“And this is how we see our future — to be killed by the conflict, to be killed by the closure (blockade), or to be killed by despair.”
These words, spoken by a 15-year-old boy, describe how the desperate situation in Gaza is destroying the hopes and dreams of Gazan youth. The boy shared this message with Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, and Ki-moon shared it with the UN Security Council on July 12.
Through the months of July and August 2014, a war between Hamas and Israel resulted in massive death and destruction, primarily for Gazans. More than 2100 Palestinians, including 495 children, were killed, as well as 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians. It was the third such war in six years. Two years after the most recent war, Gaza continues to suffer:
- Of 11,000 homes completely destroyed in 2014, only 10 percent have been rebuilt; 75,000 people are still without a home;[*]
- 250 schools were damaged or destroyed and many have not been repaired; 400 schools currently run double shifts as a result;
- Severe electricity and fuel shortages lead to rolling blackouts that can last hours; this seriously hampers pumping systems for water and sanitation;
- 80 percent of the population is dependent on humanitarian assistance for basic necessities;
- Unemployment levels are estimated to be 40 percent or more – among the highest in the world;
- The psychological trauma of successive wars and the stress caused by unemployment have resulted in increased levels of domestic violence and divorce; for children, the impacts are nightmares, bed-wetting, difficulty concentrating and even completing school.
A major reason for the lack of progress in Gaza’s reconstruction is because of the Israeli blockade on Gaza – a blockade on land, sea and air that has been in place for nearly a decade. The blockade has crippled the Gazan economy and isolated the people of Gaza politically and socially. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that “the closure of Gaza suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts.” People frequently refer to Gaza as an open air prison with 1.8 million prisoners.
Israel says that the blockade is needed to limit Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli cities and towns, and to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. But critics say that the blockade actually fuels the rocket attacks and increases insecurity for Israelis; moreover, the blockade constitutes a form of collective punishment and a violation of international law.
A specific impediment to Gaza’s recovery is the restrictions placed by the blockade on the entry of basic building materials such as wood, cement, steel bars. The lifting of these restrictions would go a long way to rebuilding homes, even while a full end to the blockade is critical to a long-term solution for Gaza and for Israel.
MCC has joined the Association of International Aid Agencies in calling for action that will lift the Israeli blockade and specifically the restrictions on building materials. Please join us by viewing this video and signing this petition.
Children constitute half the population of Gaza. Many of them have lived their entire life under the blockade. Please support a future for them.
* MCC’s response to the 2014 crisis included emergency food assistance, the distribution of essential non-food items, and repair of 70 houses that had been damaged but not completely destroyed.
By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.