and of the peace process with Israel. Since then, under a land and sea blockade imposed ostensibly to protect Israel from rocket attack and Egypt from Islamist contagion, Gaza has sunk ever deeper into a mire of victimhood and fundamentalism.

It's an alarming thought: young Gazans - 60 per cent of the population is under 15 - are growing up in an environment tailor-made for radicalisation. While there is no longer an acute humanitarian crisis, the combination of Hamas rule and Israeli blockade has accelerated 'de-development' of the territory's institutions and economy. The UN Relief and Works Agency is struggling to import the construction materials it needs to re-house refugees and build schools. Unemployment is over 45 per cent, up from 35 per cent in mid2009, lowering the cost to Hamas of recruiting militants. Half of Gazans are under the official poverty line; there are electricity cuts for 12 to 16 hours a day; 90 per cent of water is undrinkable; and a third of the homes are not connected to the sewage network. Literally and metaphorically, Gaza stinks.

Jihadi iconography is ubiquitous. Militant murals and portraits of machine-gun-toting 'martyrs' cover even the walls of Al- Shifa Hospital. No wonder. Construction of an extension has stalled for lack of cement and in the Prince Naief Radiotherapy C entre, million dollar Siemens gamma cameras stand unused because the hospital cannot import 'dual-use' radioisotopes and calibration tools. Zahair Nafal, director of nursing, is himself suffering from colon cancer. Pallid and sweating, he wants to go to Jordan or Turkey for radiotherapy now unavailable in Gaza. Permission denied. Dr Mohammed Al Kashif, director of hospitals in Gaza, claims Israel is using access to treatment as an instrument of control.

'Life in many other countries around the world, such as Sudan, for example, is much more difficult than it is in Gaza, ' acknowledges Unicef head of mission Diane Araki, 'but it's a different kind of difficult here.' There is a high incidence of medical problems associated with communities where there is a lot of intermarriage within narrow gene pools. …

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