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Was 2015 Gaza's worst year ever?

Acting in Faith  |  By Refaat Alareer, Jan 20, 2016
Destroyed building in Gaza in 2014

Destroyed building in Gaza in 2014

Photo: AFSC / Aura Kanegis

At the turn of last year, Palestinian “mentally unstable” man Isaac Hassan, 26, crossed the Gaza-Egypt border naked, only to be shot dead on the spot by the Egypt army. Hassan is the perfect metaphor for Gaza’s 2015.

And if you think 2014 was the worst year Palestinians in Gaza lived, then you’re probably not that informed about 2015, the worst ever in all possible terms.

Rafah Crossing:

In 2015, the Gaza crossing with Egypt opened only 21 days (24 if you count the three occasions on which Egyptian Authorities opened it to let in the bodies of three dead Palestinians, one of whom the Egyptian army shot dead as he crossed the border naked). An estimate number of 15 thousand people managed to make it out of Gaza in 2014—compare that to about 250,000 in 2012!

Egypt still cites security issues as the main reason for the closure of the crossing. Turbulence in the Sinai Peninsula is undeniable. But the question here remains why does Egypt keep its crossing with Israel open 24/7? It’s not, then, a matter of security as a matter of who gets to cross Egypt to the outside world.  Egypt, put simply, is punishing Palestinians in Gaza for being governed by Hamas, and is also being complicit in the hermetic siege with the Israeli occupation and Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies.

 (Steve Rhodes - Creative Commons)

These three parties, sadly and foolishly, think punishing Gazans will turn them against Hamas. To the observers, Hamas officials are the least punished as they still keep their privileges of being in control of Gaza. Meanwhile, the rest of the population has to suffer for being born in Gaza. There is a message here not only to Palestinians but also to people in the whole area: Do not vote for people like Hamas.

To add insult to injury, Hamas is not helping a bit in this regard. Even Hamas sympathizers have grown fed up of the policies and procedures Hamas takes to guarantee its rule of Gazans. While they now can’t pay their civil workers and can’t make the Rafah crossing open, at least there is no excuse for the arrest of many activists and the ignorant decisions such as banning New Year celebrations.

With Rafah closed most of the time, people die, students lose their chance to travel to study abroad, many others lose their grants, businessmen lose a lot of money which is negatively reflected in the labor market, and scholars can’t travel to join conferences or do further research. And the very idea of people’s inability to travel when they want to is suffocating, to say the least. Israel, of course, is happy with that.

Protest by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees on the Mediterranean Sea in 2013 (Joe Catron - Creative Commons)

Passage to the sea and to Israel

Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Egypt still refuse to allow Gaza to have a seaport to the outside world. Gaza’s shores are strictly controlled by Israeli battleships that have made shooting at Palestinian fishermen their daily hobby.

Even the crossing with Israel, Erez Crossing, allows very few people in. Occasionally, businessmen, sick people, students after a long process of vetting and security checks can be allowed through Erez. But that comes with a risk. Many have been arrested. Many others, especially cancer patients, have been blackmailed and coerced into giving Israel information in exchange for medical treatment. Any Palestinian involved in anti-occupation activism is simply not allowed through. And that could be more than 70% of the youth. 

Crops and trade

So, Palestinian anti-occupation activists, students, patients, fishermen, and businessmen are paying a heavy price for being Palestinian. Farmers, still, are not far from Israeli punishment. Israel has retained a long strip as a security no-man zone along its borders with Gaza Strip. That’s about 30% of Gaza’s arable land.

Farmers in Gaza in 2009 (ISM Palestine - Creative Commons)

Israel also imposes restrictions on exports of Palestinian produce to the West Bank and the outside world. Imagine the losses, the pain and the frustration of having to toil the whole year and then being obliged to sell your produce at a very low price, a price that barely sustains you and your family. Many of these farms, further, have been uprooted or destroyed by Israeli occupation forces multiple times.

Last week, Israeli army admitted it used poisonous pesticides to kill Gaza crops near the borders. Palestinians have spoken of this barbaric practice for years. The reports were totally ignored by Israeli media. Even when Mag972 managed to extract a confession from the Israeli occupation army they purposefully destroyed these crops, the issue is still almost totally ignored.

No Reconstruction

The thorniest issue, however, is Rebuilding Gaza. The Israeli war machine left thousands of Palestinian houses damaged or destroyed displacing tens of thousands. A year and a half later, only a handful of families have managed to rebuild their houses.

Israel has slapped a complex reconstruction process that guarantees Israeli businessmen make the best of profits, the Palestinian Authority has sworn to take a huge bite of the donations, and the mismanagement of the process in the Gaza Strip mean that people are still without their homes and might remain so for years to come.

The reconstruction deed, signed by the UN, PA and Israel, has clearly failed. It prolongs Israel’s occupation and siege, and gives Israel impunity to commit more crimes.

Destroyed buildings in Gaza February 2015 (Oxfam International - Creative Commons)

2016

During and after the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, we’ve seen and heard many swear to bring peace and justice to Palestinians. So far we have seen nothing but more destruction and more suffering. The question many Palestinians now wonder is whether the world has really abandoned us. Many see the recent attacks in the occupied West Bank and Occupied Jerusalem as a response to Israeli brutality and the deafening silence of the world.

Because it seems that no matter what happens to us, even if we go crazy and run naked to the borders, we will always be met with bullets and shells.

Related Content

Powerful fiction: An interview with the writers of "Gaza Writes Back"

Reflections on Palestine: Symbols of Homeland

Tears in Gaza and the horn in Hebron: An interview with Jennifer Bing

Gaza one year on: Does the world wake up?

About the Author

Refaat Alareer is the co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced (2015) and was the editor of (and a contributor to) Gaza Writes Back (2014). A native of Gaza City's Shijaieh neighborhood, he received his M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University College of London (U.K.) and is currently completing his Ph.D. in English Literature at the Universiti Putra Malaysia.

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