The Israeli blockade of Gaza has caused extreme poverty — making daily life a struggle for survival.
On the day that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Jesus a role model for the Palestinians in a Christmas message, Israeli military open fired on a Palestinian home killing a 3-year-old and injuring several other residents.
Israel was seeking revenge after an Israeli civilian was killed by a Palestinian sniper and responded with an air, tank and infantry assault on a tiny Palestinian enclave. But in Palestine, surviving human rights abuses, imprisonment and extreme food shortages is just part of daily life.
“As we Palestinians strive for our freedom two millennia later, we do our best to follow his example. We work with hope, seeking justice in order to achieve a lasting peace,” he said.
But can there be peace? The Israeli blockade of Gaza has left more than 1.6 million Palestinian men, women and children refugees stripped of basic human rights. Extreme poverty prevails. Only one in four in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have jobs, and high food prices have led to shortages. Four in five Gazans depend on humanitarian aid
With upcoming peace talks with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, Abbas’ speech set a tone of peace, but he also used it to criticize Israeli restrictions on Palestinians living abroad, as well as Israel’s flagrant violation of international law by using blockades and collective punishment.
The 2007 blockade of the Gaza Strip set up by Israel and Egypt has severely limited imports of goods into the Gaza Strip. It was imposed after the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in Gaza.
As a direct response to Hamas’ organized bombing campaign against Israel, the borders of Gaza were closed, and Israel imposed further laws of “collective punishment” – allowing Israel to exact retribution on an entire population for the bombing or killing of Israelis citizens. It is this retribution law that has sparked condemnation with the international community and has prompted a humanitarian crisis and extreme poverty in Gaza.
Life on the Gaza Strip
The Israeli blockade has done little to stop Hamas’ growing power. Rather than targeting armed groups, the blockade mainly hits the most vulnerable, such as children, who make up more than half of the population in Gaza, and the elderly refugee population.
According to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the number of refugees living in abject poverty on the Gaza Strip has tripled since the blockade began. These families lack the means to purchase even the most basic items, including soap, school materials and clean drinking water. According to the U.N., more than 60 percent of households are currently “food insecure.”
Abd Alaziz, a resident of Shufat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, told MintPress: “The Israelis are starving us to death, and the world does nothing.”
Alaziz, like many young Palestinian men, is unemployed. On the few occasions that he’s found work, he earned less than the minimum wage for 11-hours work on a construction site.
“Life is a hard – I work sometimes 12 hours to get $8 a day. Some of the work is dangerous. There are toxic chemicals in some of the building sites which is left for Palestinian workers to clean up,” he said. “What can you do? I don’t have a choice. I need the money to help my family and my younger brothers. Without this money, we don’t have enough food.”
Alaziz has spent most of his life living in a refugee camp. He is the eldest of three sons and cares for his mother and a sick father. With food aid coming from U.S. and EU Council, Alaziz still doesn’t have enough food.
“We get some basic food like rice, flour and beans, but without money we stretched this food for days and weeks with family members.”
Under the blockade, his travel is restricted. He has no options when it comes to work, as he’s forbidden to work in Israel. On the few occasions he has found work in the West Bank, he has to travel through a complex web of Israeli-controlled checkpoints and roadblocks that make it difficult to travel within the Palestinian territories.
These restriction have forced a population into poverty, according to a report from the World Bank, which found that Israeli restrictions in the West Bank alone cost the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion a year.
The Israeli blockade has stopped most exports and restricts the entry of basic goods, including food and fuel. Much of the available food is provided by the U.N. and other aid agencies, or smuggled in through the few remaining tunnels running under the Egypt-Gaza border, and then sold at exorbitantly high prices to Gaza’s beleaguered residents.
But now the Gaza-Egypt tunnels are under threat, as the crisis in Egypt is spilling over. With the Egyptian military patrolling borders vigilantly, the tunnel trade has been significantly reduced.
On the border of Egypt in the town of Rafah, tents hide tunnel entrances that have been used to smuggle food, fuel and construction materials. Inside the tents, teenagers and children wait for the last of their friends to come to the surface with goods and fuel. Over the years, the tunnels have become smaller, so they are less likely to be discovered by Israeli troops. But it has also meant that mostly children now smuggle goods in and out of Palestine. Accidents are rife. Since 2009, eight children have been killed and another three injured in collapses, electrocutions, explosions of gas cylinders and air strikes.
Daily life in Palestinian is about survival. Alaziz and his family sit for hours without electricity.
“Things are getting worse. We get power-cuts every day; sometimes we have to go eight to 10 hours without any electricity or power,” he said. “They (Israel) say that the hospitals are not affected, but my father is ill, and I’ve been there with him, and there’s no power to do surgery.”
Will 2014 be any better for Alaziz?
The U.N. has named 2014 as the ‘Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.’ The resolution was adopted by the majority of member-states as a way to sustain peace talks between Israel and Palestine. The year-long initiative was supposed to encourage cooperation with governments. With the help of relevant organizations of the U.N. system and intergovernmental organizations, it was hoped that Palestine could broker a lasting peace accord. So far, this looks to be already in jeopardy.
This week Israel announced plans to push for more construction in Jewish settlements. Israel has said it will free prisoners on Dec. 29, which would be the third batch of inmates released since August. In all, 104 long-serving Palestinian inmates will go free, once a fourth group of prisoners is released at a later date.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat responded to this announcement by saying that the peace talks would definitely fail if Israel continued to expand its settlements on land seized in a 1967 war. He said that since negotiations started in July, Israel has announced plans to build some 5,992 new housing units.
Under present hostilities, peace negotiations have made no clear signs of progress on core issues. But politics has little meaning for people like Alaziz, living in the occupied territories.
“I can’t think about peace, or hope that things will change. All I think about is how to survive,” he said.