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The Palestinian New Year: a view from Gaza

Gaza resident RANA SHUBAIR asks what 2021 will bring for her people

WITH 2020 coming to a close, the Palestinian people are holding their breath. Will 2021 be a more welcoming one — one that will heal their long-sustained wounds and calamities?

The United Nations stated in a report that by 2020, Gaza would be “uninhabitable.” Has this gloomy prophecy come true for us?  

When I first read that part of the report, I imagined Gaza becoming a ghost town with cracked signs reading “a people once lived here.” 

Would the people of Gaza really become history? It seemed too far-fetched and I didn’t believe the prediction to be true. Then 2020 crept upon us and there we were living in an unlivable place! 

What does this really mean? 

A quick list of the major problems we Palestinians in Gaza suffer from under the blockade include: Israeli attacks, polluted water, electricity outages, food insecurity, a near-collapsing health system, de-development of the economy, restrictions on movement of people and goods, pollution in all its forms, rise in terminal illnesses and mental problems.  

In a recent webinar I took part in talking to people in Canada and the US, the viewers asked me about water, electricity and travel in Gaza. They could barely believe the harsh facts I gave them.

Two million people in Gaza are locked into the world’s biggest open-air prison under a tight air, land, and sea blockade, which has been in effect for 14 years now. 

Not only is their movement in and out of Gaza restricted, but what goes in and out as well. 

Serious illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease account for over 50 per cent of deaths (as per a Ministry of Health report).  

Approximately 90 per cent of the water is undrinkable, the electricity is mostly off, and every now and then, we’re attacked by Israeli warplanes with no safe place to escape to. 

The unemployment rate is 70 per cent and one million of the residents, who have been refugees since 1948, rely on humanitarian relief to get by.    

The water problem is deep and there’s been a spike in waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and typhoid. 

Tap water in Gaza isn’t what it is to people in other countries. I can only use it for washing and bathing. 

Why is it unsafe? Well, over 90 per cent of Gaza’s water is non- potable. 

The aquifer which provides water to the population is polluted by wastewater and made salty by infiltration of seawater making its water unfit for human consumption. 

The alternative for the vast majority is buying desalinated water from unregulated private vendors, and part of which is also contaminated because of the way it’s stored and transferred. Families have huge water tanks on the roofs of their houses which they have to fill. This requires electricity to be pumped to the roof. The electricity isn’t always on and pipeline water comes every other day. 

Israeli’s tight blockade on Gaza Strip coupled with the repeated attacks have done great damage to the power plant generators and basic infrastructure is damaged. 

The fuel that comes in, and is paid for by financial assistance from Qatar, is barely enough to give people electricity for eight hours twice a day. 

This has become the normal schedule which Palestinians are living with and are made to adopt as the norm. When fuel is cut off for any reason, we can get as little as four hours of electricity twice a day. 

These severe power cuts affect every aspect of our lives. Imagine having to wait every month for the humanitarian funding so the people can get the bare necessities of life. The people of Gaza live like a drowning person with their heads barely above the water gasping for air. 

Under Covid, things have only got worse. As an occupying power, Israel has the duty to allow entry of needed medical equipment, supplies, ventilators, medicines and oxygen. However, we find ourselves having to fight just to get these basic human needs. 

Last August when Israel decided to ban entry of fuel and needed funds, the situation on the ground was brimming with premonitions of a military escalation. High-level negotiations brokered by Qatar and Egypt took place just so our humanitarian needs could be delivered and a lull would return.  

As a parent, I’ve been challenged by my own children to answer questions, some of which have no clear answer.

“Mum, do we live in Gaza or Palestine?”
“Why can’t we visit Jerusalem?”
“Why can’t we visit other countries like the ones we see on TV?“
“Why does the electricity keep going off?”

And the most recent from my teenage son, “why should I care about studying at university when I’m not going to find a job after I graduate?”

Like any mother, I try to instill hope in my children despite the grim circumstances that persist. 

I know change may take long, but it breaks my heart to see them dwell on hopelessness. 

I want to see the light in their eyes sparkle with hope and a love for life. 

I teach them that the injustice we live under will end one day and we have to keep shouting and never stop demanding our rights. 

Often they try to make me feel guilty for having lived five years in the US when my father was a student, but I tell them about how I always wanted to come back home because it’s where I belong. I wish for them to travel the world, but in their hearts, I want them to have a place that they can call home. 

In a month or so, New Year celebrations will usher in 2021. It’s not yet known what form they will take this year. 

It’s difficult to foresee if my people will see any tangible change on the ground. Will the international community assume its responsibility and hold Israel accountable for its crimes against a helpless population? 

Will the blockade, a form of collective punishment under international law be lifted? 

What can the world expect from besieged people who are dehumanised and demonised constantly? Will the Palestinians tolerate being Israel’s punching bag? 

I guess in trying to answer the question on the New Year, I’ve only come up with more challenging ones. For the New Year, my wish is to be able to offer my children answers on what their future may look like. 

Despite all this injustice and devastation, one thing my people possess is their dominant will and perseverance. We drive much of our steadfastness from our Faith and our belief in the just call of our demands, and we take solace in that.

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