Archive for May, 2013

Gaza Siege: Is There an End?

May 18, 2013

This article was published in This Week in Palestine.

While writing is probably not my favorite activity, having to meet a deadline in a place like Gaza makes it a virtual nightmare. I am feeling apprehensive as I am writing this now: rushing my thoughts, mistyping every other word, and talking out loud to store the echo of my words in the air, as I am mentally drained by the fear of the coming unexpected power cut. After six years of siege, this has become the daily norm. In Gaza, you are a hostage of time, power outages, and pure luck. 

A friend: Hey, when is a good time to visit?
Me: Saturday evening, unless the power goes out.
Friend: You don’t know the schedule in your area? Call the company and check.

Me: I do, but it is never consistent. But I will call the company. 
Friend: How does 6:30 sound?

Me: Make it 6 or 7, as they turn on the generator for 10 minutes every hour. Unless you have some weight you want to lose taking the stairs to the 11th floor.

Friend: They turn it on only for 10 minutes?
Me: Yes, because of the solar shortage, dude. Which means you have to be punctual.

Friend: I see. I will make it on time.
Me: Don’t bother. The generator has just broken down. Let’s meet somewhere public?

Friend: How are you going to take the stairs?
Me: Step by step!

This is a typical dialogue on an ordinary day in Gaza. Oh wait, have I told you that my brother couldn’t propose to his, then, fiancée because of electricity cuts? It took him and my family 10 days to plan a visit to her family and ask for her hand (in the light). His fiancée made sure they were equipped with all the necessary backup plans in case of a power cut. Procedures included calling the electricity company to check on the power outage schedule, buying fuel for the generator, candles, and praying-lots and lots of praying.

My brother is now married, so we have checked one thing off the list, but still the simplest things in our life, such as taking a shower, watching TV, studying, and laundry are all entirely out of our control. You wake up cursing the siege and go to sleep cursing the Occupation, and between this and that, you shed some tears for those who were burnt to death by fires caused by candles, like the six members of Dheir family.

Gaza’s electricity company covers only 25 percent of the local need, while the rest is supplied by both Egypt and Israel. And so there is no confusion, Israel customarily halts the supply of fuel for “security reasons” leaving Gaza’s population with constant blackouts lasting for up to 10 hours a day. Two percent of the population has no access to electricity at all.

The siege
On June 2007, Israel sealed the Gaza Strip off and surrounded it with gunboats, balloons fixed with cameras, the 8-metre-high and 723-kilometre-long Wall separating Gaza from the West Bank for “security reasons” in the north, and electrified wires separating Gaza from “Israel” in the south. Israel also prevented the movement of both people and goods in and out, affecting one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The Gaza Strip is nothing but Gaza City and eight refugee camps, which feature concrete buildings lined up next to each other containing 1.6 million people, 70 percent of whom are refugees. This collective punishment came after Hamas democratically won the Legislative Council elections in 2006. The siege was later tightened in 2007 when Hamas took full control of the Gaza Strip. 

According to the United Nations, Israel allows only 84 items into Gaza out of the 4,000 items that were accessible before the siege. Even though international efforts were exerted on Israel to lift the siege after the Israeli navy killed nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara Turkish Flotilla, the goods that enter Gaza are still only consumable household goods. Basic materials, such as school stationary, books, and raw materials for reconstruction are still banned. 

Economic impact
The economy in Gaza is very much dependent on farming and fishing. Farmers have lost huge tracts of land. They must stop farming 300 meters away from the Israeli Wall in what is called “the buffer zone.” The on-going closure; the lack of irrigation water, fertilisers, and increased soil contamination; and the uprooting of trees have dramatically increased food insecurity among Gazans, which has reached 45.5 percent, according to the United Nations Development Programme. The growing frustration stemming from the closure and lack of exports cannot be contained. Two days ago, farmers had to burn three tons of basil and mint bound to the European Union market due to Israel’s closure of the borders. Their resources, hard work, and time to cultivate the crops went down the drain because of some claimed “security threats!” One should pause for a minute and think, how can agricultural exports from Gaza be of any threat to the security of Israel? How can this growing frustration among farmers manifest itself in a constructive and positive way? How does the feeling of injustice and agony bring peace to anyone?

It seems evident that the blockade aims to destroy the Palestinians’ livelihood and socio-economic growth. It is designed to prevent any prospects for development and reconstruction of both the basic infrastructure, after it was destroyed by airstrikes, and the human capacity to recover and pave the way for a durable resolution. 

Israel knows little about respecting international law and treaties. Ever since they agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas following Operation Pillars of Cloud, they have murdered four Palestinians and injured 58. Israel’s consistent policy of imposing restrictions on industries, trade, services, and movement of people, with rising levels of unemployment and poverty will lead to the creation of a human bomb that sooner or later will explode in the face of all those taking part in this illegal siege, including the UN. 

Fishermen are not spared the aggression of the Israeli Navy. They are generally not allowed to go more than three miles from the coastline, and they are prone to open fire, arrests, and confiscation of their boats and equipment, which makes fulfilling the needs of the local market mission impossible! 

Last week, I went out with friends for an early breakfast on the beach. Across from us were some fishermen struggling to pull their fishing net to the shore. Out of curiosity and excitement, we jumped up to offer them a helping hand. Like a naïve child, I stood there waiting for something big, not a whale, but maybe a big fish! Finally the fishermen managed to pull the net to the shore, only to find that the big catch was some small fish, seashells, and cans! I looked at their faces and I couldn’t read them. They were cold and silent. I opened my lips to express my frustration, but one fisherman said, “This is what you get when you fish in a range of three nautical miles instead of 20. Go home!”

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Photo by Shareef Sarhan

It takes two to tango
It should be worth noting that Israel is not the only one complicit in the collective punishment of civilians. The Egyptian regimes (both the current and the former) have been active partners in the crime. While Israel controls the sea, the sky, and the freedom of movement, Egypt does not make it easy for Palestinians to use the only border shared with them, Rafah. If you’re from Gaza, you should be prepared for the most dreadful and demeaning treatment from our beloved Egyptian brothers. If you’re lucky enough to pass the Egyptian state security interrogation and have a visa, you will be automatically deported to the airport and held in custody until the time of your flight. Women are deported too if they have no permit to stay in Egypt. When in custody, you are not allowed to walk around the airport and will share one toilet with at least 100 people. You have to bribe officers to get any service (i.e. food, medicines, coffee, or cigarettes). A long list of people are banned from leaving the Gaza Strip based on Israel’s coordination with Egypt. Hundreds of critical patients have died waiting for medical transfers to either Israel or Egypt, and in the eyes of the suffering Palestinians, both are equally Zionist.

My uncle had to come through a tunnel to reunite with his family and get married. Tens of other families had to do the same to get their loved ones into Gaza. Beautiful young women were also smuggled in to reunite with their lovers and get married. Egyptians also stop and sometimes arrest Gaza fishermen in their waters. For everything that Gaza has been facing, the tunnels have been its way to survive. With the support of the US, Egypt’s targeting of tunnels has impaired the Gazan economy and has led to the death of many tunnel workers. This has increased levels of unemployment, making the unemployment rate in Gaza one of the highest in the world, according to the United Nations. William Hauge was quick to label the tunnels as illegal, ignoring that they are the only lung that keeps Gaza breathing. 

The duplicity of the international community has never been clearer than in the Gaza siege. While the UN has declared it as a legal measure to ensure Israel’s national security, the world has reduced Gaza to a charity case. Even the flotillas and convoys are feeding the narrative of pathetic “humanitarianism,” when all that Gaza needs is advocacy for a political solution that allows them to take matters into their hands rather than aid that takes away their right to dignity and self-determination. 

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