JERUSALEM—The chief of Israeli military intelligence warned this week that despair in the Gaza Strip, where suicides have reached record levels, could lead to a renewed military confrontation with Israel.
"The humanitarian condition in Gaza is progressively deteriorating," said General Herzl Halevi, "and if it blows up, it will be in Israel’s direction."
He said he agreed with a 2015 United Nations report that the deteriorating quality of the water and electricity supply and massive unemployment, would make the Gaza Strip uninhabitable by 2020 if its rehabilitation does not begin quickly.
Appearing before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the intelligence chief said that Hamas, while building up its armed strength, is uninterested in war at this time and is making efforts to prevent smaller, more radical, organizations in the strip from firing rockets into Israel or heating up the border. The most important factor in preventing deterioration, he said, is improvement of the economic situation.
According to media reports, every third person in Gaza, which has a population of 1.8 million, is on anti-depressants. There is an increase in drug use and the phenomenon of teen-age girls marrying older men, even as a second or third wife, for financial security. A fairly new phenomenon is the fatal stabbing by women of unemployed husbands. Suicides are said to be at a record level, with seven in the past month, including by self-immolation, and 20 attempted suicides. This in a conservative society, which considers suicide as forbidden by religion.
Over 100,000 people are still homeless from the destruction wrought in the 50-day-long war with Israel in Gaza in 2014. Unemployment is at 38 percent. For young people there is virtually no employment except joining Hamas—more than 1,000 are employed in digging defensive and offensive tunnels—and military training.
Gaza has been hard hit by Egypt’s closure of hundreds of tunnels through which hundreds of millions of dollars worth of merchandise flowed, with substantial taxation by Hamas. Some 40,000 persons whose livelihoods depended on the tunnels, directly or indirectly, are now unemployed.
"The situation in the strip is the worst it has been in the past nine years," said a Gazan, identified only as Y., to the Times of Israel. "There is no hope. Only despair. Young people look around and see nothing. Gaza is like a large prison. You cannot leave but those who stay have no future." In various surveys, 50 percent of youths in Gaza said they wished to leave Gaza forever. When the border with Egypt was more open, many made their way to Libya and from there embarked on boats for Europe.
An increasing number of women in Gaza are reportedly turning to prostitution, including married women, in the absence of other sources of income.
Israeli analysts say that despite the dire situation in Gaza, Hamas rule appears stable
Channel 10 television reported Tuesday that intelligence chief Halevi had told the government that if it does not offer the Palestinians a political horizon a violent outburst was inevitable, this time not of individual knife wielders but of armed and organized militants. Halevi denied having said this.