Five years lost: Case studies looking back at life under the blockade
For the past five years, more than 1.6 million people in Gaza have been sealed in to 140 square miles, and big dreams have nowhere to go.
As dreams for a better life remain frozen, the quality of life has also declined. The blockade has had a disproportionate effect on civilians in Gaza. Severe restrictions on imports and exports have crippled Gaza's economy and people only too willing and able cannot find work. Aid dependency has grown as the private sector has all but shut down. The quality and availability of essential services has also declined under the blockade, and severe obstacles on movement and access prevent many people from traveling abroad to seek health care or education and employment opportunities.
On June 14, 50 aid groups including CARE and the United Nations called for the lifting of the Gaza blockade:
For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: "end the blockade now."
Living under the blockade: Meet the people
Just one kilometer outside the access restricted area known as the buffer zone, Khaleel Zaanin, 45, is irrigating eggplants, peppers, and potatoes on what is left of his land, about 7.5 acres. He owns an additional 37 acres inside the access restricted area that he is not permitted to cultivate. Citing security concerns, the government of Israel unilaterally imposed a buffer zone â or access restricted area â that extends up to 500 meters into Gaza. In practice, Israel restricts access to agricultural land up to 1,000-1,500 meters from the fence, with devastating effects on farmers who can no longer work in their fields. Khaleel's land inside the access restricted area once held 1,500 citrus trees, which the Israeli army cut down in 2007, citing security risks. "I had a great business in citrus, my life was very good. I used to employ 30 workers and export to Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank. Now, I work by myself just planting vegetables for local sale."
Khaleel says that he would like to return to citrus farming, but does not have the money to invest in replanting trees, which take 5 years to mature. He says that unless the situation changes he would be living with the uncertainty of new trees again being cut down. Still, he says he holds out hope that there are better days ahead. "All of us dream of this day where we live with freedom and I think it is still something we can achieve. Everything would be better if the occupation ended. In the past few years our life in Gaza was difficult. In the future I hope my family will be fine."
Siham Abu Qainas
Siham Abu Qainas, 43, is a mother of six living with her family in the Al Berka area in central Gaza. Her neighborhood is not connected to the sewage network, and raw sewage flows openly through the streets. Her house has three improvised cesspits crawling with insects. Every two or three days, she uses buckets to empty the pits, dumping the waste into the street. Her two-month old daughter has a skin infection, which the doctor attributed to her unsanitary surroundings.
An international aid project initiated in 2010 planned to connect Siham's neighborhood to a sewage system, but the construction is stalled. The building contractors are still awaiting permission to bring in equipment for the wastewater pumping station through the Israeli-controlled crossings. The Israeli authorities have not explained the reason for the delays. Meanwhile Siham and her family dream of better days. "All I need is a dignified life for me and my family, but the blockade has destroyed my hope," she said.
Mona Abu Amer
Mona Abu Amer is 6 years old. She lives in Jabalia Refugee Camp in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Born with a congenital heart disease, she is one among 734 patients registered in the Union of Health Care Committees' (UHCC) medical records as a critical patient and hardship case requiring urgent medical support. Mona's mother, Zeinab, has found that the kind of care her daughter needs is just not available in Gaza. UHCC planned to build diagnostic, pediatric and state of the art specialty clinics. Without the necessary construction materials, new medical equipment, or ability to travel for training courses to learn hi tech health services, all they have been able to offer Mona over the years was diapers and milk. "When my daughter was born with this condition six years ago, I was expecting that social services would be available and that the government would help me get her advanced medical care. Six years later, I am hoping we can get the care and support she needs," says Zeinab.
In 2006, 38 year-old Hind Amal opened her own business. The divorced mother of four says the split from her unemployed husband inspired her to think big. "I planned to move forward and take care of myself, be a provider and role model for my children," she explained. With a combination of money she saved by doing odd jobs and taking a small loan from a local women's organization, Hind opened a beauty supply store. For the first year the store was a huge success and Hind was able to pay back her loan and see a profit. After the blockade started in 2007, business started to head downhill as Hind couldn't import the same products and people could not afford to pay retail prices. Determined to stick to her plan, Hind found creative ways to keep her shop afloat. She started making homemade creams and accessories and sold them at a lower price. As one of the only beauty supply stores still open in the Gaza Strip, she was making a profit again in 2008 â only to find a new competitor when the tunnel trade started in 2009. As cheap goods flooded the market, Hind's store lost its appeal and she was again struggling to make ends meet. "If I look back at these past five years I am right back where I started. There has been so much pressure on me to succeed but the situation won't allow it. I'm working so hard to give my kids what they need. I have become a stronger person, a strong woman, but it shouldn't have to be this hard."
"I dream of new clothes. You can't buy good clothes here, everything comes from Egypt through the Rafah tunnels and it's not high quality. I told my father to take me to the beach for the day, but he said there isn't enough fuel for the car. When I got hurt I needed stitches, but the hospital didn't have the stitching thread. What can I do? "
-Bahaa' Ibrahim Abu Khdeer, 10, Al Qarara
"I have a sick brother. He needs to go to Germany for treatment but we can't take him there. My dream is for the Gaza airport to open again, to have open borders so we can travel, and to get treatment for my brother whom I love very much."
-Alaa' Mahmoud Al Najjar, 23, Al Maghazi
"Helping children was one of my biggest dreams in Gaza, along with building new green parks, cultural buildings, and community centers. I hope that I can achieve these dreams or at least I'll keep trying."
-Tawfeaq Abdelwahhab Hamad, 62, East Jabalia
"Success at school, building a new house, participating in artistic exhibitions abroad - any dreams that I have I couldn't achieve because of the situation in Gaza. We want to live like normal people."
-Jineen Hani Abu Isaa, 12, Juhor Al Deek
"My dream is to complete my graduate project, which is a design for recycling and producing gas. But such a project can't be constructed locally because of the blockade on Gaza. So, I stopped dreaming about it and I'm living the reality."
-Ranya Fawzi Al Jamal, 30, Rafah
"As a father responsible for five kids, I wanted to make sure they finished their education and that I helped them with marriage and building homes for them to live in. My dream was to give them a good and decent life. But I couldn't do any of that. I only was able to help pay for one of them to finish college and the rest quit school to work and help us financially."
-Jamal Mohammed Al Za'aneen, 60, Beit Hanoun
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