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Gaza Again Falls Victim to Egypt's Turmoil

Posted: 08/05/2013 1:33 pm

The states devastated by the 2010 Gulf oil spill have rebounded. The New Jersey coast line is advertising "Open for Business" a year after hurricane Sandy's rampage.

Gaza is not so lucky. More than 1.6 million Palestinians living there are still suffering four years after nearly a month of bombings during Operation Cast Lead. By some estimates, only about 40 percent of Gaza housing has been rebuilt and only half its school buildings.

On my trip there in May, I was surprised to find the mood was markedly different from even a few months before. Traffic jams were common because of the prevalence of construction equipment at intersections. People were talking about a boom and you could see evidence of it in restaurants and stores. Optimism was rising that maybe now they had momentum and would recover.

The UN had received permission to import Israeli materials for schools. Qatar was signing contracts for road work that required hundreds of trucks shuttling gravel and cement from Egypt. Another component feeding the economy was the tunnels. There are hundreds of them and they operate day and night to transport food, clothes and even toilets from under the Egyptian border.

But that has abruptly stopped, thanks to the political turmoil in Gaza's neighbor. The impact has been dramatic: fresh vegetables, a staple of summer, have shot up 50 percent in price. The price of cement has skyrocketed from $100 per ton to $250 per ton. By some figures 90 percent of public projects have ceased entirely. That has put thousands of Gazans out of work. Even if they are working, they might not be able to commute. Gas supplies have evaporated, stalling family cars and practically shutting down Gaza's power plant.

Once again a vulnerable Gaza falls victim to instability in neighboring Egypt. After the toppling of President Mohammed Morsi, extra precautions have been taken, including the closure of nearly all the trade tunnels Gazans had built to bring in supplies that filled the gap caused by Israel's six year closure of the area. The border crossing for civilians at Rafah has also been locked down, stranding hundreds of travelers on both sides.

The shock of our 22 staff in Gaza is hard to express. Their family members are stuck in Cairo as they transit from other countries to re-enter Gaza. Students on summer break were trying to get home to see their families after a year of studies.

For others who work in Germany, they only hoped to spend Ramadan with elderly parents for whom this might be the last season. On the Gaza side, the ill who require cancer treatment in Cairo have no time to waste but the gates to Egyptian hospitals are closed just as the gates to Israel are impassable.

The net result is financial ruin, illness, multiplied sadness and even death. But worst of all, Gazan families once again are despairing. The Irish poet W.B. Yeats had a poignant observation ... "too long of a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart".

Gazans are at that point. Jobless parents find that paying more for anything -- from foodstuffs to fuel -- has become a major challenge. The economic hardship is taking its toll on the well-being of Gaza's men, women and children -- from malnutrition to depression and worse. Mental health specialists and even local police now are also deeply concerned about a rise in suicide attempts -- Al Shifa hospital in Gaza estimates as many as 30 per month. Even though suicide is considered unacceptable by Palestinians of any religion, health experts cite rising despair over unemployment, financial troubles and the cumulative effect of years of being confined in tight spaces.

When a Palestinian pollster recently asked youth across Gaza what they want to do when they grow up, their first response was overwhelming: "get out of Gaza." Another strong response was "to die."

Their response underscores how much Gaza's families have suffered year after year with little hope. For their sake, enough is enough. We need to find ways to ensure the lifeline of food and medical relief is not disrupted for families struggling to survive. They deserve at least that, and so much more.

For more than 45 years, ANERA has been a leading provider of development, health, education and employment programs to Palestinian communities and impoverished families throughout the Middle East.

 

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