The U.N. once predicted Gaza would be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020. Two million people still live there.

The shoreline in Gaza City during strong winds on Christmas Day.   (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images )
The shoreline in Gaza City during strong winds on Christmas Day (Mohammed Abed-AFP-Getty Images)

Hazem Balousha and Miriam Berger, The Washington Post, January 1, 2020

GAZA CITY — Jana Tawil was born in 2012, the same year that the United Nations released an alarm-raising report on the state of the Gaza Strip: If the prevailing economic, environmental and political trends continued, the organization warned, the besieged coastal enclave sandwiched between Israel and Egypt would become unlivable by 2020.

The United Nations revised its initial rating in 2017 to warn that “de-development” was happening even faster than it first predicted.

Jana’s father, 35-year-old Mahmoud Tawil, never thought much of that assessment.

“When the U.N. report [said] that Gaza would be unlivable, I felt that Gaza was not fit for life in the same year, not in the year 2020,” he said.

That is the bleak reality facing Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents as they approach a new year and new decade: still stuck living in a place the world has already deemed uninhabitable in perhaps the most surreal of 2020 predictions.

The Tawil family lives in Gaza’s al-Shati refugee camp, or the Beach camp, where cramped and crumbling rows of homes sit adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. It is in theory a scenic view — but life here persists on a parallel plane.

The elder Tawil, a psychologist, fears the sea: It’s full of sewage, pumped in because there’s not enough electricity and infrastructure to run Gaza’s war-torn sewage system. Hospitals, schools and homes are similarly running on empty, worn down by the lack of clean water, electricity, infrastructure and jobs or money. Barely anyone has enough clean water to drink. The only local source of drinking water, the coastal aquifer, is full of dirty and salty water. By 2020 — basically, now — that damage will be irreversible, water experts have warned.

“There is no stability in work, and there is no money for people,” Tawil said. “We cannot drink water or eat vegetables safely, [as] there is a fear that it will be contaminated.”

He continued: “We need a just life, and we need hope that there is a possibility for us to live on this earth. … The various Palestinian parties do not help us in Gaza to live, just as Israel imposes a blockade on Gaza. Unfortunately, no one cares about the residents of Gaza.”

Perhaps the hardest part of it all is that, relatively speaking, none of this is new.

When the United Nations issued the 2012 report setting 2020 as the zero hour for Gaza’s unlivability, the organization knew even then that no one should be living in Gaza’s already dangerous conditions.

“From our perspective, [the report] was a useful sort of ringing the alarm bell a couple of years ago,” said Matthias Schmale, the director of operations in Gaza for the U.N. Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. body responsible for Palestinian refugees. “But for us it’s no longer really the issue that by 2020 it will be unlivable. … The key question is how do we prevent total collapse?”

Gazans battle daily with the same crushing question.

It has been a dark decade, and then some, in a place Palestinians liken to an open-air prison. In 2007, the extremist group Hamas seized control after ousting its rival, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israel and Egypt in response imposed a land and sea blockade, citing security concerns and the aim of squeezing Hamas out. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, since 2009, Hamas and Israel have fought three bloody wars, alongside countless flare-ups. In the meantime, Israel flexes control via policies on who and what can enter and leave Gaza, barring most Gazans and goods from leaving. Hamas’s repressive and conservative rule has in turn caused people to feel squeezed from all sides.

Schmale cited four factors keeping Gaza afloat: Palestinian solidarity, such as businesses writing off debts; the inflow of cash sent by Palestinians abroad; Hamas’s autocratic rule, which has restricted internal unrest; and support from international bodies such as the United Nations.

All of these factors also remain subject to change. In 2018, President Trump cut aid to UNRWA and other Palestinian aid programs, threatening to topple the whole model set up in the 1950s to serve displaced Palestinians. Of Gaza’s 1.9 million residents, 1.4 million are refugees, and 1 million of them depend on UNRWA for food assistance. The rate of dependence on food aid only grows, Schmale said.

Despite the Trump administration’s much trumpeted economic-focused Middle East peace plan, no tangible progress has come out of it for Palestinians. A long-term, political solution to Gaza’s impasse (and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) remains far-off.

The depletion of Gaza’s coastal aquifer was one of the main factors in the United Nations’ “uninhabitable” calculus. According to World Health Organization standards, 97 percent of the aquifer’s water is unsuitable for human consumption: It’s been so heavily pumped that saltwater and other pollutants have poured in where groundwater was taken out.

Gazans who can afford to do so buy water from private companies using small-scale desalination projects. But the water from these sources can also become contaminated during unregulated distribution and storage in unclean tanks. One-fourth of all illnesses in Gaza are waterborne, the WHO found.

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March 18, 2019
Israeli Politics Decoded with David Sheen

Online from the Palestine Center
Washington, DC
12 noon – 1 pm Central Time
Listen live

“Gaza is eviscerated. Apartheid is entrenched in the West Bank. Inside official Israel, the ruling party openly promotes racial hatred towards Arabs and Africans.

How popular are these belligerent policies among Israeli Jews? And how can we make sense of Israeli politics — where dozens of parties run for parliament, and double-digits get in — with wild swings, seemingly, in who holds power?

Journalist and human rights defender David Sheen will give an unflinching interrogation and a compelling analysis of the state of Israel/Palestine under Trump and Netanyahu.”

More info

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 13, 2018

House Democrats Condemn Trump Administration’s Actions Harming the Palestinian People

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (WI-02), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) today released the following statement condemning the Trump Administration’s recent actions harming the Palestinian people.

“We are alarmed by the Trump Administration’s blatant attempts at exacerbating the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories. The punitive measures employed by President Trump are intended to use the Palestinian people as pawns on the negotiating table for his administration’s failed attempts to bring stability to the region.

“In the last month, the Administration has slashed $25 million of US assistance to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, rescinded $200 million in Congressionally allocated humanitarian aid to Gaza and the West Bank, and halted all U.S. funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). By cutting these important aid programs, the Trump Administration will only exacerbate tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians, while further diminishing opportunities for lasting peace.

“Further, the Trump Administration has failed to push back on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demolitions of Palestinian communities in the West Bank, like Khan Al Ahmar. We must remind our ally, Israel, that approving the destruction and upheaval of Palestinian communities slowly deteriorates the prospects for a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict.

“Finally, as we recognize the 25th anniversary of the Olso Peace Process, the Trump Administration’s decision to shut down the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) offices in Washington, DC, is just another signal to Israelis, Palestinians, and the American people that they are not serious about engaging in the difficult diplomatic work it takes to achieve a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The administration’s refusal to endorse a two-state solution, provocative relocation of the U.S. Embassy and attempts to undo Palestinian refugee status severely undermines the United States’ ability to play a constructive role in addressing the conflict. We urge the Trump Administration to put the lives of the Israeli and Palestinian people above politics.”

Wishing away Palestinian refugees: End of US’ UNRWA aid explained

‘Doomsday scenario’ could unfold unless Palestinian agency replaces US funding within 30 days, spokesperson says.

Al Jazeera, 01 Sep 2018

The UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) has called the decision by the Trump administration to no longer commit funding “deeply regrettable” and “shocking”.

Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief Works and Agency, said on Saturday Friday’s move would affect “millions of people” including “some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised on this planet”.

For nearly 70 years, UNRWA has provided lifesaving assistance to more than five million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, as well as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

But over the past year, the US government has made it increasingly clear it considers the work the organisation does, and who it considers as refugees, to be an obstacle in the protracted Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In January, a month after President Donald Trump sparked widespread international condemnation by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the White House decided to cut $65m in aid to UNRWA.

It was later reported that the Trump administration had withheld about $305m in funding, and only delivered $60m to UNRWA.

UNRWA told Al Jazeera it spent the next eight months scrambling for financial assistance, and was only able to continue operating after large contributions were raised by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which donated $150m between them.

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The US decision to stop all funding to the UN agency, which it called an “irredeemably flawed operation”, was quickly criticised by the Palestinian leadership.

A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also pushed back against claims that the agency was inefficient.

“UNRWA has a strong record of providing high-quality education, health and other essential services, often in extremely difficult circumstances,” a statement by Stephane Dujarric read.

“The secretary-general calls on other countries to help fill the remaining financial gap, so that UNRWA can continue to provide this vital assistance, as well as a sense of hope this vulnerable population.”

What is UNRWA?

Originally established as a temporary solution, UNRWA was set up after the creation of Israel in 1948 to assist the more than 700,000 Palestinians who were forcibly expelled from their towns and villages.

Since then, it has helped four generations of Palestinians with basic needs, including housing, healthcare, education and social services.

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Employing more than 30,000 staff, it mostly works in education, and operates closely with local government bodies.

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May 2, 2018
Memorializing 70 Years of Occupation

UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine

Rescheduled from April 27. Stop by to see UW SJP’s display memorializing 70 years of occupation and devastation that stills continues today in Palestine. We will be handing out literature and you can find out how you can get involved in the cause. Hope to see you all there!

Islam Maraqa of ISM on WORT

Gil Halstead with Islam Maraqa on Access

Shahir Hunaina, YouTube, November 16, 2016

My Blood is Palestinian (Dammi Falastini), translation by Sara Ba

Keeping my oath, following my religion
You will find me on my land
I belong to my people, I sacrifice my soul for them
My blood is Palestinian, Palestinian, Palestinian
My blood is Palestinian

We stood for you, our homeland
With our pride and Arabisim
Al-Quds land called us
(As) The sound of my mother calling me
Palestinian, Palestinian
My blood is Palestinian

Keeping my oath, following my religion
You will find me on my land
I belong to my people, I sacrifice my soul for them
My blood is Palestinian, Palestinian, Palestinian
My blood is Palestinian

O mother don’t worry
Your homeland is a fortified castle
Which I sacrifice my soul for
And my blood, and my veins

Keeping my oath, following my religion
You will find me on my land
I belong to my people, I sacrifice my soul for them
My blood is Palestinian, Palestinian, Palestinian
My blood is Palestinian

I’m Palestinian, a son of a free family
I’m brave and my head is always up
I’m keeping my oath to you my homeland
And I have never bowed to anyone
Palestinian, Palestinian
My blood is Palestinian

Keeping my oath, following my religion
You will find me on my land
I belong to my people, I sacrifice my soul for them
My blood is Palestinian, Palestinian, Palestinian
My blood is Palestinian
 

Samira Remedial Education

GAZA KIDS NEED YOUR HELP!

Barb Olson, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, March 9, 2018

For the third time, the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP) is partnering with the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) and the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice to fund the Samira Remedial Education Project in Rafah. Organized by the Rafah branch of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC), this project employs special education teachers and a social worker to provide psycho-social support to 180 economically disadvantaged and learning-disabled children age six to twelve and their families.

The Gaza Strip, turned by Israel’s siege into the world’s largest open-air prison, is already one of the poorest and most crowded places on earth. The educational system is overcrowded, unstable and inconsistent. Sanitation, water and electrical services barely function. Public services are weak and underfunded, especially those serving mainly women and children. The recent US cuts to The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) threaten to turn crisis into catastrophe. Three-quarters of Gaza’s 1.8 million people are refugees dependent on the schools, hospitals and food distributions of UNRWA just to survive. In addition, Gaza is subjected to frequent Israeli military land and sea attacks and has not recovered from the last decade’s three full-scale bombardments and invasions. Every one of the close to 1 million children in Gaza knows someone who was killed, injured or made homeless.

Gaza Community Mental Health Program

Children have been affected more than others because every aspect of their lives, especially the education system, has been repeatedly disrupted if not destroyed. Psychologically, the negative impact on children is enormous: nightmares, racing thoughts, nail-biting, panic attacks, uncontrolled urination, violent behavior and hyperactivity are common symptoms. It is estimated that at least 30 percent of all children in Gaza are so severely affected that they require some form of structured psycho-social intervention.

For the past couple of years, the Samira Remedial Education Project has been successfully intervening to develop the children’s skills and increase their ability to learn (especially reading, writing and mathematics); to support them psychologically and socially and rebuild their confidence; to implement scientific solutions to learning disabilities and reduce violent and disruptive behavior; to train families to better support their children; and to create job opportunities for qualified professionals in this field. Field trips, a children’s library and activities such as theater, music, art and reading help the staff to understand the children and create a space for the children to express their feelings.

The total cost of this project for the current phase is $14,049. The Rachel Corrie Foundation has pledged $2,000, MRSCP will contribute $2,500 and aims to raise at least $5,500 more by June, 2018 so that the project can be fully funded by MECA. We need your help to meet this goal! Please make checks payable to MRSCP with the note “Samira”, and mail to:

    MRSCP
    P.O. Box 5214
    Madison, WI 53705

If you prefer to donate on line, you can do so through the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA).

The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization and all donations are tax deductible. Checks to MRSCP will receive a letter at the end of the year acknowledging your contribution. Contributions made online will receive a receipt from MECA.