In Who Ruined Gaza, Ephraim Karsh reminds us:
During their 19-year occupation of the Gaza Strip (1948-67), the Egyptians ruled the area with an iron fist, keeping the local population in squalid, harshly supervised camps, where they could serve as a rallying point for anti-Israel sentiment. Life expectancy was low, malnutrition, infectious diseases, and child mortality were rife, and the level of education was low. Palestinians were denied Egyptian citizenship and were subjected to severe restrictions on travel and work, with unemployment among refugees running above 80%. "The Palestinians are useful to the Arab states as they are," Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser candidly responded to a Western reporter in 1956. "We will always see that they do not become too powerful. Can you imagine yet another nation on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean?"When Gaza passed into Israel's hands, however, the situation there improved dramatically:
During the 1970's, in fact, the West Bank and Gaza constituted the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world ahead of Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, and substantially ahead of Israel itself. Although GNP per capita grew somewhat more slowly thanks to the rapidly expanding Palestinian population, the rate was still high by international standards, with per-capita GNP expanding tenfold between 1968 and 1991 from US$165 to US$1,715 (compared with Jordan's US$1,050, Egypt's US$600, Turkey's US$1,630, and Tunisia's US$1,440).But things changed dramatically once again under Arafat, once he took control.
Under Israeli rule, the Palestinians also made vast progress in social welfare. Life expectancy rose from 48 in 1967 to 72 in 2000 (compared with an average of 68 years for all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa). Israeli medical programs reduced the infant-mortality rate of 60 per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 15 per 1,000 in 2000. (In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, by comparison, the rate was 64, in Egypt 40, in Jordan 23, in Syria 22). And under a systematic program of inoculation, childhood diseases such as polio, whooping cough, tetanus and measles were eradicated.
No less remarkable were advances in the Palestinians' standard of living. By 1986, 93% of the population in the West Bank and Gaza had electricity around the clock, as compared with 21% in 1967; 85% had running water in dwellings, as compared to 16% in 1967; 84% had electric or gas ranges for cooking, as compared to 4% in 1967; and so on for refrigerators, televisions and cars.
Finally, during the two decades preceding the intifada of the late 1980's, the number of enrolled schoolchildren in the territories grew by 102%, though the population itself had grown by only 28%. Even more dramatic was the progress in higher education. At the onset of the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, not a single university existed in these territories. By the early 1990s, there were seven such institutions, boasting some 16,500 students, as compared with six in Israel itself. Illiteracy rates dropped to 14% of those over age 15, compared with 69% in Morocco, 61% in Egypt, 45% in Tunisia, and 44% in Syria.
War is by its nature a destructive endeavour, and Arafat's terror war was no exception, inflicting great damage on Israel but also eradicating the fragile fabric of civil society that had been developing in the territories during the decades prior to his arrival. Unemployment increased from 10% to an average of 41% during 2002, and the proportion of the population that was poor rose from 20% to over 50%. Private investment and trade fell dramatically.When Arafat came to power in 1994 he described the situation of the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza in the worst possible terms. He claimed, "There is no ill from which Gaza does not suffer."
Of course, the only real ill and true impediment facing Palestinian Arabs--is their 'leadership.'