In Arabic, the curse “go to Gaza” is synonymous with “go to hell.” Indeed, The Gaza Strip, with its long history of military conflict and economic difficulty, remains in shambles after Israel launched its military offensive Operation Protective Edge in 2014. While the Palestinian territory no longer garners the attention of mass media and news agencies, thousands of refugees displaced there continue to struggle daily with the implications of violent conflict’s bleak aftermath. International organizations like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and international NGOS including World Vision remain operational in the area, supporting Palestinians whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed, but they face countless obstacles as a result of the political standstill in Gaza.
The year is 2016, nearly 70 years after the establishment of Israel incited an Arab-Israeli war and caused the first wave of Palestinian displacement in the region. In this war, residents of villages in what had become Israel were forced to flee the conflict, and many sought refuge at one of 8 camps established in Gaza. From this alone, Gaza’s population rose to nearly 4 times its original. Over the years, numerous other conflicts like the Third Arab-Israeli War and Operation Pillar of Defence contributed to instability in Gaza; the 2014 conflict saw approximately 100,000 homes damaged or destroyed, leaving 75,000 Gazans remaining displaced in 2016. Reconstruction has been maddeningly slow, with UN efforts like the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism impeded by the rigid blockade Israel imposed on Gaza in 2007. Unable to acquire cement to build houses, refugees live in temporary shelters or are completely reliant on camps. In refugee camps, infrastructure deficiencies result in a severe lack of clean water as well as frequent rolling power cuts with durations peaking at 20 hours a day. In turn, chronic electrical deficiencies reduce hospitals’ ability to provide adequate healthcare. Meanwhile, 1.8 million individuals go about their daily routines, hampered by their living conditions and unable to leave.
Many of the current issues in Gaza have been at least partially attributed to Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza. Although it has relaxed its regulations slightly since its initial establishment, the economic crisis it created by limiting trade and restricting movement has made Gaza home to the world’s highest unemployment rates. As such, it is unlikely amelioration of the humanitarian situation will be possible until the political situation is addressed—until then, refugees will depend on agencies like the UNRWA to continue facilitating food distribution and addressing unemployment through its Job Creation Programme. Despite criticism of UNRWA following the discovery of rockets inside its schools, the truth is refugees are reliant on its assistance—it employed 8,937 applicants in the first four months of 2016, and contributed 18.2% to Gaza’s GDP in 2014. Of the Agency, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has stated, “UNRWA was never meant to exist for this long. It exists because of political failure. In the absence of a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees, UNRWA has become more than an Agency. It is a lifeline.” But with continued funding issues and donors withdrawing support, UNRWA is not a sustainable or logical solution to the issue. To see real improvements in Gaza’s situation, the root of the problem must be dealt with.
This article provides a mere sampling of the multitudes of struggles Gazans face as they attempt to forge a life for themselves among the ruins: weddings happen, babies are born, families gather in the darkness of a power outage, victims of violent conflict are remembered. While the Syrian refugee crisis remains fresh in the minds of the West, it’s almost like Gaza has been forgotten. Don’t forget Gaza. It’s time to put pressure on the UN to improve its strategies and decisively address the political issues that are causing mass human rights violations in Gaza, before the next war hits this year or the next and another wave of airstrikes and attacks causes more loss, death and devastation on land already saturated with blood.
This article was written by Jade Carraway, a writer for dusk magazine.