In Gaza, keeping strong is no longer enough

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In Gaza, keeping strong is no longer enough

Ella David speaks to two Palestinians after 10,000 people left their homes.

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10,000 people left their homes after very bad storms. Yousef Mashharawi

On the telephone Abeer’s voice sounds tired and a long way away. She says that people in Gaza cannot suffer any more problems. After poverty, the big financial problem, the Israeli siege, and political isolation with Egypt, there is now a natural disaster.

People know Palestinians for their sumad (keeping strong). But the stress for the 1.7 million people on this small blockaded Strip is too much for their sumad. Gaza and the occupied West Bank are the Palestinian territories. People often say it is the world’s biggest open-air prison. This is after the Israeli government stopped trading with the Palestinians, and their siege in 2005 to force Hamas out of power. This was with the help of the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Egypt, and the UN, US, EU and Russia.

The siege came after many years of occupation. This was first by Egypt from 1948-67. Then after the Six Day War, by Israel, which took control of Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights, the West Bank (occupied by Jordan from 1948-67) and for a short time the Egyptian Sinai Peninsular.

Abeer is a young Gazan journalist. She says that people now call winter the bad season. ‘In December 2008, there was the Israeli Operation when 22 days of airstrikes killed 1,400 Palestinians.’ She says that in November 2011, there was Operation Pillar of Cloud when167 people were killed by airstrikes in the week-long military attack. And in winter in 2013, it is the storm with no electricity and the sewage in the streets. The farmers’ crops are ruined. And all of this is because of the war and natural disasters.

But the only natural thing about this crisis in Gaza is the rain.

10,000 people left their homes after bad floods on 12 and 13 December and they are staying in schools and mosques. The UN thinks that it will take another week to take all the floodwater from the streets. And the government is looking for places for people to stay but it may be months before everyone can return to their homes.

No electricity

From 1 November to 14 December, Palestinians in Gaza had no electricity for about 16 hours a day.

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A mother and child after leaving their flooded home. Yousef Mashharawi

In better times, Gaza is still without power for eight hours a day. On Saturday there was normal electricity again after Qatar gave 450,000 litres of fuel. Abeer feels that this is too little, too late, but it means that Gaza’s only power plant is back. There is enough fuel for three months.

Yousef Al-Helou is from Gaza and is a reporter for Real News Network. He says that when there was no electricity, sewage flooded the streets. The icy flood water spread the sewage and made it difficult to clean up.

The future looks bad. The electricity is back only for a short time. The winds blew metal roofs from homes. These homes were already damaged by last year’s airstrikes and the floods have caused more damage. But rebuilding without materials is impossible. The possibility of an environmental and public health problem is always there and the UN thinks that by 2025 Gaza will have no drinking water. Only five per cent of the water in Gaza is now safe to drink.

Everyone is punished

For eight years, the Israeli government has banned most goods from entering or leaving Gaza. This– includes building materials and some medical supplies. This problem is Egyptian authorities have destroyed 95 per cent of the tunnels that Gaza used to bring materials, animals and people secetly to and from Egypt.

The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt is the only official way in or out of the crowded Strip. The Rafah crossing has been closed less after Egypt’s Revolution in 2011. But after the Egyptian military removed the former Egyptian President Morsi on 3 July, the Rafah crossing is not open very often. The crossing is now open one to three days every two weeks. Yousef tells me that he waited for 10 days for the crossing to open before he could leave in September. He says that thousands of people waiting to cross on each side. It seems that Egyptian authorities are trying to force Hamas to make peace with the Palestinian Authority. But they have also said that Gazans agree with Morsi.

Yousef says it is terrible that Egypt will not support the Hamas government. And this means all Gazans are punished. He says that two-thirds of Gazans did not vote for Hamas but they are punished by Egypt and the international “community” because of a political party that was unpopular but democratically elected. And no-one is putting pressure on Israel to end the siege.

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Flood water has mixed with the sewage water and is increasing the risk of a big public health problem. Yousef Mashharawi

Yousef explains that the Israeli government controls the electricity to Gaza. ‘It became too expensive to keep powering our electrical plant after Egypt closed the tunnels where fuel was brought in more cheaply. The plant produced 30 per cent of our electricity and 60 per cent came directly from Israel with 10 per cent from Egypt; the supply from Egypt has now stopped.’ There is not enough electricity because the electricity supply is down by 40 per cent.

I ask Abeer if Hamas is doing enough to help people during the crisis. ‘It is doing all it can to support families, to give food to the people from flooded homes. But it is under siege by Israel and isolated by Egypt – it is so hard,’ she says. ‘Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh spent a night in a school.’ He stayed with the people affected by the floods to show he supports them. ‘The Palestinian Authority is in a similar position to Hamas but the response from them is always disappointing.’

An unnatural disaster

Abeer says that the cost of essentials is rising for Palestinians in Gaza. Rising inflation is increasing the cost of bread, rice and cooking gas and many are finding it difficult with less money. ‘Young, educated Gazans can’t find jobs,’ says Yousef. He adds that people can no longer afford to power their generators to make electricity. Many families must use unsafe wood fires to cook food, and more people need aid.

Abeer says that now is when people should enjoy time with their families. ‘All over the world, people are preparing for Christmas,’ says Abeer. ‘But there is no help from anyone.’

I ask her how people across the world can help. Abeer doesn’t know. ‘There needs to be a political solution,’ she says sadly. Without a political solution, Gazans must still suffer – they have no choice.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2013/12/20/gaza-blockade-palestine/