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Gaza 2020: Why Palestinians need more than a deadline from the UN

Blockaded by Israel, Gaza needs an emergency programme to link it to the outside world
Palestinians wait for permits in Khan Yunis, Gaza to cross into Egypt after the the Rafah border crossing was opened for three days in April 2018 (AFP)

As 2020 approaches, we are just weeks away from the deadline by which the UN has warned the Gaza Strip could become uninhabitable.

The UN and other aid agencies have issued many subsequent reports warning of a humanitarian disaster in this densely populated, isolated enclave. Last year, Michael Lynk, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, noted that with 70 percent youth unemployment, a collapsed healthcare system and widely contaminated drinking water, Gaza was already unfit to live in.

The UN’s warning seven years ago was meant to inspire change, but for Palestinians inside Gaza, our daily realities have only grown grimmer.

Isolated in Gaza

As a direct result of Israel’s blockade on Gaza, the territory has been isolated from the outside world for more than a decade. Despite Israel’s claim that it withdrew from the area in 2005, it is still the main dominating force over Gaza’s people. 

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Israel still surrounds most of the Gaza Strip, and it highly restricts the ability of Palestinians and foreign visitors to leave or enter the territory. Special permission may be granted, but it is rare. Israel also controls what goods enter or leave the territory - everything from construction materials to medical devices. All of this undermines Israel’s claim to have disengaged from Gaza.

The blockade has severely damaged the mental health of Palestinians in Gaza. The territory has long been likened to an open-air prison, where residents are deprived of their basic rights. 

Young people are unable to travel or meet people from different countries and cultures. Most have never been on a plane, train or ship. They have never seen mountains or rivers, visited the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories, or been given the opportunity to pray at al-Aqsa Mosque - one of the holiest sites for Muslims - even though the mosque is located on their land, just around 100 kilometres from the Gaza fence.

Most young people in Gaza cannot find work to support their basic needs, forcing them to accept 15-hour days for just a few dollars of pay. Rampant unemployment has paralysed their ability to secure housing, marriage and stability, which has increased their psychological distress, leading to suicide in some cases.

The sense of desperation gripping youth in Gaza today is a direct consequence of the collective punishment Israel practises against Palestinians. 

palestinians israel naval blockade gaza
Palestinians protest against Israel’s decade-plus naval blockade of Gaza in August 2018 (AFP)

Israel has destroyed Palestinians’ lives over and over again. In 1948, some 750,000 Palestinians were forced into exile; today, around two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s inhabitants are refugees. Israel has massacred the Palestinian population and occupied their lands, and in Gaza, the blockade has shut the door to their futures.

The conditions that Palestinians in Gaza live with daily - including deprivations of food, medicine and employment - have led to a general sense of creeping despair. And Israel wants it this way: it is part of the state’s decades-long strategic plan to eliminate Palestinians. Earlier this year, a government source reportedly acknowledged that Israel was pushing Palestinians to leave Gaza permanently, and that the government was even willing “to arrange transportation” to help them reach other countries.

International pressure

The fundamental problem facing Palestinians in Gaza is a political one, manifested in Israel’s ongoing policies of transfer, occupation and defying international law. We need more international pressure on Israel to end its siege and give Palestinians their right to self-determination. The UN’s warning of how bad things would be by 2020 was clearly not enough.    

Gaza is eagerly awaiting real intervention from the international community, which could open a window of hope and break the territory’s isolation. 

Knowing that we have reached this deadline of 2020 - a time when the international community must acknowledge the dire conditions we are living in - Gaza needs an emergency programme to open a humanitarian route linking it to the outside world, creating jobs, and providing the type of economic opportunities that could finally rescue our youth from despair.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Ahmed Abu Artema
Ahmed Abu Artema is a Palestinian journalist and peace activist. Born in Rafah, in 1984, Abu Artema is a refugee from Al Ramla village. He authored the book "Organized Chaos".