By: Ahmed Abu Artema
In the heart of June 2023, a somber milestone emerges, casting a shadow over the Gaza Strip—a densely populated enclave subjected to a stringent blockade for the past sixteen years. Imposed by Israel and its allies, this prolonged restriction has transformed the strip into one of the most densely inhabited regions on Earth.
In January 2006, a pivotal chapter unfolded as Hamas emerged victorious in the legislative elections, securing a majority that granted them the opportunity to establish the Palestinian government. However, right from the outset, Israel, the American administration, and neighboring nations hastily aligned themselves with the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, against the newly elected government. This divisive stance exacerbated tensions within Palestinian society, pitting a movement that had earned the majority’s confidence against one that had suffered defeat but garnered substantial financial, political, and military support from the American administration and Israel.
By mid-2007, the mounting tensions reached a critical juncture when Hamas managed to assert control over the Gaza Strip. In the aftermath, the blockade tightened its grip, with its stated objective being the coercion of Hamas into accepting the conditions set forth by the Quartet.
Nevertheless, the ramifications of the blockade extended far beyond its intended target of Hamas, inflicting severe hardships upon the civilian population residing in the Gaza Strip. The restrictions imposed encompassed not only the entry of vital supplies like food, medicine, and construction materials but also paralyzed everyday life within the enclave. Moreover, the blockade constrained the ability of patients in the Gaza Strip to access life-saving medical services in the cities of the West Bank and the occupied Palestinian territories since 1948, leading to the tragic deaths of countless Palestinians who were denied permission to travel through the Beit Hanoun checkpoint.
Disturbing statistics presented by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor in 2023 paint a bleak picture of the dire situation. The deficit in drug stocks stands at a staggering 40%, and there are a mere 1.4 available hospital beds per 1,000 people. In 2022, the unemployment rate soared to an alarming 47%, with a staggering 80% of the Gaza Strip’s population dependent on aid and grants for survival. The poverty rate reached a staggering 61.6% by 2022, while enduring power outages subjected residents to daily blackouts lasting 16 to 12 hours.
These quantifiable figures merely scratch the surface, for the consequences wrought by the blockade extend far beyond numerical measures. The comprehensive economic recession gripping the Gaza Strip stands as a testament to the blockade’s profound impact. In its wake, hundreds of industrial facilities shuttered their doors, intentionally targeted by the Israeli Air Force to stifle the Palestinians’ capacity to revive their production endeavors. Moreover, the Israeli occupation forces exercise full control over the entry and restriction of materials through commercial crossings, exerting a tight grip over the Gaza Strip’s economic lifeline.
The Federation of Trade Unions in the Gaza Strip reports a staggering loss of approximately 160,000 workers and their livelihoods. The paltry daily wages earned by these laborers leave them ill-equipped to endure the harsh realities of the blockade. With an average daily wage equivalent to a mere $3, these meager earnings fail to align with the arduous living conditions and exorbitant prices that pervade the strip.
Amidst the ongoing siege, the Israeli occupation forces unleashed a series of attacks, claiming the lives of thousands of Palestinians, predominantly innocent civilians. These relentless assaults further compounded the burden placed upon the already beleaguered Gaza Strip, reducing countless homes to rubble and exacerbating the region’s desperate state.
The blockade’s enduring presence has deepened the divide, both administrative and political, between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The occupation authorities’ harsh restrictions on freedom of movement have fortified this separation, severing the connections that once bound these Palestinian territories. Consequently, successive generations have come of age, their understanding of pre-blockade life eclipsed, deliberately orchestrated by the Israeli occupation authorities to erode Palestinian identity and sever ties between various segments of the Palestinian people.
Regrettably, the outlook for the foreseeable future appears grim. The population of the Gaza Strip continues to grow steadily, while the available resources remain woefully limited. This cruel reality means that with the passage of time, human suffering only intensifies, painting a distressing portrait of the plight faced by those in the enclave.
Amidst the heartbreaking humanitarian implications, it is crucial to contextualize the blockade of Gaza within its political framework. Significantly, close to two-thirds of the Gaza Strip comprises Palestinian refugees, forcibly displaced from their ancestral villages and towns that now lie within the confines of what is referred to as Israel. Thus, the root cause of the predicament lies in the ongoing Israeli occupation. While Israel claims to have disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it is vital to recognize that, according to international law, the Gaza Strip remains under Israeli occupation. Israel exercises complete control over the enclave’s land, sea, and air ports, as well as its population registry, telecommunications networks, and various facets of daily life and infrastructure. Shockingly, instead of fulfilling its duty to safeguard the civilian population, Israel has inflicted an unparalleled form of collective punishment upon the people of Gaza, flagrantly disregarding international humanitarian law.
Mere repetition of discussions surrounding the Gaza blockade, spanning over sixteen years, should not normalize or accommodate this oppressive reality. Each passing day, as this collective punishment persists, amplifies the suffering endured by the impoverished and the ailing generation whose future hangs in the balance. It is essential to recognize that the blockade is not solely an Israeli endeavor; rather, it is sustained due to the backing of international and regional allies. The silence exhibited by these allies amounts to complicity, as it emboldens Israel to persist in this crime of collective punishment against an entire population. This tacit support sends a clear message that Israel is shielded from consequences and can brazenly violate international law and trample upon human rights without facing deterrent retribution.