Unspeakable damnation in Gaza

23 Feb


Image Credit: Nino Jose Heredia/© Gulf News

By Fawaz Turki, Special to Gulf News, 20 February 2015

How difficult has it become for Gazans these days to escape the unspeakable miseries of their little sliver of land, wedged between the Negev and Sinai deserts on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other, a sliver of land now universally recognised as the largest open air prison the world has ever known and whose existence the international community appears to have resigned itself to having around? Arguably, about as difficult as escaping Alcatraz, the notorious maximum-security, escape-proof federal penitentiary that had operated as “Uncle Sam’s Devil’s Island” between 1934 and 1963.

Last week, the Washington Post and the New York Times both devoted lengthy reports to the dreadful suffering that the one and a half million tormented souls living there have to endure, respectively titled There Is No Sign of Life. In Gaza, Scenes of Misery Abound, and Desperation Drives Gazans Over a Fence and Into Israeli Prisons.

The Post: “In almost every way, the Gaza Strip is much worse off now than before last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas. Scenes of misery are one of the few things in abundance in the battered coastal enclave. Reconstruction of the tens of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed in the hostilities has barely begun, almost six months after the ceasefire. At current rates, it will take decades to rebuild what was destroyed… At night, Gaza twinkles with thousands of campfires. Electricity is available only six hours a day. About 10,000 Gazans are still sleeping on the floors of UN-run schools. Many more are living in caravans or tents, or huddling in their bombed-out apartments. All told, 100,000 people remain displaced.”

The report in the Times dealt with how young Gazans each day risk death by climbing over the nine-foot fence separating the Bureij refugee camp on Gaza’s eastern edge from Israel in order to escape the miseries of life in their 360-square mile Strip. One fence-jumper, a 15-year-old, whose father was killed in an Israeli strike in 2002, explained: “I knew they would capture me [but] I told myself I may find a better life. They served me good food, but later they threw me back to Gaza.” Israeli military officials, it appears, see the growing phenomenon as less about terrorism than about desperation.

“Several fence-jumpers, and human rights workers who track their cases,” the Times report added, “compared their despondency to that of the roughly 300 Gazans who died in a September shipwreck as they were being smuggled across the Mediterranean Sea. They just wanted out, no matter the risk.” The pain of poverty and deprivation, however, is the easy part. When you forcibly confine a community to a restricted locale, denying it a variety of freedoms that are basic to one’s human needs, including the need for social interaction with the outside world, the only thing left for members of that community is to go crazy.

Global dialogue of cultures

The human brain is ill-adapted to such conditions. A human being must engage other human beings outside his acre, outside his own milieu, for throughout human history communities have been in some contact with one another, in a kind of global dialogue of cultures, for as long as we have had historical or archeological records.

What happens when you deny people, as Gazans have been denied, the right to travel anywhere, in any direction (by land, sea or air) outside the territory they inhabit, for years on end? As any psychiatrist will tell you, what happens here is that the fabric of one’s human sanity is then persistently gnawed at by the ritual terrors of isolation. No man, you see, is an island. And no human brain can adapt to the inhuman.

According to the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, an EU-funded NGO, 15 per cent of Gaza schoolchildren are intellectually impaired due to stress — due to stress, yes, but also due to malnutrition, for a great many families in the Strip can’t afford vegetables and meat, relying for their diet on lentils, pasta, bread, rice and potatoes, high carbohydrate foods deficient in nutrients necessary for mental health growth in children. The group also estimates that 47 per cent of Gaza children suffer from trauma “without their parents realising it”. And so it goes, on and on, year in, year out. What is there left to say other than that the suffering of our people in the Gaza Strip is beyond all rational understanding. Gazans endure it alone, with the rest of the world giving them its back. And alone they rend their own flesh.


Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.

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