By Mohammad Abunahel, World Beyond War, December 27, 2020
Living under occupation is like living in a grave. The situation in Palestine is tragic, due to Israel’s occupation and ongoing tight, illegal siege. The siege has caused a socio-economic and psychosocial crisis in Gaza, but Israel’s violent attacks continue.
The Gaza Strip is a war-ravaged, poverty-stricken area. Gaza has one of the world’s highest population densities with two million people located in 365 square kilometres. This blockaded, small area, with a high population, has encountered three major wars and thousands of invasions and assassinations of innocent people.
Israel is whipping the Gazan people with the blockade and wars, affecting every aspect of life in Gaza. The blockade’s main purposes are to undermine the economy and to cause severe psychological problems, which threaten the most basic human rights, in clear violation of international law.
But what does it mean to live under a blockade and occupation? Youssef Al-Masry, 27 years old, lives in Gaza City; he is married and has one daughter and one son. He is suffering from unemployment and poverty, and his children are not well. The sad story of Youssef is ongoing.
There is a great limitation and lack of sustainable livelihood opportunities due to the occupation. As a youth, Youssef had to drop out of secondary school to help his family, which consists of 13 members. He worked at whatever jobs became available just to feed their empty stomachs. Youssef lived in a house with his family which is not sufficient for five people, let alone 13.
“We often didn’t have enough food, and due to the extremely high rate of unemployment, none of us, including my father, were able to work more than sporadically,” Youssef said.
During the brutal attacks on Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014, Israel used white phosphorus and other internationally-banned weapons; their effects can be extremely harmful and have a long-term impact on the Palestinian people’s health, which doctors discovered later. The areas bombed with these missiles cannot be used as cultivable land and are not suitable for animal husbandry due to poisoned soil. These bombardments destroyed the source of living for many people.
Youssef has a daughter, four years old, who has cerebral palsy since her birth; some doctors attribute her condition to the inhalation of tear gas used by Israel. She is suffering from intestinal obstruction and shortness of breath; moreover, she is continually exposed to the gas that is daily dropped by Israeli soldiers among the population.
She had many surgeries, such as tracheostomy, hernia repair, and foot surgeries. Not only this, but she also needs many other surgeries which her father cannot afford. She needs an operation for scoliosis; plus, a neck operation, pelvic operation, and an operation to relax her nerves. This is not the end of the suffering; she also needs medical equipment for her neck and pelvis, and a medical mattress. Furthermore, she needs daily physiotherapy, and an oxygen supply to the brain three to four times per week. Along with his ailing daughter, Youssef also has a son who is suffering from rickets; surgeries are required, but he cannot afford them.
The ongoing blockade on Gaza City makes life worse. Youssef added, “Some, but not all of the medicine my daughter needs is available in Gaza, but what is available, I can’t afford to buy.”
The restrictions in Gaza City can be seen in every sector. Gaza’s hospitals cannot provide adequate diagnoses and treatment due to chronic shortages of medicines and a severe lack of medical equipment.
Who is responsible for the tragedy in Gaza? The clear answer is that Israel is responsible. It must take responsibility for its occupation over the past seven decades since 1948. Israel must be tried internationally for war crimes, including the siege on Gaza. It not only controls the crossing points: the northern Erez Crossing into the occupied Palestinian territories, the southern Rafah Crossing into Egypt, the eastern Karni Crossing used only for cargo, the Kerem Shalom Crossing on the border with Egypt, and the Sufa Crossing farther north, but it also negatively impacts the lives of Palestinians in all aspects.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, in part, the following: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services….” Israel has violated all of these rights for decades.
Youssef commented, “I can’t believe that my children are suffering from so many diseases. But on top of that, I don’t have regular work to cover their needs, and there is no way to get them out of Gaza.”
These children need urgent treatment and good conditions to live in. Yousef, his wife and children, live in a place that is not suitable for human life; his home consists of one room with a kitchen and a bathroom part of that one room. The roof is tin, and leaks. His children need a good place to live.
Youssef is a father and used to work as a labourer. He is currently unable to find work to cover his daughter’s medicine; waiting with no means to access the healthcare that his daughter needs. Youssef’s story is just one out of thousands of people living in similar conditions in the Gaza Strip, under restrictions preventing the basic needs that are required for every human.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this tragic situation. A rapid rise in coronavirus infections in the Gaza Strip has reached a “catastrophic stage”. The healthcare system is likely to collapse soon because COVID-19 is spreading exponentially in Gaza. Hospital capacity is unable to accommodate the need due to the lack of patient beds, breathing apparatuses, sufficient intensive care units, and coronavirus sample testing. Besides, hospitals in Gaza are wholly unprepared for a situation like the coronavirus. And again, Israel restricts the delivery of medicine and medical equipment to Gaza City.
Every patient has the right to health, which means access to appropriate and acceptable health care in order to enjoy the conditions of life that support staying healthy. Israel has imposed restrictions on access to the essential health services, medical equipment, and medicine required for each patient in Gaza City.
The situation in Gaza City is unsettling and terrible, and life is becoming more difficult each and every day due to Israel’s illegal actions, which constitute crimes against humanity. Wars and violent acts are eroding whatever resilience the people in Gaza still have left. Israel undermines the people’s hopes for a secure and prosperous future. Our people deserve life.
About the Author
Mohammad Abunahel is a Palestinian journalist and translator, currently pursuing his Master’s degree in mass communication and journalism at Tezpur University in India. His main interest is in the Palestinian cause; he has written many articles about the suffering of the Palestinians under Israel occupation. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. following the completion of his Master’s degree.