It was hard to watch. It was shocking. Although we knew about the dismal poverty in Gaza, the depth of unemployment and the hopelessness, two reports by Ohad Hemo on the evening news this week were like a punch in the stomach. If a picture is worth a thousand words, these reports were the whole story. This was chilling documentation that explained why young people are willing to face death at the border fence.
Don’t let anyone tell you that these demonstrations happened because Hamas called on Gazans to enter Israel and conquer it. They know this is impossible. They also know that dozens of snipers lie waiting for them on the other side. Total despair is their driving motive. Their lives are at an inconceivable low. Their economic situation is horrific; they have no future so they have nothing to lose. For them, death is better than the lives they lead.
The first report opened with a few children, age 8 or 9, carrying plastic containers along the dusty roads of Gaza’s Khan Yunis to a water tap. When they reached the tap there was no water and they looked at the camera helplessly. How would they return home with no water? And remember that there’s water in these taps only once every five days, and that 97 percent of Gaza’s water is contaminated.
In another difficult-to-watch clip, a housewife said the lack of electricity was harder on her than the lack of water. Indeed, there’s power for only four hours a day, and not every day – think of yourself under similar circumstances.
Then we saw a few small children walking barefoot in smelly sewage water between the houses of another Gaza city, Deir al-Balah. “We live in a garbage dump” one resident said. “All the diseases of the world can be found here; our children end up in hospitals almost every day.”
The gap between our living standards and theirs is inconceivable. Daily wages there are 30 shekels ($8.36). A laborer working six and a days a week in a textile factory 14 hours a day makes 800 shekels a month. He’s one of the luckier ones. The unemployment rate is 44 percent, or 63 percent for young people.
The economic situation in Gaza has never been so dire. The number of trucks carrying goods from Israel has dropped by half because the Gazans can’t pay for them. The only reason people aren’t dying of hunger there is the aid they receive from the UNRWA refugee agency and some assistance from Hamas.
This is why it’s obvious that if we don’t ease the blockade and let them export goods to us, the West Bank and Jordan, and if we don’t help them build infrastructure facilities, factories and a port, the poverty will deepen and the next explosion will be bigger than ever, encompassing us as well.
In the evening I walked over to Rabin Square to try to understand the mechanism of repression that got a huge crowd dancing with Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai on a day when 60 people were killed and 1,200 wounded by live fire on the Gaza border. Apparently I did understand something. All the speakers shouted out loudly one consistent message: “We came here to be happy, we must be happy, don’t stop being happy, show the world how happy we are in Israel.” What’s this if not an escape from reality?
After all, most of the people in the square realized that you couldn’t really be happy that day. It seems everyone realizes that we’re sitting on a powder keg and that our true reality is one of existential anxiety from all directions: Iran, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. Thus the calls to be happy with all our might were nothing but an attempt to fill the big black pit of anxiety with artificial joy.
To everyone who says that this is the situation and there’s nothing we can do about it, I’ll mention the dozen women who came to demonstrate at the square. They shouted out against the festivities and the Gaza blockade, reminding the revelers of the 60 dead Gazans. They were vilified and pushed around in what could have ended badly had it not been for a few policemen who separated them from the crowd and led them away. What courage.
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