Gaza and the children who did not visit the sea for 5 years

Mohamed, 13, runs with the Palestinian flag on a beach near the former Israeli settlement of Neve Dekalim, 12 September 2005. Mohamed said this was the first time he had been to the beach since he was born. Thousands of residents of the Southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis came to the coast which is just some 3 km (2 miles) away. (Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

At 3am on September 12th, the last Israeli soldier left Gaza and, at the same minute, crowds of Palestinian left their homes in the towns and villages of Gaza from north to south and vice versa, and towards the Israeli settlements. Curious, excited, and sensing the taste of freedom they have been denied for the last 38 years, the Gaza roads were jammed with cars, carts, and people.

For the last five years of the Second Intifada, Gaza was a big prison for its population of 1.5 million, isolated from the West Bank and divided by checkpoints into five areas, with an exit via Egypt (the Rafah crossing) where Palestinian travellers experienced the most humiliating practices by Israeli occupation forces. A place where pregnant women who gave birth to babies who didn’t survive while waiting for and ultimately being denied medical assistance, and many cancer and renal dialysis patients died because of the inhuman restriction of movement.

It is heartbreaking for me to let you know that among the Palestinian crowds there were many children aged 5, able to see the sea for the first time in their lives, even though they lived only 5 minutes away from it. Five people drowned the same day.

It is very crucial and healthy for our national struggle as Palestinians, to recall what we experienced through the years, while living under Israeli occupation with the full financial and military support of the American government.

What we are going through is inseparable from what all the world nations who are suffering from the negative effects of capitalism in one way or another. The names might differ from one era to another - colonialism, capitalism, Zionism, globalization by large corporations - but they all mean the same, and lead to the same result: greed, exploitation, and injustice imposed on others.

The Israeli army and settlers have left Gaza, but Gaza is still a big prison. Israel controls it from all sides, including the sea and air. The only exit is the Rafah crossing and Israel has announced they will not reopen it.

Gaza is still isolated from the whole world, including the West Bank. The economy in Gaza is very limited and has been always very poor, despite the promises from the Palestinian Authority that with a flood of American money, big investments and the disengagement, it will become another Singapore.

Gaza is now a nice guinea pig to see how Palestinians can govern themselves “without occupation”. We have to prove it “or else”. This is like asking us to jump into the sea and not to get wet! Meanwhile, Israel has made clear its intention for Jerusalem and the West Bank - the wall and settlement expansion. But with the geographical separation between Gaza and the West Bank, there is no future for any truly viable, independent Palestinian state.

Maybe I am going too far in my pessimism, but it is based on history, the present, and our reality. Despite this, I strongly believe that if we work hard on a transparent, democratic process, this might lead to committed political leaders not linked in any way to American and Israeli demands and interests, who will help rebuild institutions that serve and develop the community. If we continue to struggle against injustice, with the solidarity of all people who are struggling against injustice worldwide, then we might be able to succeed.

Dr. Mona El-Farra works for the Union of Health Work Committees Gaza - Al-Awda hospital.