It’s important to remember that nearly three-quarters of Gaza’s inhabitants are under thirty and remain confined to Gaza, prohibited from leaving the territory; most never have. Amid such disempowerment, young people have increasingly turned to militancy as a livelihood, joining various militant or extremist organisations simply to secure a paying job. Person after person told me that growing support for extremist factions in Gaza does not emanate from political or ideological belief – as these factions may claim – but from people’s need to feed their families. Many, perhaps most of the new recruits to Islamic State-affiliated groups are choosing to join because membership guarantees an income. At the same time, Hamas is desperate to secure enough funds to keep paying the salaries of its military wing, the al-Qassem Brigades, which is also reportedly seeing a swelling of its ranks. It seems that unemployed young men in Gaza increasingly face two options: join a military faction or give up.
‘If the Israelis were smart,’ one religious Muslim told me, ‘they would open two or three industrial zones, do a security check and find the most wanted among us and employ them. Al-Qassem would evaporate very quickly and everyone would be more secure … The mosques would be empty.’ I was told that many young men left al-Qassem after getting a place in one of Gaza’s housing projects, not wanting to turn their new home into a possible Israeli target. ‘What we need is Israeli factories and Palestinian hands,’ a local businessman said. ‘One sack of cement employs 35 people in Gaza; with one worker in Israel you have seven people in Gaza praying for Israel’s security. Imagine a “Made in Gaza” brand. We could market regionally and it would sell like hotcakes. Gaza would benefit and so would Israel. All we want are open borders for export.’ Gazans are entrepreneurial and resourceful – and desperate to work and provide for their children once again. Instead they are forced into demeaning dependency on humanitarian aid, which is given by the very same countries that contribute to their incapacity. The policy is not only morally obscene: it is also outrageously stupid.