“We are slowly dying”

Palestinians in Gaza City demonstrate against the economic conditions in Gaza, August 2008. (MaanImages)

Israel has further tightened the screw on Gaza, where some areas have been completely plunged into darkness as fuel shortages shut down Gaza’s sole power plant 25 days ago.

The power cuts affect all activities dependent on electrical power as the remaining power sources provided by Israel and Egypt cannot serve the needs of the whole of the Gaza Strip. Access to drinking and irrigation water is affected, as well as sewage treatment, risking disease. Already, this means that millions of liters of sewage water pollute the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis.

Israel is also denying food to the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. According to the Popular Committee Against the Siege, basic food items like milk, flour, cooking oil, meat, rice and legumes are not sufficiently available. Some figures indicate that only 15 percent of Gaza’s food needs are getting in through the Israeli-controlled borders.

Palestinians in Gaza are also being denied the right to access medical treatment. Basic medicines have vanished from the Strip, including those for the treatment of diabetes, heart conditions, asthma and other chronic diseases. There are also shortages of medicine to treat cancer and renal and liver diseases. Sterilization and disinfectant supplies, as well as other needs for the safe treatment medical patients, are in short supply. Machines that mean life or death for Gaza patients are breaking down because Israel is not allowing the import of spare parts. Doctors will have a hard time even diagnosing patients because the power cuts have damaged CT and x-ray equipment at Gaza’s hospitals.

Gaza’s population is largely dependent on humanitarian aid as Israel has been denying them the right to work since it started imposing closure on the Strip years ago. But now even humanitarian aid is being largely banned from the Strip, and Israel has severely restricted aid to the UN agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA. With UNRWA unable to distribute food aid to its hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries (the majority of Gaza’s residents are the descendents of refugees who were forced from their homes and property in what is now Israel, 60 years ago), widespread hunger is not a question of if but when.

Israel has ensured that it’s not just Gaza’s human population that will be going hungry, but its animals as well. For four weeks Israel has not allowed the import of fodder, while Gaza’s agriculture requires 150 tons per day. Gaza’s agricultural sector, already suffering since Israel began to prevent the export of food products from Gaza a year and a half ago, is severely affected by the lack of vaccinations, seeds, insecticides and fertilizer in the Strip.

Gaza has become a place where a normal life is impossible. “I’m fed up,” said Khalil Barakat, a middle-aged, unemployed refugee of the Beach refugee camp. “We are caged like animals in Gaza. If I had a chance to emigrate to live my remaining years in peace, then I would love to.”

This writer asked an old friend of his, a young mother named Um Muhammad Abu Ouf, how her family has been affected by the siege. As darkness descended upon Gaza City’s Omar al-Muktar Street, she replied, “The siege has become a daily nightmare, day and night. Electricity cuts off and that frightens my 11-month-old infant. It makes conditions unsafe for him. Further, I’m trying to get some fortified food for him. I went to many stores and shops but in vain. I could not find any food nor necessary supplies for my son as there is a shortage of a lot of the basic products needed to care for infants, such as milk, diapers and so forth.”

Meanwhile, Nahed Deeb, who feared that famine looms near, was similarly frustrated: “We are slowly dying and no one is taking action. I lost my work eight years ago and I’m dependant on irregular aid. This is applicable to hundreds of thousands in normal circumstances. Nevertheless, poor people like me are no longer getting any kind of support.”

It is unlikely that the people of Gaza will have a respite from Israel’s siege of collective punishment as the Israeli Defense Ministry recently announced that Gaza’s crossings would remain closed until further notice. Israeli forces also this week prevented a Libyan boat loaded with three thousand tons of foodstuffs from reaching Gaza’s shore, under the pretext that the boat carried weapons. However, a Qatari boat is scheduled to set sail from Cyprus in an attempt to deliver humanitarian aid to the Strip, and Turkish, Kuwaiti, Yemeni and Jordanian boats are to also attempt to break the siege, and Palestinian leaders in Israel have pledged to do the same this weekend.

If the siege is designed to pressure Palestinians in Gaza to surrender their rights, as one resident who identified himself as Mr. Muhammad asserted, Israel will be met with resistance: “We have been patient for 60 years now. We passed more cruel times than this. So why give up this year? We have to be adamant and patient and the siege will be eventually lifted.”

Sameh A. Habeeb is a photojournalist, humanitarian and peace
activist based in Gaza, Palestine. He writes for several news websites on a freelance basis.

Related Links