Gaza’s 15th Anniversary Under Israeli Blockade

Palestinians have staged a rally in Gaza to protest Israel’s 15-year-long blockade on the coastal territory on Tuesday. They have condemned the silence of the international community to the Israeli blockade during the rally held outside the UNESCO office in Gaza City. 

Gaza is one of the most densely populated places with 2.1 million people, almost all of them suffering from extremely poor living conditions and dependent on humanitarian aid. In fact, it is the world’s third most densely populated city because more than two million Palestinians have been forced to live in an area of 362 square kilometers.

Since Hamas’s victory in the legislative elections in 2006, Israel imposed a full blockade of the Strip, and the Israeli occupation army periodically launches military operations on Gaza. The Israeli reason behind the blockade is focused on the security of its citizens and holding Hamas accountable for rocket attacks on them.

The latest internationally recognized Israeli aggression lasted 11 days in May and ended with Egyptian mediation. Back then, Hamas and other groups said they acted after Israeli forces violently stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque several times. It is reported that at least 260 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed and there was $479m worth of direct damage.

Although both territories are on a truce, there have been multiple breaches of the peace from Israel during this past year.

The blockade has been imposed by Israel and Egypt which has swiftly closed Gaza’s borders. Middle East Eye describes the three border crossing points out of Gaza as two controlled by Israel and one by Egypt, which has tacitly supported the siege. The movement of people out of the coastal enclave takes place at Israel’s Beit Hanoun crossing and at the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

While both Israel and Egypt have tended to keep their borders closed, in May 2018, following the first wave of the Great March of Return demonstrations, there was a shift in policy from the Egyptian government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who had previously kept the Rafah crossing sealed for long stretches of time.

Israel allows passage through the Beit Hanoun crossing in “exceptional humanitarian cases, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases”, though this treatment is often denied, and children have been forced to travel through the crossing alone or not get the treatment.

As a result, the entire Palestinian population is not free to leave or enter Gaza, nor is it allowed to freely import or export goods.

An open-air prison

After 4 wars in 13 years that originated after the formation of Israel in 1948, the Strip is in absolute destruction and the death toll is never-ending. The United Nations estimates that there have been more than $5 billion worth of damage to homes, agriculture, industry, electricity, and water infrastructure. More than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed, more than half of whom were civilians, says the UN. In contrast, 106 Israelis have died.

According to the Islamic relief, access to clean water is not possible for 95% of the population, and there is an ongoing power shortage impacting essential services like health and sanitation. Almost half of Gaza’s people do not have enough food, around 60% of children are anemic and many suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition.

As the blockade has sealed off Gaza from the rest of the world, the economy is in a terrible state and younger people have no prospects for development. The median age in Gaza is 19 and these are people who have lived their childhood and adolescence in war. Young unemployment stands at an astonishing 70%, and young people tend to suffer extensive PTSD from living through war.

The UN has also urged the lifting of the blockade that, as of 2020, has caused shortages of water, medicine, and power, a situation worsened by the coronavirus.

Dying to get out

40% of Gaza habitants would leave if they could, the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research published. Although Palestinians are ready to leave Gaza, to do so is extremely difficult. Gaza has no airport or commercial seaport and exits by land are closed to travelers, with permission needed from Israel or Egypt, and Hamas.

Not even in grave medical cases have the Palestinians been able to seek medical treatment elsewhere. One of the latest cases that have broken the news is the case of Fatma Jalal al Masri, a 19-month-old who died last April after being denied access to a hospital outside Gaza by Israeli authorities.

Fatma was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect in 2021 and, although she had a medical referral from the Palestinian Ministry of Health and confirmed three hospital appointments at Al Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem, Israeli authorities denied Fatma the requisite exit permit to travel to Jerusalem for the appointments, according to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

The last appointment should have been on March 5, but since she was denied access to it her health deteriorated, and she died three weeks after.

Israel’s permit system delays access to hospitals outside the Strip and around 30% of urgent cases. The restrictions on the movement of Palestinians expand into denying patients access to the hospitals in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Israel. Since Covid started in March 2020, Israel has further reduced the numbers of Palestinians being able to leave the Gaza strip for medical purposes to “fight the coronavirus.”

Habitants of Gaza are locked in a vicious cycle of economic disaster, fear, and terrible living conditions. Depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress are widespread, particularly among children, 90% of whom have experienced personal trauma. There is no sense of positivity towards life in Gaza and hope for the future, peace and better living conditions are non-existent.

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