Palestinian activists talk to Adam Cochrane about the harsh reality of life under Israeli occupation
The Gaza strip is an open-air prison that’s been under siege since 2006. It is one of the most densely populated places on earth. Some 1.8 million people are crammed into just 141 square miles of land. Israel has nearly halved Gaza in its latest assault, reducing the area by 44 percent. The Israeli Defence Force has declared any area within three miles of the Israeli border a “no go zone”. Yet even outside of this “no go zone” much of Gaza is now uninhabitable due to the bombing, which has destroyed homes and the little infrastructure that there is.
The United Nations (UN) estimates that 564 homes have been destroyed since the start of the assault. Tens of thousands displaced Palestinians have been forced to gather in shelters, such as schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency. Mohamed Nassar is one of them. He told us, “I was living in Jabalya, Gaza City, but my house can’t be lived in anymore. “They bombed my home and my neighbour’s home five days ago. Two people died in the blast. The UN took us to one of their schools in central Gaza City. Mohamed is not alone. “There are three other families here with six adults and 17 children”, he said. The UN reports that nearly 20,000 people whose homes were damaged or destroyed desperately need blankets and soap.
There are now approximately 140,000 Palestinians staying in 83 schools operating as emergency shelters and safe spaces. This amounts to roughly 6 percent of Gaza’s population—and more than twice the number sheltered by the UN during Israel’s three-week long Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009.
Several thousand others are sheltering in eight government schools, the majority in Gaza City itself. They tell the Israeli military their exact locations, but this does not guarantee safety. The shelling has damaged 117 schools.On 24 July an Israeli air strike on a school in Beit Hanoun killed 15 and left 200 wounded. More than 140,000 urgently need food. The ground invasion has also restricted access to food warehouses. This means around 3,000 herders now risk losing livestock, because of the serious shortage of animal feed. Bakeries, mills and dairies are also struggling due to a lack of security and damage to facilities.
Around 1.2 million people are currently affected by alack of adequate access to water and sanitation. In some shelters they must survive on as little as three litres each per day for washing and drinking. One third of Gaza’s 213 water wells are not functioning because technicians are afraid to go out for maintenance and repair work. Three technicians have been killed since the Israeli assault, while performing maintenance in Gaza City.The water company says it’s pumping less than half the required amount of water. And the remaining wells are only working between six to eight hours a day.
Lara Aburamadan is a journalist living in the west of Gaza City. She said, “There has been no electricity since yesterday. “We get four hours or less a day and we use a generator for three hours a day—and without the electricity we can’t pump the water into our homes.” Six of the ten power lines from Israel have been damaged, meaning Gaza is only receiving 40 percent of the electricity it purchased.Damage from the bombing has made it difficult to distribute electricity from the local power plant in Nuseirat, which was hit by two Israeli missiles.
Israeli authorities will not give power plant engineers assurances that they will not be targeted while conducting repairs. And even if they did, how could Palestinians trust a military that has bombed hospitals, schools and disabled people’s care homes?
The severe electricity shortage has lead to the overflow of raw sewage in neighbourhoods, particularly Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya, and into the water supply. This has hampered Gaza’s medical facilities. Gaza has a total of 104 hospitals and health care facilities. Gaza’s Ministry of Health provides 55 while the UN provides 19 and various NGOs run the other 30. Dr Mona Qasim El-Farra, who works in a medical centre in Gaza City, explain how resources are stretched. “Our centre is very close to four schools. They are full of people from Shujai’iya and Beit Hanoun who have fled there. “I have many children in my clinic with dehydration and scabies.”
Shujai’iya was the scene of one of the worst massacres since the Israeli bombing began. Israeli forces killed around 70 Palestinians and injured nearly 300. Medical supplies of psychotropic drugs for patients with mental illness, trauma and anxiety are running particularly short. At least 125,000 children require direct and specialised psychological support. Even when the medical centres are able to run they face further dangers. At least 19 medical facilities have been hit by air strikes and shelling.This includes Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza and Al-Wafa hospital in Gaza city. The situation has been made worse by the blockade. This has been in place since 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza strip. Any child of seven or under has only known life under the blockade. Previously people were able to survive through an elaborate network of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. However, many of these have been destroyed by the Egyptian government.
The Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only exit that is not into Israel, has been closed during this massacre. Only one of the other three crossings, Erez in the north, is open during limited hours for aid agencies with prior permission. The Arba-Arba crossing in Beit Hanoun, Northern Gaza is closed. The main crossing used for fuel supplies is Kerem abu Salem in the south west of Gaza, but delivery has decreased since the fighting. But the Palestinian people trapped in Gaza have been resilient. Mohamed has been volunteering as an ambulance driver, even though he’s not a trained medic. Despite the appalling conditions in Gaza the will of the Palestinians has not been broken. They have not been begging for a ceasefire—they are clear that there must be real change if the fighting is to stop. Mona agreed, saying “We don’t want this to happen again. “We need the blockade lifted and the border open. We have been living very hard lives up to now and we don’t want to go back to that.
“We don’t want our people to have died for nothing.”
Adam Cochrane is a writer for the Socialist Worker newspaper.
This article first appeared here: http://socialistworker.co.uk/art/38659/Surviving+Gaza%3A+Palestinian+activists+speak+out