Gaza under siege

26 Sep

By Eman Abuaisha, journalist from Gaza, for Kia Ora Gaza

In the context of international relations, siege has been used repeatedly with the aim of imposing a kind of isolation on a besieged area, forcing the target party to do or abstain from doing a specific action. And implementing a blockade on a territory has taken different forms depending on whether it was before or after the founding of the United Nations, while various methods have been utilized to legitimize its use. 

The Israeli government adopted a siege of Gaza as a response to Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. The Israeli government believed the siege would constitute a way out of the predicament it found itself in. The aim was to prevent the newly elected Palestinian government from implementing its plans and paying its dues on the one hand by placing the people of the Gaza Strip under very difficult living conditions that would push them to demand early elections, and thus force the departure of Hamas.

The Gaza siege constituted a further step in the saga of policies imposed by Israel against the Palestinian people which continues to leave its traces in all walks of life in the coastal enclave, which I have experienced firsthand. The siege imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip is comprehensive, from the land, sea, and air. Crossings leading in and out of Gaza are not controlled by Palestinians and this creates additional restrictions on the freedom of movement. Israel has followed a policy of closing these crossings to goods and services and the movement of people, often on a continuous basis, preventing basic supplies from reaching the Strip such as cement, food, and medicine.

More than two million Palestinians in Gaza suffered from excruciating living conditions and significant deterioration in living standards, including in health services and education, and limited access to fuel and electricity, all due to the Israeli blockade. The deteriorating situation was exacerbated by the devastating Israeli military aggressions against Gaza in the years 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021. In many cases, the Israeli authorities have  prevented the delivery of fuel to the Gaza Strip, while the  attacks by the Israeli army have resulted in damaging 31 power transformers in Gaza. This led to a 70% deficit in power supplies, which translates into making Gaza seem like a pitch-black cave where the person inside lights a single candle. 

Having electricity for more than six hours a day has become a luxury for Gazans. People started to use batteries and LEDs as alternatives to get their children a light at night. Those children got used to sleeping in the dark, at an early age, wishing they would have a peaceful sleep without any sounds of screaming or artillery.  

“I hate the night, I have lived very terrifying nights through the war, the sound of rockets was echoing all the time, I could not sleep. One night I sat next to my mother to feel safe, suddenly I heard the sound of big explosions next to my house. Then the neighbors screamed loudly, I felt it was the Day of Resurrection, our neighbors, Abu Auf family, were killed while they were sleeping. Every night I say that today is our turn to die, I never want the night to come. This death and destruction must stop,” said Tamara Salem (14 years old) from Gaza City.

The children who do wake up after a horrible night full of Israeli raids and bombs are happy (and relieved) because they are alive but still wonder if they will ever die from natural causes.  And the parents want to protect their children more than anything. “Families in Gaza, parents in Gaza – and this is the thing that’s so painful for me to have to bear witness to – they cannot leave, there’s nowhere to go,” says Ghannam, who has developed community-based clinics in Gaza. “So if a bomb is dropping, even if you give a five-minute warning, there’s nowhere to go. You are in a prison: you’re not able to protect your children, you’re not able to move to a place of safety. That inability to protect yourself and your children is just devastating on communities from a psychological standpoint.”  

In addition to all the oppression and injustice that is taking place, the Israeli occupation prevents cement from entering the Gaza Strip, causing a huge deficit in the construction sector and the faltering of the reconstruction process after every Israeli aggression. The 2021 Israeli aggression on Gaza mainly targeted infrastructure, high rises, governmental offices, schools, and hospitals. Aimed at significantly deepening the negative economic and social repercussions in the Strip, these attacks on Gazan society added fuel to fire, keeping in mind Gaza’s long and still ongoing siege, especially during the COVID19 pandemic. 

In May 2021, 1,447 housing units in Gaza were completely demolished as a result of the Israeli bombing, along with another 13,000 that were partially damaged to varying degrees. Included in the destruction were 205 houses, apartments, and residential towers, and the headquarters of 33 media organizations. In the same context, 68 schools, health facilities, and a primary care clinic were damaged as were 490 agricultural facilities, including animal farms and fishing pools. The consequences of the bombings also dispossessed families. UNRWA documented the displacement of more than 75,000 Palestinians from their homes during this period. 

Furthermore, the Israeli occupation bears full responsibility for the severe shortage of medical supplies and ill-equipped hospitals in the Gaza Strip, as more than 40% of the health sector’s needs are blocked. For example, many drugs needed for stroke, heart disease, and cancer patients are prohibited. In Gaza, cancer patients need to have permission by Israeli authorities to travel to get decent and sometimes life-saving treatment in Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank. Many are rejected and some die while waiting for an answer or for Israeli permits to be issued. Tahani Abu Shaaban is still fighting cancer. She was issued a permit to have chemotherapy (every 25 days) in Jerusalem; however, due to unknown security measures, some chemotherapy sessions for cancer patients were postponed and Tahani’s treatment was stopped completely without giving any reason why. Tahani’s case is similar to thousands of patients in the Gaza Strip, bedridden while waiting for their turn to die. They say there is no life in Gaza anyway.

Meanwhile, 60% of Gazan families live below the poverty line, as there is no breadwinner and no stable monthly income for these families. Job opportunities are almost impossible, other than the private sector, which too has been severely damaged in light of the blockade of goods by Israel. Sadly, it is a common experience for Gazan families to have lost one or two family members through war and disease and for a father, son, or brother-in-law to be imprisoned because of a family’s inability to pay debts, or for theft.

Tamer Abu Khaled

Tamer Abu Khaled, a 25-year-old young man, told me of grief and sadness and the search for a decent life in the depths of pain and poverty in Gaza. How can a person like Tamer, who has no income and cannot get a job despite obtaining a degree in Media, pay the installments of his younger sister’s school, provide for the treatment of his sick mother, look after his sister who lost her husband in the war, and pay off the debts of his older brother? Tamer, even in his less-than-descent life, is simply a good person who runs to help people in need. Now, losing his job threatens to turn him into a frauder where he could end up in jail. Tamer is one of the thousands of youthwho finds the solution in emigration, but cannot even afford a flight ticket.

Aseel Al-alkyl

Aseel Al-aloul describes what has happened with her family. “How terrible is it to live and love in nothing but a modern ghetto? Do you know ghettos? Ask Israel. After my sister Enas tried many times to cross the border, she eventually made it to Britain, where she is a doctor. We had no idea that meeting her again might be a dream that might never come true.” It has been five years since she left, coming back to Gaza is a huge risk that she wouldn’t take. If she returns to Gaza, it could take months or even years to get out again, and she could lose her job there, or her residency permit may expire while waiting. This is so upsetting. I did not imagine that her farewell might be forever. My sister got married and we could not be by her side at her wedding or during the preparations. Enas and her husband have dreamed of a beautiful and quiet life away from war and destruction, but I guess one’s identity and destiny never leave him or her because the news received from their families is mostly heart-breaking. When my uncle, Dr. Moeen Al-Aloul’s house was bombed, we were all about to have a heart attack. No one could go there because the Israeli military was still bombing all around. In the morning, my cousin Aya and her mother were pulled out of the rubble alive after spending 15 hours under it, without any ability to call for help, and my uncle’s dead body was found. Aya is no longer that girl that I knew, she is always absent-minded and in isolation. She said that they pulled her out from under the rubble and forgot to dig her soul out! I feel a great pain inside me, will this ever end?” Aseel is a pharmacist who works at a pharmacy for 130 dollars a month, and dreams to one day work at her own pharmacy.

The fishermen’s basin in the Gaza seaport is witnessing much stagnation, as dozens of boats are lined up due to Israel’s illegal limitations placed on the fishing zone. Just as the future of many professions in the coastal enclave has ended, the fishing profession, which for many is the only source of income, has been severely impacted. All the while, people in Gaza watch on television how fishing is practiced as a hobby in different countries around the world . One of the uncountable consequences of this blockade is that many fishermen are now buying a cart to sell corn-on-the-cob. The fisherman, Muhammad Al-Khouribi, when asked about his condition in an interview with DW, replied with a sigh, “I do not have the money to get a new fishing net; I try to repair the old one every day, but it is dilapidated.” Muhammad has eight children and the concern is clear on his face and in the tone of his voice. When asked about fishing, he says with sadness on his face, “In the past, we used to go into the sea for great distances with large boats and catch large quantities and many types of fish. Those are the old days of goodness and sustenance.” He stopped for a while, holding the net in his hand, saying: “This dilapidated net does not catch anything, and if it catches, it is no more than two or four kilos of small fish because the big fish are ten miles away. We live in lean days and years.”

Meanwhile, peaceful border marches calling for the right of return began in March 2018 and these protests at the Gaza border continue. Some 215 Palestinian who were peacefully protesting were shot dead, as snipers, tanks, and armed soldiers watched and attacked them inside the ghetto. And according to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, in a statement dated December 2020, among the 215 martyrs were 47 children, two women, 4 paramedics, two journalists, and 9 people with disabilities. At least 19,173 people were injured as a result of the Israeli army’s suppression of these marches, including 4987 children and 864 women. Today, these marches continue angrily over the continuation of the siege on the Gaza Strip and the closure of the crossings, hoping to one day end this siege and restore life to the people of Gaza.

It is clear that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is not based on international law or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a violation of human rights. Today’s UN system and international legal norms are not applied to Israel and the Israeli atrocities are overlooked by this international system and governments. Humanity witnessed Nazi Germany driving Jews into ghettos, excluding them from public life and all legal norms, and this was a tragedy that no one could deny. Now, for almost 15 years, humanity watches as Israel continues to imprison and besiege the Palestinian people in the Gaza ghetto too. Therefore, in its current state, Gaza is the modern ghetto of today’s global justice system. This time, however, the ghetto is too big for the global system to ignore, and the screams from the ghetto should be too loud for them to fall on deaf ears. 

The views expressed are those of the author.

Eman Abuaisha is a journalist from Gaza, Palestine. She holds a BA in International Relations from Selçuk University, Turkey. Her interests include the humanitarian situation in Palestine women empowerment and youth-related challenges under siege.

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