“I’ve never left Gaza, and I don’t even have a passport. I’m part of a generation that doesn’t know a reality other than that of a closed Gaza. I grew up on reports of opening and closing the checkpoint and on stories of patients who were unable to leave for medical care. I grew up in the shadow of life in a prison, my father and other people from his generation told me how they used to go out to eat and of the sunset in Jaffa.
“I’ve never been able to imagine that. For me, those are dreams. We, the members of the generation that lives under siege, see how young people in other places in the world progress and develop. We are denied even the ability to think about such opportunities. We’ve never had the excitement of going to an airport. We’ve only been exposed to ordinary planes through the TV screen. We’re very familiar with F-16s and drones.”
These descriptions were given to the Gisha human rights organization by Thazem al-Jaouni, 23, a graphic designer. He was seven years old when Israel imposed the siege on the Gaza Strip after the rise of Hamas. His words were transmitted as part of the organization’s project to gather testimony from young Palestinians on the 15th anniversary of the siege.
“The situation in Gaza is very depressing. Most of those with a higher education can’t find work and are living under occupation, siege, political divisiveness and instability. Every few years there’s a war that kills people and destroys houses and land, and with them their dreams and hopes. That doesn’t mean that we have to give up and not aspire to a better reality, but in Gaza even your dream depends on the Israeli restrictions – there’s almost no opportunity to work outside the Strip and to progress.
“The dreams I had while I was in school are disappearing in the face of a situation that I can’t control. I want to be free and to have the opportunity to experience and try things, to travel and have a good time, to leave Gaza and return to it. I’m afraid to get a passport and to travel alone, since I’ve never done that before. I hear about the suffering experienced by people at the crossings and I’m afraid of that too.”
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Already in 2008 the UN Human Rights Council published a declaration condemning Israel and calling for a lifting of the siege on the Strip, for permitting the supply of food, fuel and medications, and for reopening the border crossings. Since then Gaza has turned into a large prison for millions of Palestinians. It’s no wonder that the expression “Go to Gaza” is the response to Arabs everywhere; that’s how Israelis see Gaza – a hostile place whose residents deserve collective punishment.
With the mechanism of repression working overtime among Israelis, and despite the galling or purportedly reasoned silence regarding the siege, after 15 years the time has come to stop repressing the fact that Israel, despite the disengagement, is an occupying power that manages Gaza from a distance, by controlling the movement of its inhabitants and imposing economic and civil sanctions.
To the Gazans’ regret, they can’t even “benefit” from the status of an occupied civilian population, with everything that entails in legal and international terms, since Israel is not physically present in Gaza. This dynamic “remains anonymous,” and on the Israeli side they have become accustomed to living alongside it and repressing its existence.
Perhaps the easy way is to claim that there’s “no partner” in Gaza, presumably as opposed to the West Bank. In the shadow of themilitary operations and the rockets that are fired from time to time, it’s easy for the Israeli side to continue to justify the sanctions and the siege. In fact, this atmosphere only perpetuates a terrible and destructive situation, in which people are born into these circumstances and therefore have no knowledge of a life that is not under foreign control.
The siege is the most extreme and repressed aspect of Israel’s domination over the Palestinian people. The fact that it is conducted from a distance, without direct contact that requires some kind of moral accounting, is what enables the Israelis to continue to say “Go to Gaza.”