On Monday, August 24, the authorities in Gaza announced the first cases of the coronavirus caused by community spread. Since then, Gazans have also been living under internal lockdown. Most businesses and institutions are shut, there is no travel between districts and some neighborhoods are quarantined – all in an effort to monitor the spread.
What was warned about has come to pass. The spread of the virus is forcing us to confront the dire reality in Gaza. We are all highly aware of the condition of the health system here. We all keep track of the number of available ventilators, the testing numbers and their results. We are also acutely aware of the dire economic situation that we’ve reached in this crisis and of the tenuous state of Gaza’s infrastructure.
In mid-August, when Israel again closed access to the sea for two weeks, it forced thousands back to shore who depend on fishing for their livelihoods. Without fishing, there is nothing to eat. One fisherman, a father of four, dared to defy the decision. “I went out to sea, up to a mile and a half from shore, even though I have a broken arm from a run-in with the Israel Navy,” he told me, “so I could feed my family. I felt like a thief.”
The power station shut down because Israel prevented the shipment of fuel into Gaza. The electricity supply plummeted just when the days and nights were the hottest. “All night I wiped the kids’ faces with a damp cloth,” the fisherman, who lives with his family near the shore, told me. “They sleep next to the door, hoping for a little breeze.” Last week, the power station resumed operations and now there is electricity for eight hours at a stretch, followed by eight hours without it. It’s not enough.
And we’re just at the beginning of the coronavirus nightmare. My neighbor Mustafa, 35, works as a driver. He lives with his four children in a rented apartment. He can’t afford cooking gas. He can’t afford to support his family or to pay the rent.
We, the people of Gaza, have no influence or control over our fate. We are pawns in policy considerations. I often ask myself, and I’m sure many other Gazans do too: What more do we have to do for the world to understand the severity of our despair?
Seventy percent of us are under age 30. Hundreds if not thousands of Gazans have departed for other countries. Some have reached their destinations. Others have lost their lives en route. And some have also chosen to end their lives. Imagine how those people felt – choosing death was easier than coping with what life here has to offer.
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And when the young people rose up to protest the hopelessness, we witnessed the demonstrations at the border fence, where dozens lost their lives to Israeli sniper fire. We have a generation that doesn’t know what freedom is. These young people feel they aren’t considered human enough for their human rights to be respected, rights that we all deserve.
For years, and especially for the past 13 years, Israel has been violently oppressing the people of Gaza while seeking to annex territory in the West Bank. Every round of fighting, every assassination, every escalation – call it what you want – leaves behind death, destruction and suffering, and the same questions about the future.
Everyone knows the numbers and figures. The unemployment rate is known, as is the poverty rate. And it’s no secret that we’re losing hope. Unless the blockade is lifted, until people are permitted to freely enter and leave Gaza to trade, study and be with their families, until the infrastructure is repaired and people can live normally, life here will keep deteriorating.
The latest escalation subsided after Qatar’s intervention, but it’s obviously only a lull until the next round of violence. Nothing has changed. And now there is a worldwide health and economic crisis that even affluent countries are staggering under. While other countries are struggling to thrive, in Gaza the best we can hope for is to survive.
We again recall the UN report that aimed to enlist the world’s assistance – the report that predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020. That prediction has come true.
Mohammed Azaiza lives in Gaza and is a field coordinator for Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.