Samih is demoralized.
Two years ago, he graduated with an engineering degree from the Islamic University of Gaza. Despite applying for many jobs, the only work he has found has been as a casual laborer. The pay has only been enough to provide him with some pocket money and let him buy cigarettes.
“For a decade now, the Gaza Strip has gone from one crisis to another. Every day you wake up to hear of new crises: wage cuts, electricity cuts, problems with water, lack of medicines, closed crossings. Everything just makes us feel more and more hopeless here.”
But the Egyptian authorities have blocked him.
With Gaza under an Israeli siege for the past 10 years, Rafah has been the only exit to the outside world for most of Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants. Yet Egypt has compounded the siege by sealing its border.
“It’s a cruel feeling to go from being young, active and full of hope to being depressed,” Samih said. “Gaza is not a good place to live. If I had a choice, I would not live here.”
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor has estimated that more than half of all people in Gaza have experienced depression.
Abd Hamid Muharib, a psychotherapist with the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, described such statistics as “highly alarming.”
Since late 2008, Israel has launched three major offensives against Gaza. The attacks have been “full of catastrophes which increase the number of depressed people,” Muharib said.
Problems associated with depression – including addiction and emotional disorders – are acute among young people.
At one private mental health clinic, there were 28 patients in the waiting room. All, bar six of them, were aged in their twenties.
“This society does not offer any hope to improve the lives of these young people,” said Muhammad Abu al-Sabah, a psychologist at the clinic. “Their families have seen their economic status deteriorate continuously due to the siege. There are few opportunities and this has made families feel helpless.”
The hopelessness caused by the siege, he added, has been worsened by the divisions between the main Palestinian political parties.
Duaa has a 24-year-old son who tried to commit suicide. He had just been turned down for a job.
The ordeal has left Duaa, aged 54, traumatized. She has been sitting at home, listless. All four of her sons have university degrees. All four are unemployed.
“When they were children, I thought I would be able to help them build their future,” she said. “Now it seems like I will die sitting and thinking here.”
Huge numbers of young Palestinians face similar difficulties to her sons. At around 60 percent, Gaza’s youth unemployment has reached “world-record levels,” according to United Nations data.
Shaima was unhappy at her own party. She had just turned 28.
“I don’t know exactly why I’m celebrating my birthday,” she said. “Every year I get older without achieving anything for me or my baby daughter.”
An accountant, Shaima works eight hours per day for a small wage. Half of her income goes to rent. “There is no way to get ahead in this country,” she said. “I hope that I can celebrate my next birthday outside Gaza.”
Firas al-Tanani is a member of the Palestinian national volleyball team. Last year, a club in Tunisia offered him the chance of turning professional. He had hoped to be able to send back money to his family. Al-Tanani’s father is out of work and is finding it difficult to support his children.
The constant closure of Rafah prevented al-Tanani from taking up the offer. When al-Tanani realized that there was no way of leaving Gaza, he went into a depression.
“Sport was always my passion,” the 22-year-old said. “But now I’ve started thinking seriously of retiring from the sports world as it doesn’t help in making a living here. Nobody cares for our talents and skills.”
Sahar, a 28-year-old, called Gaza “one big maze, where nothing is clear and there never seems to be any exit.”
Going to the beach is the only pleasure available to people without money. Yet with the sea heavily polluted, such trips can have unhealthy consequences.
Following one recent trip to the sea, Sahar’s children fell ill with gastroenteritis. “How much more can we suffer?” Sahar asked.
She acknowledged, though, that the situation could worsen.
“If there is another war, we could lose everything in the blink of an eye,” she said.
“I have two boys – aged 9 and 5. The first one has witnessed three wars. His brother has witnessed two. I can’t believe that my kids have had to go through that.”
Sarah Algherbawi is a freelance translator and writer from Gaza.
Editor’s note: A correction has been made since publication. Abd Hamid Muharib is the name of the psychotherapist quoted in this article; his first name was originally written as Ahmad.