Real stories, real lives – what the Gaza blockade means

The Gaza Strip is a war-ravaged, poverty-stricken area, locked into 365 square kilometers and living under a tight illegal blockade on land, air and sea, which entered its tenth year in June 2016. The blockade, in addition to recurrent armed violence and conflict, today remains the principle causes of the socio-economic and psychosocial crisis in Gaza. The restrictions on movement of people and goods continue to collectively punish the civilian population, affecting every aspect of life in Gaza, undermining the local economy and threatening the enjoyment of most human rights, in clear violation of Israel’s legal obligations under international law. In addition, since restrictions have been imposed by the Egyptian authorities from June 2013 onwards, also the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt remains closed except for a few days per year.

But what does it mean to live under a blockade? During June 2016, UNRWA shares the stories of Jihad, Amjad, Hayam and Salwa and their everyday struggle to make ends meet: Jihad needs to search through the rubble from the devastating 2014 conflict to find steel and stones to sell in the local market; fisherman Amjad often returns from the Gaza sea to his family with empty hands due to the heavy access restrictions that led to the disruption of livelihoods and a dramatic decrease in the fish catch; Hevam and her sick son Ali are desperately waiting for a permit from Israel to leave Gaza and get medical treatment; and for Salwa and her family, running water is just a far off dream.

Their stories are real stories; their lives are real lives – and these are just four out of hundreds of thousands of people living in similar conditions in the Gaza Strip, under restrictions that have reduced access to livelihoods, basic services and housing, disrupted family life, and undermined the people’s hopes for a secure and prosperous future.

Conditions in the Gaza Strip are unsettling and unbearable, and they become worse every single day eroding whatever resilience the people in Gaza still have left. People in Gaza deserve life. The blockade must be lifted, now.

Fisherman Amjad al-Shirafi is preparing his boat at the Gaza seaport. “All I wish is to live my life with my family in dignity and to be able to sail like other fishermen in the world,” he said. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam.

At the main fishing port of Gaza City, Al-Mina, there are dozens of fishermen trying to earn a living to provide for their children under harsh economic conditions. Forty-two-year-old Amjad al-Shirafi, a fisherman from Beach camp in western Gaza City, is a father of six. He owns a boat that he runs with his son, 17-year-old Ismail.

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Jihad Abu Mihaisen, a Palestine refugee woman, collecting stones from rubble to resell as a source of income for her family. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam.

In a metal makeshift shelter in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, lives 48-year-old Jihad Abu Mihaisen, a Palestine refugee, with her husband and two children.

Jihad’s life, like that of all Palestinians living in Gaza, is strongly impacted by the blockade, now in its tenth year. Electricity and fuel shortages, food insecurity, sky-rocketing unemployment rates, extreme water pollution,

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Salwa Abu Nemer: No Water, No Dignified Life

“Sometimes many days pass and we can’t wash the laundry. The children get scabies and lice,” said Salwa Abu Nemer, who lives with her family in a makeshift shelter in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. Salwa’s home, like those of many people in Gaza, is not connected to the municipal water network. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam

Thirty-three-year-old Salwa Abu Nemer, a Palestine refugee woman, and her eight children live in a makeshift shelter in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. The family lives under trying and undignified circumstances. Yet while they don’t have a home or a source of income, Salwa considers the lack of running water as one of her family’s and neighbours’ most serious problems, as it causes disease and sickness, especially for children.

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Restrictions on Freedom of Movement Waiting for a Miracle

Thirty-six-year-old Hayam Farahat holding her son, 6-year-old Ali, in their home in Rafah, southern Gaza. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Tamer Hamam

The blockade on the Gaza Strip has entailed a tight control over all aspects of life since 2007, severely restricting the movement of goods, as well as people. This lack of freedom of movement impacts the Palestinians’ right to enjoy the highest standards of human rights and development, including the right to medical treatment.

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The following speeches were prepared and delivered by school parliament members Mohmed al-Kafarna and Ahmed al-Madhoun during UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Gaza on 28 June 2016. Through their own words, Mohmed and Ahmed explain the challenges they face living in Gaza under blockade.

Ahmed al-Madhoun. © 2016 UNRWA Photo

Mohmed al-Kafarna. © 2016 UNRWA Photo

Mohmed al-Kafarna
15 years old, Central school parliament member, UNRWA

Under all the heavenly religions and man-made laws, every human is entitled to a decent life and his/her basic needs should be fulfilled.

I was born to a modest family based in Gaza who has always been concerned about my future and how they would secure it for me the next day. Let’s remember that we were born innocent in an occupied country. Some of us lose their lives, some get injured, some lose their parents or relatives. Experiencing three devastating wars is enough to understand what is happening here.

Despite all of that, I struggled hard with strong determination to finish my studies and make my dream come true.

Now, I am studying and will continue to do so until I finish university; however, I am really concerned about my future and all the efforts I exerted as I can see the reality Palestinian youth face. I am really worried that I might finish my studies and stay unemployed like thousands of graduates who didn’t find a job that suits their degree or life. Even if some of them find a job, there are still thousands who remain jobless. This kills my dreams, and still, if I had the opportunity to study or work abroad, I wouldn’t be able to exit Gaza because I will find the ‘closed’ sign on the crossings. Unfortunately, this sign tells us: “There is no life in Gaza; go back to the big prison in Gaza where, if so far you weren’t killed by a war, you will die out of a desperate and miserable life.”

Mohmed al-Kafarna. © 2016 UNRWA Photo
Ahmed al-Madhoun. © 2016 UNRWA Photo
Ahmed al-Madhoun
15 years old, Central school parliament member, UNRWA

I will talk about the suffering of the Palestinian people – of men, women and children who are deprived of their basic rights to a decent life as every human in the world aspires to. We in Gaza city know nothing but loss, poverty and deprivation, and we live under the lowest social and economic conditions. We only want our right of a decent life, just like other nations of the world, and we also realize that this is just a dream we have. We, the children of Gaza, have experienced three consecutive wars, one after the other causing more siege and destruction and suffocation for the Palestinian people. These wars also had a grave impact on the children’s and women’s well-being, depriving them of a decent life. The closure of crossings is another major cause of our suffering.

We are living in a big prison; we don’t know when we will be free. There are many patients who are in desperate need to travel for medical treatment; there are also students who need to travel to pursue their education. The closure of the crossings has frustrated and eliminated their hope of a better life. We, the people of Gaza, lack one of the basics of life which is electricity, and everybody, young and old, suffers from that. Imagine living one day with the power out, and this describes the least about our life in Gaza. After tons of houses were demolished during the last wars, they are still denying the entry of raw materials to reconstruct these houses. Why are we living this life? Why don’t we live a happy life void of wars, bombardment and destruction?