Citizen: Being a Gazan

Citizen
August 21, 2010 15:56
Gaza has been in the spotlight for the last couple of weeks in connection with the Freedom to Gaza Flotilla movement and Israel’s illegal and immoral response to it. There is no denial to the fact that the siege imposed by Israel for the last three years has worsened the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and has brought it to the brink of a man-made catastrophe.

Apart from food and fuel shortages, what other problems do Gazans face on a daily basis? With the ongoing economic drought that has decimated Gaza’s economy and dried up jobs and businesses, what future awaits the youth of Gaza? What are the social consequences of the crippling blockade that hits every single soul in Gaza? Foreign Policy Journal’s new feature “Citizen” tries to reveal the ground situation and gives you a complete picture of the place dubbed as the world’s largest prison. We shadow Mahmoud Jamie, a 24-year-old graduate who lives in Gaza City and works for a foreign humanitarian organization. 

tap water gaza

A view of bathroom tap water.

No kidding! This is the kind of water that comes from the taps in bathrooms and kitchens in Gaza. When I wake up in the morning to wash my face and brush my teeth, sometimes this is the type of water I’ve to put up with. And it’s not just me. This is the tale of every single household in Gaza. Do you wonder why? The Zionist occupier won’t allow us to rebuild our water treatment and sewerage system that it regularly destroys. Around 90-95% of the drinking water in Gaza is contaminated and unfit for consumption. This is not my assessment. Amnesty International says this in its report.

And if you’re going to suggest me to use bottled water, know that it’s harmful too. A United Nations survey found that recycling factories in Gaza do not have the capability to cleanse the plastic bottles properly. As a result, contaminants are widely found in plastic bottles and containers.

Our main source is the coastal aquifer, which too gets contaminated by large amounts of untreated sewage that goes into the sea without any treatment, thanks to the Israeli blockade. For a population of 1.5 million, there is no desalination plant, water recycling facility or fresh water supplies from neighboring areas. As a result, we’re forced to drink contaminated water from our wells and pipelines.

fresh bread gaza

Photo - Gaza Girl

Food, especially wheat and flour shortages, are common in Gaza. Israel is supposed to allow 450 tons of wheat daily into Gaza but it seldom lets the required amount reach the besieged flour mills. Whatever supplies that end up in Gaza cannot be adequately processed due to fuel shortages. So the bread that I eat for breakfast is sometimes obtained from long queues.

noisy generators

Photo - Abid Katib/Getty Images/LIFE

While having my breakfast I hear the shrill sound of the generators that pierce the eardrum constantly. But what can you do? No power means absolutely nothing in our lives. We’re paying a very heavy price to live this life…which you’ll realize very soon…

tent school

Photo - Reuters

On my way to work, I pay a visit to this tent school in Rafah where kids assemble every morning. These kids are sat in the tent as their school was destroyed by aerial bombing during the Israeli winter aggression last year. One year gone, there is no sign of reconstruction of the educational institution as Israel won’t let concrete enter Gaza Strip. By God! These kids come here every morning despite of the weather, climate or the mood. I come here to seek inspiration from these young flowers.

destroyed homes

Photo - Getty Images

Everyday on my way to work I see shattered houses. They lay in dilapidated conditions since the Israeli aggression that lasted three weeks (27 December, 2008 – 21 January, 2009) last winter. The people live in houses but they’re void of the basic meaning of a house. What is a house for you? A place that gives you shelter from external elements like weather and climate and provide you safety and security? Unfortunately, for Gazans it’s just a place that gives them a sense of existence.

As far as reconstruction is concerned, we don’t have any access to basic construction materials like cement, sand, steel, glass etc. Ask the Israelis and they’ll tell you that Hamas will build war bunkers with the materials that enter the Gaza Strip. Do you think they’re really afraid of Hamas? Maybe. But their real intention is to force us live in shambles.

builders working

Photo - AP

I arrive at work and very soon I’m dispatched by my employers to a nearby site where building rubble is crushed to pieces to make cement. Other materials are also re-used. The material we get from the crushing is not of a good quality but there is no other alternative for hundreds of thousands of people who require cement and other building material to rebuild their homes and save themselves from the elements of weather.
gaza lifeline

Photo - Abid Katib/Getty Images/LIFE

Now I head towards Rafah, southern Gaza border with Egypt. Don’t worry my friends, I’m not here to buy weapons as the Israelis like to tell you. I just want to buy a present for my friend who’s going to get married tomorrow.

What I’m seeing that is coming out from these tunnels just baffles my mind. On a given day, you’ll see the import of livestock, fodder, foodstuff, clothes, medicines, beverages, electronic goods, some building materials, car parts, electrical goods, household items and so many other things needed by Gazans on a daily basis. To put it short, these tunnels are our lifeblood. Without them we won’t be able to survive for long.

The Israelis will tell you many stories of arms being smuggled into Gaza. Maybe or maybe not. It’s a life-risking business as the explosives have to be handled with care. However, I’m more concerned about the smuggling of drugs especially the recreational ones. Addictive and dangerous, their use is increasing on an alarming rate. Many people, especially the youngsters, try to escape the reality of worthlessness of life. The drugs addiction makes them feel high and forget about the misery. These drugs have a negative impact on their health. Some drugs are also used to boost sexual libido and cancel frustration. Campaigns are regularly launched in Gaza to spread awareness among the Palestinians about these destructive drugs.

palestinians tunnel

Photo - Hatem Omar/Maan Images

I’ll stay with the tunnels for a while as there is an important story to be told. Most of the people working in these tunnels are young and educated youth of Gaza who have been rendered jobless due to the Israeli siege. They cannot work in Gaza as there are no jobs due to the Israeli financial blockade of the Hamas government and private businesses. There is no way to leave the country to go abroad and seek higher education or work as Egypt or Israel won’t let that happen. As a result, these people work in scorching heat for 12 hours a day and earn no more than $20.

One laborer told me it takes an investment of $100,000 to dig a tunnel. “It’s a gamble. We dig a tunnel meters deep into the ground but it can be busted by Israel with a few bombs. All our money can get buried in the sand along with us,'”a young Gazan told me. Everyone I met there feared for their lives but had no other option but to carry on digging and bringing in goods to Gaza. “We leave our family early in the morning worrying we may not come back home in the evening. But life goes on.”

I buy my present and leave the place quickly. At times one can see Israeli drones hovering in the sky, a sign of lurking death and havoc!

busy gaza bazaar

Photo - Getty Images

Now I’m on my way home and I’m having a brief stopover at the Gaza City market. I need to do some grocery shopping for my home but I’m having some problems finding the stuff I’ve been asked to bring. And even if I do find it, the prices are so high…

This is a common quandary for Palestinians in Gaza Strip. Buy? What to buy? How much to buy? And for what price? One may get the impression that there is wholesale hoarding going on in the market. But that’s not true. The traders here are innocent people and everyone is frustrated about the shortage of food. They buy items at a price that’s already steep but need to sell it at a price with which they can make a profit so that other items can be bought for the household. It’s the wartime economics here…

gas shortage

Photo - Abid Katib/Getty Images/LIFE

Right. I’m done with the grocery shopping, but my battle is not over yet. Next thing I need to do is to carry a gas cylinder home. Yes! The old primitive gas cylinder that’s used for cooking. And I’ll be lucky if I get hold of one as there is an ongoing shortage in Gaza. Israeli companies have limited gas supplies to Gaza so the cost of cylinders shot up manifold in couple of days. Ones who cannot afford this necessity, or let’s say ‘luxury’ in case of Gaza, resort to firewood.

I mentioned about paying a high cost of life earlier? Rings some bells? Yes. Let me continue…

fatah vs hamas

Photo - Abid Katib/Getty Images/LIFE

On my way home and I see some trouble on the street. A little poking nose into the affair and I find that a Fatah supporter is being arrested by Hamas-controlled police force over some dispute. Ah! The same old infighting and bitter political rivalry…

Palestinians are not only frustrated, they’re fractured, too, thanks to the 6 decades of Israeli occupation and oppression. Fatah is the secular Palestinian resistance organization founded by Yasser Arafat and other leading Palestinian leaders in 1958. It is the left-wing party that believes in both political as well as armed resistance against the Zionist occupation. Hamas, on the other hand, is an Islamist organization, which was founded by Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen during the first Intifada in 1987. Besides militant struggle, the Islamist organization also runs a large network of social and charitable organizations in Gaza.

The trouble broke out between the two parties in 2007 when Hamas won the Palestinian national elections and went on to form a government that was blocked by Fatah. Eventually, an armed conflict broke out in the Gaza Strip when supporters of both the parties locked horns resulting into bloody battles. Hamas, which has deep rooted support in Gaza, managed to oust Fatah and claim complete control of the Strip. Fatah’s power here has waned but tensions simmer every now and then.

On the national basis, every Palestinian longs for national reconciliation between the two parties and parts of the country i.e. Gaza Strip and West Bank. The divisions have caused a great harm to the Palestinian cause and has enabled the Israelis to succeed in their plan to weaken our ranks and demoralize the nation. It has also given them an open license to killing and wanton destruction.

happy meal

Photo - Abid Katib/Getty Images/LIFE

One good time during our day is undoubtedly the dinner time. Whatever we get, we eat with gratitude and thank God for providing a decent meal out of all the odds. The kids’ faces glimmer when the food is presented on the table. They tell about their day at school and all the fun they had during the morning. It is really refreshing to hear their jokes, their laughter and see smiles on their faces. It makes me feel that we are alive and there are some things in life that cannot be stolen so easily…
darkness

Photo - Tom Spender (Flickr!)

Every evening a power cut is must. All of Gaza plunges into darkness and the terrible noise of generators fills the empty night skies. Women go to the kitchen to finish off some household chores while men go out to sit in nearby cafes to drink coffee and have chit chat with friends and neighbors. The kids, in the meanwhile, try to complete their homework under a gas lamp or play games with their friends from the neighborhood. And if no one is around they go to bed early. Life comes to a standstill and there are not many things to do actually…

So why do power cuts occur in Gaza? Why the 1.5 million people in the Strip go through such misery? What is wrong with the electricity generation and distribution system? The illustration below will give you some idea:

illustration
israeli bombing

Photo - AP

And soon when Gazans are in bed trying to get some sleep, the Israeli jets start scrambling the skies. They create sonic booms and intimidate people by firing missiles at random targets. Gaza’s destroyed International Airport seems to be their prime target. It’s completely in shambles but somehow Israeli air force still uses it as a practice board.

But don’t be in this impression that their activities in the sky are harmless. They drop bombs on densely populated neighborhoods without any warning. It doesn’t matter how many civilians are in the house or around. There is no pretext for the air raids. The Israeli military spokesperson will tell you that a militant hideout was destroyed but that’s not the case. It is the hundreds of civilians who lose their lives in thousands of nighttime raids every year. The enemy calls it ‘collateral damage’…

police raid

Photo - Abid Katib/Getty Images/LIFE

It is not unusual on a morning to find out that some hideout in Gaza was raided and suspected collaborators working with the Zionist army were arrested by the Hamas security forces. Sometimes it is true and spies are caught. But most of the time, it is their opponents that are nabbed. Ones who resist get killed in the shootout.

The ones that are arrested seldom get a chance to free and fair trial. They have no access to a lawyer or any form of legal representation. It can be enough for the people caught under suspicion to be members of Fatah or other political rivals of Hamas and face an outright imprisonment, or in some cases, execution.

This is a matter of serious concern for the international humanitarian organizations. Palestinian law states that any execution of a Palestinian detainee should not be carried out without the approval of the Palestinian Authority’s president. In other words, it must be ratified by the Palestinian Authority (PA). On 31 March, 2010, Amnesty International urged the de facto Hamas government in Gaza not to implement outstanding death sentences. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty and considers it contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Political detention is a crime carried out by both Fatah and Hamas in West Bank and Gaza Strip respectively. On top of these illegal acts, both the parties suppress freedom of expression and speech and do their best to silence the voices of the dissidents. To worsen the already bleak situation comes this extremist Islamic militia called Jundullah that issues threatening messages to ruling Hamas, civil societies in Gaza and humanitarian aid organizations and NGOs. Recently they threatened to sabotage a children’s summer camp run by the UNRWA in Gaza.

What they want is to spread ignorance and backwardness among the Palestinian people through their dark thoughts.

gaza marriage

Photo - Abid Katib/Getty Images/LIFE

This is the moment that my family, along with other families have been waiting for. A good friend of mine is finally getting married after keeping his marital vows on hold for a long time. People across the neighborhood are happy for the new couple and throw a collective feast. Marriages are a costly affair in Gaza and it is very hard to meet the expenses on your own.

But for the people it is a matter of pride and celebration. And they have their own ways of displaying it. Some take care of the catering and hospitality of the guests while others help the bride and the groom with wedding dresses and other furnishings like new home and fixtures in it. This truly reflects the Palestinian spirit of generosity and tenderness and helps them forget their never ending woes for a while.

Kids, too, enjoy the fun, feast and festivities. For them it is the time when they put on their best clothes and display their innocence, joy and frivolity. They run from one place to the other and create such noise which is only second to fireworks. Without them, weddings will be a solemn affair, I’m afraid…

only hope

So my friends, this is a glimpse of life in Gaza. A life very similar to an oil lamp whose flame keeps on getting high and low but extinguishes only when it runs out of fuel. We, the people of Gaza, have seen the bad, worse and the ugly… something that no other people should ever see in their lives. We may be divided at this moment and time due to external designs but it is hope that unites us in this hour of despair and darkness.

We hope to be free one day, we hope to be independent and prosperous one day, we hope to re-write the definition of perseverance one day. The Zionist enemy has tried every evil weapon against us but still we exist and resist. This shall continue till we stand victorious in front of the world. Long live Palestine! Long live Resistance!

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