Surviving Gaza

IssueApril 2009
Feature by Jenny Linnell

In the wake of so much loss, grief and destruction, it is sometimes difficult to imagine how Gaza will ever recover. This is compounded by the fact that despite Israel’s massive assault officially ending in January, the Israeli military continues to attack the strip almost daily. Most of the international journalists have left and the international community considers the war as being over, but Palestinian civilians are still being killed and injured on a regular basis. Fishermen and farmers have been among the worst affected groups as they strive to feed their families and the population of Gaza.

Israel is creating arbitrary off-shore “no-go” zones – enforced by heavy gunfire and even shelling from Israeli naval vessels. It is unthinkable for fishermen to venture beyond three nautical miles from the Gazan coast, even though Palestinian territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles offshore. The Israeli army has declared an area of Palestinian land a kilometre in from the Green Line a “closed military zone”, effecting an audacious land grab that threatens to swallow a vast swathe of rich agricultural land all the way along the eastern length of the Gaza Strip.

It is deeply shocking that so many devastated families are still not receiving any assistance. Gaza has been under siege for nearly two years now and can aptly be described as the largest open-air prison in the world. There is only a trickle of humanitarian aid entering the strip as Israel’s crippling blockade of Gaza is continues, with restrictions on building materials severely hampering reconstruction efforts.

Approximately 100,000 Palestinians have been left homeless by air missile strikes and shelling, with many families now living in tents on the rubble of their former homes. Astoundingly, there are some families living under the wreckage in cavities created by slanting upper storeys. They forge an existence in defiance of being uprooted from their homes and their land. Many simply have nowhere else to go. Others have been temporarily absorbed by host families in the wider community, creating pressured conditions of overcrowding and often separating family units, with various members staying in different households.

One family

Survivors of the al-Samouni family in the Hai al-Zaytoun district on the edge of Gaza city are attempting to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of a vicious Israeli incursion in early January, during which 47 members of the extended family were massacred and many homes were destroyed, along with orchards and chicken sheds which had provided them with an income. Many of the children witnessed the deaths of parents and, tragically, the deaths of other children – haunting scenes gouging lifelong emotional scars.

On asking Shifa al-Samouni, a young woman who lost both her parents in the attack, how her ten year-old sister, Mona, is coping now, the reply, “She’s OK,” feels at first like an automatic response. However, after a pause Shifa confides, “But she cries in the night because she misses her mum. What can I do? I can’t bring her back.” Every time we visit Mona, this bright, elfish little girl insists on sharing whatever snacks she has with us. Sometimes the simplest things can be humbling beyond words.

The Mokhayam al-Samood kids’ camp in the razed Hai al-Salam neighbourhood in the east of Jabalia offers psychological support for traumatised local children by creating a fun space with games, music and dancing and a nurturing environment in which they can talk through some of their experiences. A Palestinian colleague who runs a children’s centre in the southern Gaza town of Rafah has responded to the crisis by establishing an orphan sponsorship scheme.

Survival as resistance

At times there is a mood of crushing desperation, yet with an underlying spirit of stalwart resilience. These are people who have endured years of occupation and will struggle onwards in the face of adversity. They will survive despite all the odds being against them. In Gaza, merely continuing to exist is a form of resistance. However, their fate is already slipping from the collective memory of the international community, fading from the headlines of fickle corporate media. This manufactured catastrophe must end now so that Palestinians can share the same security which Israel so ceaselessly demands.