This week’s guest writer is Anna Johnson, Connecting Peoples Coordinator for MCC Palestine. Originally from Iowa City, Iowa, she studied International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington DC.
During my visit to Gaza in January, the words of a 2012 UN report questioning whether Gaza will be ‘a liveable place’ by 2020 echoed in my mind. The report, which looked at current and projected economic circumstances, population levels, and access to water, education, and health, concluded that “there will be virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline, and the vision of affordable and reliable electricity for all will have become a distant memory.” Looking out the car window and seeing so many children and families, I wondered, “What does a place need in order to be ‘liveable’?”
One morning, we visited families who had received assistance from MCC’s partnership with the Al Najd Development Forum. These families had been displaced during the summer bombing and had not been able to return to their homes due to severe structural damage. The home of Anam and Mahmud Abu Halima lost an entire wall and their family lived in a UN school and then a small tent for seven months before being able to move back into their home after Al Najd’s volunteers replaced the wall, windows, and ceiling. Anam and Mahmud’s eight children crowded into the small room with a new wall and window to express their gratitude for being able to return home, when so many in Gaza continue to be displaced. “Now we feel we are human beings,” Anam told me.
Again I returned to my questions: What is ‘liveable’? Is Gaza ‘liveable’ now, for people like Anam and her family? Was it ‘liveable’ during the 50 days of bombardment last summer?
Based solely on statistics, one might be quick to declare an emphatic “NO” to these questions. We see on the news that hundreds of thousands of children continue to experience the side effects of trauma. We know that international donors have failed to come through on their pledged $5.4 billion for rebuilding Gaza and that thousands of people remain displaced. If anything, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is exponentially worse than it was when the UN report was published three years ago.
Yet, during my two days visiting MCC’s partners in Gaza City and Khan Younis, I was struck again and again by the vivacity and tenacity of life in Gaza. Turns out, some of the funniest and most compassionate people I’ve met live in Gaza. They stubbornly refuse to give in to despair. They do with their three to six hours of electricity each day what many of us fail to do with our limitless supplies of power, water, and other resources. Through their resilience, they embody sumud – Arabic for “steadfastness.”
The question to ask ourselves is not whether Gaza will be ‘liveable’ in 2020; 1.8 million people live in Gaza today, and by 2020 it is expected that 2.13 million people will reside in Gaza’s tiny strip. We owe it to these people, then, to ask ourselves how we can make Gaza ‘liveable’ by 2020. International funds are needed to rebuild Gaza, but even more so, international pressure is needed to end the 7-year blockade on Gaza (which restricts the flow of people and trade, and prevents the delivery of needed medicines, fuel, and building materials, among other things). The UN report states that “herculean” efforts are needed to ensure that Gaza’s residents are able to “exercise and enjoy the full range of human rights to which they are entitled.”
Just as MCC’s partners in Gaza continue to serve their communities with grace and compassion, we must be steadfast in our resolve to see the people of Gaza freed from the devastating constrictions under which they are forced to live.