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'Gaza will be unlivable next year, not 2020 as the UN says'

+972 Magazine talks to Khalil Shaheen, a Gaza resident and expert on the impact of Israeli, Palestinian Authority, and Hamas policies in the besieged coastal strip, to get a picture of what life is like in Gaza, and why it’s probably going to get unfathomably worse.

Palestinians walk past a gasoline-powered generator in the old market of Gaza City, Gaza Strip, June 9, 2017. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinians walk past a gasoline-powered generator in the old market of Gaza City, Gaza Strip, June 9, 2017. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Things have gotten acutely worse in the Gaza Strip over the past month, since Israel and the Palestinian Authority cut the besieged strip’s already inadequate supply of power. But an entire generation of Gazans have grown up without ever experiencing electricity that is available around the clock. Crisis is nothing new.

In addition to sewage that flows into the sea untreated, and hospital ICUs that must rely on gasoline-powered generators, the power shortage also has dire consequences on everyday life in regular households. Without electricity, the pumps that deliver tap water to apartments in high-rise residential buildings stop working. “Water used to reach these houses between two-to-three hours every few days,” Khalil Shaheen says. “And this is in the summer. Yesterday, my building only had one hour of water.”

Israel pulled its troops out of the Gaza Strip a little over a decade ago, but its military retains effective control over many aspects of life in the coastal enclave. The Israeli army still controls the Strip’s land and maritime borders, decides who and what may enter and exit, blocks basic technologies like 3G cellular broadband from being installed, and has launched three military operations that left thousands of Gazans dead. Israel also sells Gaza the majority of its inadequate supply of electricity.

Shaheen, who is the director of the Economic and Social Rights Unit at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), one of Palestine’s most prominent rights groups, monitors the impact of Israeli, Palestinian Authority, and Hamas policies on life in the Gaza Strip. “I’m afraid that with the ongoing situation, Gaza will be unlivable by the end of 2018,” he said in a telephone interview earlier this week.

Palestinian children fill jerrycans with drinking water in the Rafah Refugee Camp in the southern Gaza Strip, June 11, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinian children fill jerrycans with drinking water in the Rafah Refugee Camp in the southern Gaza Strip, June 11, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Can you talk about what is happening on the ground in Gaza right now?

I can’t even describe Gaza as a prison, because even prisoners have fundamental rights. Gaza is an isolated area under occupation, where people aren’t allowed in and out. There is an electricity crisis that leaves millions without power for hours every day, 97 percent of Gaza’s water is undrinkable, there is not enough electricity to provide basic sanitation needs. Israel and the Palestinian Authority are trying to prevent patients in need of emergency treatment from entering the West Bank or Israel. There are shortages of medication and treatment.

It’s a catastrophic situation. The Israeli occupation’s policies manifest in our daily life. This is true not only regarding the three last wars on Gaza and the ongoing siege; it includes the policy of splitting West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Gaza.

What about the current water crisis?

It is so bad that there are people who are live in high-rise buildings that simply do not have access to water. There is not enough electricity to pump water from the ground [level] to people on the higher floors. Water used to reach these houses between 2-3 hours every few days. And this is in the summer. Yesterday, my building only had one hour of water. Meanwhile the municipality is trying to ration water to different areas of Gaza.

Remember that all this is taking place as 60 percent of Gaza’s population are unemployed, and 80 percent is dependent on aid.

“Gaza in the summer is usually full of life. But nowadays it is all darkness.” Gaza City, June 9, 2017. (Ezz Zanoun/Activestills.org)

“Gaza in the summer is usually full of life. But nowadays it is all darkness.” Gaza City, June 9, 2017. (Ezz Zanoun/Activestills.org)

What is Gaza usually like in the summer?

Usually it is full of life. But nowadays it is all darkness. You walk in the street with darkness. The only solution is the beach, because it is the only area where you can find bits of light from generators. But people are afraid of the sewage. Usually you’ll find thousands of people swimming in the water in the summer. Today you can barely find a few because they are afraid of the toxicity.

Who do Gazans blame for the current crisis?

Both Israeli policies to isolate Gaza and the internal conflict between Palestinian Authority and Hamas have caused this suffering. Gazans pay taxes to both the PA and Hamas, and yet they hardly receive services from either. They believe that both sides have failed to show any political will to end the conflict, reach unity, and give Palestinians access to all basic rights. Meanwhile, the rivalry stokes a culture of fear. PA employees in Gaza are afraid to criticize Abbas, and Hamas employees are afraid to criticize Hamas.

How are people coping?

The poorest and most marginalized are resorting to living off bread and tea only. I’m afraid that with the ongoing situation, Gaza will be unlivable by the end of 2018, not 2020 as the United Nations previously predicted. Gazans cannot enjoy culture, they cannot go to the theater or to the movies. This makes life impossible.

The world must remember that isolation breeds extremism and terrorism. I cannot imagine that the international community supporting isolation while at the same time wanting people to be more moderate and open. The occupation authorities are putting people inside a bottle and closing it, only opening it up when all the air is nearly gone by easing the collective punishment to allow hundreds of people to exit or to allow some goods and commodities to enter into Gaza.

There have been some political changes taking place in Hamas, and I hope the party will change. But there have been no real achievements. Hamas should think about the population in Gaza to allow them to live in dignity.

The people of Gaza are a free and moderate people, they believe in tolerance. This was an underlying current of Gazan culture way before the Palestinian Authority ever existed. But when you prevent people from working or traveling and exploring normal life outside the Gaza, it affects people’s lives and leads them to depression.

The most challenging issue is the fact that Palestinians are losing hope day by day. They want a normal life like all nations and all people worldwide. But the problem is that day by day they are losing hope. And when you lose hope, things becomes very, very bad.

This article originally claimed that Oxfam had ceased providing supplies to Palestinians in Gaza. It has been updated to reflect that this is not true. 

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    1. Grandpa Frost

      wow, I guess they should stop trying to kill Jews. If they do, Gaza might get even more help than they’re already getting from Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • JDE

        Do you have any life at all apart from trolling this website?

        Reply to Comment
      • Janet

        When did a person in Gaza actually last kill a Jew?

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Janet. These dogs cannot kill Israelis because they are kept apart from us by an electronic fence. If they hurl rockets at us, our air force will bomb them back to the stone age. Its the only language these dogs understand. Woof Woof.

          Reply to Comment
          • Janet

            Apparently you are a racist pig, because if you weren’t you wouldn’t call someone a dog. Maybe if at any time during Israel modern history you had treated the Palestinians as people not as dogs they would not be trying to kill you. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, you can not steal people homes, blockade them and ethnically cleanse them from their home land and expect anything but hatred and anger

            Reply to Comment
          • Mark

            Demonstrably untrue given events in Europe in 20th century. People move on if their leadership provides leadership rather than malfeasance.

            Reply to Comment
          • duh

            This is most likely an allusion to the fact Eastern European countries (including the USSR) expelled their ethnic German nationals after WWII and the cross-migration of Hindus and Muslims into India and Pakistan, two historical incidents that might as well be the Torah of Zionism. There are in fact numerous conflicts in the 20th century post-WWII where the refugees either had a right of return or at the very least the post-conflict order didn’t rubber stamp their status.

            -The first civil war in Rwanda in 1959 led to an exile community in Uganda which made up the RPF that invaded and captured Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

            -Tibetan exiles in India still wish to return to Tibet.

            -Lebanon, despite all its problems, didn’t as a rule strip every Lebanese who fled the Civil War of their citizenship. Lebanese expats still retain their citizenship and can vote if they travel to Lebanon.

            -There has been a process of return to Bosnia following the 1992-95 conflict: Hundreds of thousands displaced outside Bosnia return between 1996-99 (58-59) though most of them were only repatriated to Bosnia and not their former place of residence.

            “Fewer than five per cent of the 650,000 Muslims and Croats who were expelled by the Serbs from western Bosnia and Herzegovina had returned to their former homes, and fewer than one per cent of those who were expelled by the Serbs from eastern Bosnia had returned.140”

            Of course the percentage of Palestinians able to return to their former homes under Zionist occupation has been zero for ~70 years.

            -Finally, millions of South Africans were ethnically cleansed during the apartheid years into bantustans which were abolished when white-minority rule was abandoned.

            So the typical Zionist argument that Palestinians are the only people in history who don’t accept their forced displacement is flat-out dumb.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The Arabs first became dogs when they supported the Grand Mufti in the 1940s. Then, they maintained ther dog identity by supporting terrorism in the 1950s. Then, they attacked Israel in the 6 day war, thus confirming their dog-nature. First Intifada Terror shows further canine behaviour folowed by 2nd Intifada terror and voting Hamas in 2007. In the end, these dogs may have to be put down.
            Woof Woof.

            Reply to Comment
          • duh

            “In the end, these dogs may have to be put down.”

            Sieg heil, obergruppenfuehrer

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            You want Israelis to suffer from Gazan terrorism for all eternity?
            I don’t!
            I’d solve it the way the Russians solved the Koningsberg question in 1945.

            Reply to Comment
          • duh

            These WWII analogies only conceal the fact – known to everyone who does their homework – that major Zionist leaders premeditated removing non-Jews from the prospective “Jewish” state and achieving demographic dominance under a sympathetic occupying power before the British Mandate years.

            Whatever moral highground the Allies had in WWII does not exist with the Zionist movement.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Repatriation of the Jordanian occupiers is the only sane solution. Otherwise, Israel is sending a message “Attack us and if you fail, you get the whole territory back so you can try again.”

            Reply to Comment
          • duh

            Now by calling them “Jordanian occupiers”, you make it clear there’s an ulterior motive to expelling them, that being a desire to empty Zionist-occupied Palestine of non-Jews.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Well, they are Jordanian occupiers!!
            What am I supposed to call them, Chinese non-occupiers?
            They are Jordanians and they are illegally occupying the Land.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Duh: You might as well argue with a Scientologist about Xenu the dictator of the Galactic Confederacy who 75 million years ago brought billions of his people to Earth then known as “Teegeeack.” You will get as far and a similarly productive conversation.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            If the Jordanians had not started the 6 day war, there would be no occupation. Its very simple. Expuslion of the Arab Colonists is the only sane option. Every other possibility has already been tried before.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Mark

      “PA employees in Gaza are afraid to criticize Abbas, and Hamas employees are afraid to criticize Hamas.”

      Presumably the overwhelming number of people are neither employees of PA or of Hamas. Don’t they have a voice? What price democracy when you are over-run by mafiosi pretending to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people?

      Reply to Comment

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