During a brief pause to hostilities in July 2014, families returned to eastern Gaza, which saw some of the heaviest bombings. Photo Credit: Oxfam / Flickr
Palestinians in Gaza are largely forgotten. They are an invisible people inhabiting a world without rights and possibilities. Over Israel’s near 50-year occupation, Gaza and the West Bank were reduced from a lower middle-income economy to a dysfunctional economy disproportionately dependent on foreign assistance. Gaza is under immense pressure from a continued blockade, now in its tenth year. Egyptian restrictions on the movement of people through Rafah, “which has remained largely closed… since October 2014, including for humanitarian assistance” increased internal discord and hindered intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
There are stunningly high levels of unemployment and poverty. According to the World Bank, unemployment currently stands at 43 percent and in excess of 60 percent for Gazan youth. Yet, while Gaza’s economic demise is well documented, the blockade’s societal impact is often neglected. The blockade created a series of long-term, chronic conditions in Palestinian society, including the destruction of civilian space, changes to social structure and health status, widespread trauma, a dramatic change in popular attitudes, and finally, a widening generational divide.
As United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Spokesman Chris Gunness notes: “The juxtaposition of hopelessness and despair, contrasted with the transformational potential of Gazan society, has never been so palpable.”According to the World Bank, the Israeli blockade alone—which has severed almost all of the territory’s ties to the outside world, virtually terminating Gaza’s critically needed export trade—decreased Gaza’s GDP by at least 50 percent since 2007. Egypt’s near total termination of Gaza’s tunnel trade—a vital, albeit underground economic lifeline—dealt an additional and extremely damaging blow. On top of this, the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, or Operation Protective Edge (OPE), worsened an already bleak situation by reducing Gaza’s economy by an additional $460 million.
This set in motion what one local analyst called a “dynamic of disintegration” that produced a range of unprecedented socioeconomic changes. Combined with the ruinous impact of the blockade, OPE was resulted in extensive damage to or destruction of homes, schools, health facilities, factories, businesses, sewage and water treatment infrastructure, and agriculture — effectively resulting in the destruction of civilian space. At least 100,000 people found themselves homeless, resulting in an estimated 75,000 being displaced, 11,200 being injured, at least 1,000 becoming permanently disabled, and 1,500 children becoming orphaned.
Gaza’s society was radically leveled, particularly with the virtual destruction of its middle class and the emergence of an unprecedentedly new class of “poor.” Perhaps emblematic of the damage done to society, particularly since the imposition of the blockade, is Gaza’s rising infant mortality rate (IMR). IMR not only measures the health status of children, but also of the whole population. For the first time in more than 50 years, the IMR in Gaza increased from 20.2 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 22.4 in 2013. Neonatal mortality rates, or the number of children who die within four weeks of birth, experienced a dramatic increase from 12.0 in 2008 to 20.3 in 2013, an uptick of nearly 70 percent. In Gaza, there is also a documented rise in domestic violence and child labor, as well as considerable anecdotal evidence for an increase in prostitution. No doubt the blockade, coupled with the last three wars in Gaza, is a contributing factor.
According to local health officials, 80 percent of adults in Gaza suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. During OPE, all sectors of the Strip were subject to or threatened with some kind of attack. According to Yale Professor Brian Barber, “OPE was uniquely crippling because no one was free of risk, and no place was safe to find refuge. It was, in a sense, universally and inescapably terrorizing.” Every child over the age of six has seen three wars, and at least 400,000 children are in need of immediate psychological intervention, according to the UN. As a result, OPE has created a profound sense of collective dread and desperation that has less to do with the war than the inhuman conditions left unchanged since the war. People have never felt less safe and secure or more devoid of hope.
The people of Gaza once maintained more nuanced views of Israel, but now see little possibility for peace. There appears to be a greater generational divide between the “older” Oslo generation (and earlier cohorts), who had some insight into Israel and the world beyond, and those born since Oslo, who have little insight, if any. Gaza’s population is very young, with nearly half of the population being 14 years of age and younger. This is extremely dangerous, especially in the absence of effective leadership and in an environment that offers so little. Furthermore, the generational divide appears to be shifting. Young people, some reportedly as young as 10-12 years, are assuming responsibilities reserved for individuals far older. Children are forced out of school to work and help support their families; in some cases, they even head households. Even before OPE, almost 30 percent of all young people aged 16-17 were out of school in Gaza and the West Bank. People, especially the young, are acutely aware of what they are being denied. How long can they be expected to accept their own deprivation?
Elizabeth Kucinich in Gaza (UNRWA USA)
Elizabeth Kucinich, The Hill, June 23, 2016
This month, U.S. congressmen, including Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), were refused entry into the Gaza Strip at the Erez crossing while on a fact-finding mission in Israel-Palestine. Israeli authorities, without elaboration, claimed that their application had not met the criteria necessary to enter. Apparently elected U.S. congressmen inspecting American taxpayer-funded projects and reviewing U.S. aid to Palestinians in Gaza is not worthy criteria.
Bernie Sanders’ representatives to the Democratic platform committee have brought the plight of the Palestinians into the national political debate. This could become a breakthrough moment, presaging policies that address the security of both Israelis and Palestinians as being mutually inclusive.
Some have suggested that the members of Congress may have been turned away from Gaza by Israel through the influence of the U.S. State Department, attempting to prevent Democratic members from elevating the issue of Israel-Palestine. Whatever the motivation, in that moment of rejection, those Congressmen experienced a small taste of the restrictions on freedom of movement that Palestinians live daily. For the Palestinians in Gaza, living under a blockade that just entered its 10th year, virtually all movement in and out is prohibited.
As I watched the Israeli military assault on Gaza in 2014, I was desperate to help. I looked to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, mandated with providing essential services for Palestine refugees, and joined the board of its nonprofit arm, UNRWA USA. Last spring, I traveled with UNWRA USA staff to the occupied Palestinian territory — the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip — to visit our projects, ascertain living conditions and witness for myself the political and economic situation. The trip was my first to Gaza. Had the other members of Congress been permitted to enter Gaza, they may have seen for themselves what I witnessed firsthand.
At Erez, the Israeli-controlled crossing into Gaza, I passed through chutes that resembled the herding bays that lead cattle into an abattoir — a standard feature of Israeli checkpoints throughout the occupied Palestinian territory. As we waited for our entry to be approved, young Israeli guards paraded around with automatic weapons.
Hello from Gaza. My name is Anees Mansour, one of a group of volunteers working with at-risk children in Rafah, Gaza. With your help we’ve already done so much this year, we’ve put on a summer camp, a series of educational workshops, art therapy and performance sessions. From the photos below you can see some of the great results we’ve had.
The public response to our work has been so supportive – so thank you. Our new initiative is to train 18 new volunteers to provide psycho-social support to the children we work with here in Rafah. To reach more children we need more volunteers and we need to train them in basic counselling and art therapy. You don’t need me to tell you how badly the children of Gaza need a creative outlet in a safe space. Rafah is one of the poorest areas in Gaza and the psychological pressures on children are, frankly, brutal. We are working to create and maintain some small safe spaces for them to grow and your ongoing help is central to our efforts.
Rafah is in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, Palestine on the Palestinian-Egyptian border, with an estimated area of 55 km and home to a population of 270,000 people, of whom a large proportion are children. Rafah is one of the poorest areas in Gaza, which, of course, is suffering from a prolonged, brutal siege. All and any help is appreciated.
For any further information , don’t hesitate to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 00970598699046
This is from the Middle East Children’s Alliance project assistant in Gaza, who tells us that the program now has 220 children enrolled over two shifts. Photos are taken with consent, and A’hed’s first name is used with the family’s approval.
A’hed is a nine year old boy. He joined the project from the early beginning – in August 2015. During the primary activities of that month, like ice-breaking and introductory activities, the psychologist noticed that there was something wrong about A’hed. “I noticed that he was very aggressive and very nervous during the activities. He attacked his colleagues more than once, he was moving a lot during the activities, he was sensitive and he refused to make any relationships with the other children,” said psychologist Haneen Jomaa.
She explained: “These regular symptoms showed that A’hed is suffering from a severe psychological trauma. I talked to A’hed privately in order to complete a form about his case. After several questions, I figured out that his father had died during the last war on Gaza in 2014, his mother left him and his sister after his father’s death, and they live now in their uncle’s house.
In conclusion, his family was broken, his mother was uneducated, and he and his sister faced serious economic problems. As a result of this session with A’hed, I called his uncle’s wife for a meeting to complete the parents form with her. I asked her to speak freely and honestly about A’hed in order to help me healing him. During her speech, many problems showed up.
“A’hed was suffering from bed-wetting, he was terrified from the frequent assault of his uncle, he was a forgetful, his requests must be done immediately, he was treating animals cruelly, and, finally, A’hed once set fire to the house!” said his uncle’s wife painfully.
A’hed was classified as a special case immediately. He was in need of special psychological support sessions. A joint plan was prepared by the psychologist and the teacher to follow-up his case. The psychologist tended to integrate him into activities which focus on various problems, such as getting rid of the fear, babbling, hesitation and isolation.
A remarkable improvement appeared in A’hed’s behavior and educational achievement. He was starting to answer questions without any hesitation, concentrating on his lessons, his marks in several subjects increased, and his love and passion of studying appeared in his commitment and discipline in the various activities of the project.
In addition, the material and moral motivation played a major role in his improvement. For example, his grade last year was 52%, but in the first semester of this year, his grade was 70%. “Regardless of this great improvement, A’hed needs more work in order to reach the required level,” said Haneen Jomaa.
“I Like to spend my time in the Women’s Union Center studying and playing with my friends. It’s much better than my house.” A’hed said.