Despite the hardships of life in besieged enclave, it is not despair that this writer hears, but a remarkable resilience; a strong determination to carry on with life, to live, love, learn and hope and work for freedom.
THE GAZA STRIP — Late last month, when Israel violated international law by boarding and “redirecting” foreign ships in international waters, ships that were going to the Gaza Strip, Oren Rozenblat, deputy spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, made this statement:
“In Gaza there is no humanitarian crisis whatsoever. I can say it very clearly, and there is no siege of Gaza and we have hundreds of truckloads of goods coming to Gaza every day.”
One is constantly amazed at the rhetoric that spews forth from the mouths of apartheid Israel’s various spokespeople. In these two sentences, Mr. Rozenblat declares there is no humanitarian crises in Gaza, and there is no siege.
Perhaps it would be helpful and illustrative to talk not just to those ensconced in Israel’s ivory towers, but to those living in the Gaza Strip, to see if there are, indeed, humanitarian crises caused by the siege — crises which Mr. Rozenblat says don’t exist.
In some ways, 17-year-old Ameer (all surnames have been removed to protect the identities of the people interviewed for this article) of Gaza isn’t all that different from his North American counterparts. He lives with his parents and siblings, and has a love for Parkour, a relatively new sport that involves efficient movement, using only the human body and momentum, to get from one point to another. He would like to join like-minded youths in Egypt or the West Bank for further practice and performance, but is unable to do so because Israel does not allow him to leave the Gaza Strip. A simple thing like purchasing shoes specifically designed for Parkour is impossible because they are not allowed to be imported into Gaza. In the past, Ameer and his friends would sometimes exercise and practice Parkour moves in a local gymnasium. That gym, unfortunately, was bombed by Israel in the summer of 2014, and because of the “non-existent” siege, no materials have been imported so it could be rebuilt.
Unemployment and health care
Due to the siege which Mr. Rozenblat denies, the Gaza Strip has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Ameer’s family is unable to obtain much beyond the basic necessities of life because he and his parents cannot find employment. Medical care is rare and very expensive; during the summer of 2014, Israel bombed hospitals, in violation of international law, decreasing the supply of medical resources while simultaneously increasing the demand. And with unemployment so high, few people can afford the luxury of health care.
Ahmed, also of Gaza, has other concerns. At 22, he is the oldest of six children, the next being a child of only 10. So it falls to Ahmed and his father to support the family, and with both of them unemployed, and job opportunities scarce because of the siege that Mr. Rozenblat denies exists, they are in desperate circumstances. Luxuries like fresh vegetables are beyond his family’s reach, and there is only so much that any article of clothing can be mended before it must be replaced. But funds for purchasing clothes, and clothing availability, are both scarce due to heavy restrictions on imports.
Mohammed, also 22, advised this writer that his father was told four years ago that he needs surgery. The nearest place this particular procedure is performed is Jordan, but his father is forbidden by Israel from leaving the Gaza Strip. So he has lived with debilitating pain all this time.
Additionally, should Mohammed have the funds to order some product that Israel actually allows into the country, he would probably be unable to pay the triple tax on it: one to Hamas; one to Fatah; and one to Israel.
All medicines are in scarce supply. Hassan, 19, broke his arm playing football with some friends. He must be in a cast for a month, which is certainly inconvenient for an active young man, but what is worse is that he is unable to obtain any painkillers. The mild kind that are allowed into the Gaza Strip are expensive, and he is unemployed. So he lives with extreme, constant pain while his arm heals.
So if harsh restrictions on movement and common imports, including food and basic medical supplies, don’t constitute a siege, this writer does not know what does.
Food, water and shelter
In March, Palestinian Water Authority Minister Mazen Ghoneim said: “The biggest water catastrophe on earth is in the Gaza Strip, as 97% of the coastal aquifer water is unfit for human use because of seawater intrusion and leakage of sewage water into it.” Because of this, people in the Gaza Strip rely on wells. However, since Israel is over-pumping the groundwater in order to fill the swimming pools of Israelis living illegally in the West Bank, these wells are being infiltrated by saltwater from the sea. In 15 years, there will be no drinkable water in the Gaza Strip.
Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” In the Gaza Strip in 2014, a whopping 72 percent of the population was food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity, according to the United Nations. This situation was certainly made worse by Israel’s genocidal onslaught during the summer of that year.
This food insecurity is not coincidental; it is planned and orchestrated. In response to Hamas election victory in Gaza in 2006, the blockade of Gaza was planned. A senior Israeli official said: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” In order to accomplish this, Israeli health officials determined the number of calories that were required by the then-1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip, sufficient to keep them hungry, but not starving to death. Food shipped from Israel — the only source of food in Gaza — was adjusted to ensure that this amount of calories was not exceeded.
During Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in 2014, over 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. And as of October, 108,000 Gazans were still homeless, living in tents, with family or friends, or in the ruins of buildings that still stand.
‘Not despair… but a remarkable resilience’
In light of these facts, let us revisit Mr. Rozenblat’s most remarkable statement: “In Gaza there is no humanitarian crisis whatsoever. I can say it very clearly, and there is no siege of Gaza and we have hundreds of truckloads of goods coming to Gaza every day.”
One wonders what, in Mr. Rozenblat’s twisted mind, would constitute a humanitarian crisis or a siege. It seems that no reasonable argument could be made against a claim that a population of 1.8 million, with tens of thousands homeless, more than half of them food insecure, and unemployment at over 40 percent, is experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Nor could one be expected to believe that that same population, blockaded by land, sea and air, forbidden life-saving medical supplies, prevented from leaving the heavily-populated area, and unable to import the basic necessities of life is not under siege.
This is the reality for 1.8 million Palestinians trapped in the world’s largest open-air prison: homelessness, hunger, thirst, deprivation of every kind — all financed by the United States and caused by Israel, in order to bring the population to a state of utter despair. Yet in talking to the individuals mentioned herein, and several others living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, it is not despair that this writer hears, but a remarkable resilience; a strong determination to carry on with life, to live, love, learn and hope and work for freedom.
The people of Palestine can’t do it alone; the rest of the world is increasingly speaking for those to whom no audience is given, as the crimes of Israel are being publicized on social media and the boycott of that apartheid regime is ever-growing. This must continue. Each new victory — whether in the form of a rock star or prominent academic refusing to appear in Israel, a university or church voting to divest from holdings in that country, or another country officially recognizing Palestine — helps these suffering people to continue for another day. Everyone on the planet is entitled to the basic human right of self-determination; we must not rest until Palestinians enjoy this right on their ancestral lands.