Stop Gaza Blokade Campaign

Stop Gaza Blockade Campaign

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Why Gaza won’t be crushed

Hamza Abu Eltarabesh The Electronic Intifada

Everyone was exhausted during the summer of 2014.

I was working for the al-Resala newspaper as Israel bombarded Gaza. We documented one massacre after another.

Many of my colleagues felt they could not continue with their work. Many asked to end their contracts.

We had no desire to eat. When we slept, it seemed that our main goal was to escape reality.

But there was no escape.

Our worst shock came on 4 August that year. Khaled Tuayma, then a staff photographer with al-Resala, heard then that his brother Izz had been killed.

Izz was 19 and a fighter with the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas. He was killed when Israel fired a missile at him in Jabaliya refugee camp.

We tried to comfort Khaled as soon as the horrible news broke. He was speechless.

After around 30 minutes, he left his gear and went to sit in a far corner of the office.

There, he wept. Most of us also started crying.

It was too dangerous to leave the office at that time. Night had fallen and Israel was bombing Gaza under the cover of darkness.

So we waited until the next morning before accompanying Khaled, as he traveled to Kamal Adwan hospital, where his brother’s body had been brought.

Four of us traveled with Khaled to the hospital. Izz was buried hastily in the Beit Lahiya area of Gaza.

It wasn’t possible to arrange a proper funeral.

Once the burial had taken place, we left Khaled and his family and returned to the al-Resala offices. It felt like there was a negative energy in the whole building.

Two hours later, the doors burst open. Khaled marched in and shouted: “We have to honor our martyrs’ blood. Keep working. If you stop working, you are traitors to the cause.”

Turning point

That moment was a turning point for us all.

We promised to keep going. Israel would not defeat us.

I have remained in close contact with Khaled, who now works on a freelance basis.

Khaled called me when Israel began yet another major offensive against Gaza in May this year.

He proposed that we team up on a documentary. Without hesitation, I agreed.

We were in touch again over the next couple of days. And then Khaled could not be reached.

His father-in-law Basim Issa was killed. Issa was the Qassam Brigades’ commander in Gaza City.

A few days later, I managed to speak with Khaled once more. Khaled told me that he wanted to continue with the documentary but that he and his wife needed a break first.

Israel’s May attack lasted 11 days. Soon after the ceasefire was called, Khaled came around to my home.

His visit took me by surprise.

Khaled informed me that he had drafted a script for the documentary. It would focus on children that Israel had killed in May.

“You have to help me with this film,” Khaled said.

I thought about how Khaled had suffered two bereavements because of Israel’s aggression towards Palestinians.

Both were horrific but the second one must have been more complicated. Khaled and his wife – he got married in 2017 – now had to take care of two children.

Yet – just as he had been in 2014 – Khaled managed to remain strong.

“When my brother was killed, it was my duty to stand by him and my family,” Khaled said. “I remember that my mom asked me to go back to work after we buried my brother. My wife is now grieving for her father. Three days after he was killed, she asked me to go back to work.”

“Back to square one”

Alaa al-Shamali is another Palestinian who endured great losses in two Israeli attacks.

In July 2014, Israel carried out a massacre in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City.

Alaa’s home was destroyed by Israeli forces as they laid waste to the neighborhood. He and his family lived in a building, along with four other families.

The building had “been passed down from generation to generation,” he said. “It was my grandfather’s for more than 60 years.”

Now all that remains of the building is the family’s memories.

“It was agony to see my mother, my kids, my sisters and my wife running in the street,” Alaa said. “I felt like I was in a nightmare.”

Two years after that attack, Alaa bought an apartment near Yarmouk football stadium in Gaza City. He tried his best to resume his life but has not been spared from further Israeli violence.

Alaa works as a sports journalist with the Felesteen newspaper. Its offices and those of other media outlets were destroyed in May this year, when Israel bombed the al-Jawhara building.

Four days later, Alaa was taken aback to see people evacuating the area where he lived near Yarmouk stadium. He and his wife Muna hurriedly gathered their five children and ran into the street.

They left the building where the apartment is located just in the nick of time. After 15 minutes, the entire building was leveled in an Israeli airstrike.

Alaa’s daughter, Dima, was 5 when the family’s home was attacked in 2014.

“I still remember the smell of explosives,” she said. “Everyone was crying. I was crying because my toys were destroyed.”

In May this year, Dima had to carry her sister Lina, 2, to safety. “What happened to me seven years ago has now happened to my little sister,” said Dima. “They have targeted my toys and memories twice. I feel like I am 40, not a kid.”

“At times of war, we get older,” her father, Alaa, said. “Now we are back to square one. We are suffering and displaced again.”

Yet Alaa has already proven that he can move beyond “square one.”

Despite losing everything, he insisted on completing his dissertation for a master’s degree in journalism. He graduated from the Islamic University of Gaza in July.

Alaa is one of many people in Gaza who have displayed great resilience when faced with Israel’s state violence. He is a living testament to why Gaza will not be crushed.

Hamza Abu Eltarabesh is a journalist based in Gaza.

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Israel blockade on Gaza caused 3,000 cancer deaths April 8, 2022 Published in: Israel, Middle East, News, Palestine

Female cancer patients in the Gaza Strip go on hunger strike in protest of an Israeli decision not to allow them to travel through the Erez crossing to seek medical care in Israel [Mohammed Asad/Midle East Monitor]

The Palestinian Ministry of Health in the besieged Gaza Strip said the Israeli blockade on the enclave has led to the death of 3,000 cancer patients.

“The ministry is making a great effort to … address the environmental factors that cause many diseases resulting from pollution, such as cancer, respiratory diseases and strokes,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that it is also working to mitigate the impact of the blockade on treatment.

Yesterday, to mark World Health Day, the ministry launched a global appeal to enhance health and environmental factors in Gaza, and develop health services provided to patients, especially those battling cancer and blood diseases.

“The Israeli occupation and its continuous siege of more than 15 years have turned the Gaza Strip into a geographic spot infected with the causes of environmental pollution, and put many challenges ahead of the health system,” it added.

According to the statement, Israel deprives patients of 47 per cent of essential medicines, 21 per cent of medical consumables, and 60 per cent of laboratory supplies. “Forty per cent of patients were denied permission to leave the Gaza Strip for treatment, which caused the death of hundreds of them during the 15 years of siege,” the statement continued.

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Medication crisis in Gaza amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Over the past year, MAP has been responding to deepening crises across all three areas in which we work: Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. As MAP’s West Bank Director, I see the chronic shortages of basic necessities that these emergencies cause daily. I also see the devastating knock-on effect it has on the health and dignity of every Palestinian.

Essential medicines, nutritional support and medical supplies are desperately needed across the occupied Palestinian territory and refugee camps in Lebanon. So much so, that we are seeing children, mothers and families at risk, skipping meals and going without medicines. We urgently need to keep up our lifesaving work responding to emergencies.

In Gaza, food and medicines are becoming increasingly inaccessible. Even the most basic items. From talking with my colleagues in Gaza, I know that the damage sustained during Israel’s military offensive last May was enormous. After a fourth wave of COVID-19, with more services and supplies depleted, they tell me the health system continues to teeter on the brink of collapse. Medical staff in Gaza’s hospitals and clinics, describe the situation as being like a pressure cooker where they are having to work at their lowest capacity to try and meet the highest demand.

Please consider making a donation today and enable us to respond to this dire situation, and provide food packages and medicines to families and healthcare workers that depend on them.

Your donation could help replenish stocks of essential medicines and disposables needed to treat vulnerable babies in Gaza’s neonatal units. You could help supply the malnutrition clinic with high nutrient biscuits, food packages and vitamin bundles for families who need them. If you can, please give a gift today. For those of you who are looking to donate your Zakat during Ramadan, our appeal is eligible for your Zakat. Thank you.

https://www.map.org.uk/donate/donation-details/413?btn=2

With warm regards,

Aisha Mansour
West Bank Director, Medical Aid for Palestinians

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PALESTINE LAND DAY 30 -03-22

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Palestinians commemorate Palestinian Land Gay in Gaza

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Stop Gaza Blockade Campaign

2022 marks the 15thth year of a full blockade of the Gaza strip by Israel.
2.3 million Palestinian people live in the world’s largest open-air prison deprived of basic human rights. The blockade, applied systematically with intention, forms an integral part of the Apartheid policy that fragments the historic Palestine and dominates its people.

The blockade denies passage of people and goods into and out of Gaza, making it totally isolated and invisible from the rest of the world. The world becomes aware about Gaza only when it is under heavy military attacks – 4 times in the last 15 years.

The blockade is a daily ongoing silent violence and impacts every aspect of life. Although people of Gaza are known for their extraordinary resilience, 15 years of inhuman blockade brought them to a breaking point. Urgent action is needed.

The aim of this campaign is to

  •   Highlight the urgent need for a political solution
  •   Demand the immediate and unconditional lifting of the blockade
  •   Support the Palestinian unityWe extend our hand to Palestinians in their efforts for self-determination, freedom and dignity.

 

Read the demands in ECCP position paper

Download ECCP tools for action on social media

Campaign pages on the social networks

There is no Palestine without Gaza and there is no livable Gaza with the continuation of the blockade
(Leaflet text prepared for the 30 March action in Genoa, Italy)

Gaza has been a focal point of the attacks by Israel through a continual blockade extremely intense for 15 years.

The blockade caused severe de-development, suffering and lack of essentials for life for the people of Gaza: safe water, medicines and medical care, right of movement and trade.
It also prohibited the use of natural resources of land and fishing area and self-supporting manufacturer and industrial productions.

The blockade aggravates the denial of the rights to self determination of the people, already inhibited by the 54 years of occupation of Palestine.

The blockade made impossible the contiguity between Palestinians and promoted outwards the false idea that Gaza is a separate issue, while rather it is the outcome of a severe form of the same apartheid imposed on the whole of the colonized lands.

To bring to the forefront the dire situation of Gaza, the relationship between Gaza and Palestine and the systematic oppression of Palestinians, is the reason why we call for immediate and unconditional stop of the Gaza blockade, as an urgent and essential step for the freedom of Palestine.

Join to campaign ‘freedom for Gaza’ NOW

This campaign is an initiative of ECCPwww.eccpalestine.org

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interview with the director of Palestinian Medical relief society in Gaz

Glimpses of Hope? An Interview on Access to Health in Gaza

Image for Mohamed Reefi

 

 To read the paper as PDF click here

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of the global health system. The below interview focuses on access to health in the Gaza Strip as part of a fragmented and already fragile Palestinian health system. Due to the political reality of the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian national division, the responsibility of the Palestinian health system in Gaza falls under multiple actors: Israel as the occupying power, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the de-facto authority, Hamas, in the Gaza Strip. Considering the impact of the military confrontations in May 2021 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to look at access to health in the Gaza Strip and how the health sector managed to cope with military attacks and COVID-19.

Duha Almusaddar, programme manager at the RLS Regional Office for Palestine and Jordan in Gaza, spoke with Dr. Ayed Yaghi, the Director of the Gaza Branch  at the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) on issues about access to health in Gaza strip.

About the Interviewee:

Dr. Ayed Yaghi started working in the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) in Gaza in 2003 and is now the Director of the Gaza Branch. Dr. Yaghi worked as a urologist from 1994-2003. In 2008, he received a master’s in Public Health (Management) from Al-Quds University.

 

Please share with us your general assessment of the health situation in the Gaza Strip.

I would first like to stress that health is an essential basic human right. Health is not just about being free from diseases; it also entails living in an environment that is safe, healthy and with good mental health. Without a doubt, basic rights for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are infringed due to the Israeli occupation. As per international laws and the Geneva Convention, the Gaza Strip – despite the withdrawal and re-distribution plan of 2005 – still under Israeli Occupation. Israeli authorities control all the main crossings (air, land, and sea space) of the Gaza Strip. Thus, the primary responsibility for ensuring access to good quality health lies with Israel.

Within the Gaza Strip, there are key providers that form the health system – the first and main of which lies within the Palestinian Authority (ministries of health and military medical services). The second provider is the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which in accordance with its mandate provides services to Palestinian refugees. Seeing that Gaza’s population is estimated to be around 70% refugees, UNRWA only provides primary health services, while civil society organizations provide primary, secondary, and third-level healthcare services[1]. There are few private sector services consisting of specialized centers, pharmacies, laboratories, and small hospitals that also provide some basic operations, but the private sector is generally weak due to the economic situation shaped by poverty and unemployment.

By and large, the health services in the Gaza Strip are affected by three factors: The first is the Israeli occupation and siege imposed on the area. The second is the Palestinian political division since 2007, which negatively impacts the provision of health services due to the existence of two ministries/authorities, one in Ramallah and one in Gaza, whose relations often conflict. The third factor is the decline in funding (whether for public/government or civil facilities) due to the global economic crisis, the political division, and the presence of Hamas in Gaza.

How do socio-economic factors and the political split impact people’s ability to access healthcare?

A key factor is the unemployment rate[2] among graduates, especially those from health faculties. Many graduates have been unemployed for many years and cannot participate in the labor market. This increased the numbers of patient visits to health centers and clinics, as well as delays in operations or any medical interventions. The other factor is poverty, which is estimated to be around 52% in Gaza, and where almost 80% of families rely on aid. Poverty obviously impacts the health situation as it limits access to basic needs (such as hygiene and food), as well as to health services (conducting tests, getting medications, or carrying out operations on time). Poverty is also linked with diseases such as anemia and malnutrition. On another note, awareness and education levels are also critical for health, as poor communities with limited awareness and education are less likely to seek medical consultation despite being in greatest need for medical treatment. All this is especially challenging when estimates suggest that Palestinians contribute 40% of their income towards health; an extremely high percentage in comparison to other countries.

What about the health capacities in terms of hospitals, medical supplies, number of doctors and other indicators?

The hospitals’ rate per 100,000 of the Gaza Strip population is 1.7, while the bed rate per 10,000 of the population is 12.4[3]. Although these rate are sufficient, yet they are not invested correctly to ensure that there are enough beds for the population. There is also a shortage of medical staff. Health workers, especially within the health ministry, are heavily burdened. In 2007, all healthcare workers were receiving salaries from the government in Ramallah. Today, around 4000 medical staff receive salaries from the government in Ramallah (as the others have retired, emigrated, left the services, or passed away). It is worth noting that doctors’ salaries in Ramallah are three times more than those in Gaza, while those appointed by the Hamas government do not receive salaries but only honorarium fees.

Not only is it essential for health workers to receive their basic right of pay, but they should also receive capacity development (whether nationally, regionally, or abroad). However, this is almost nonexistent due to the siege. Health workers in the Gaza Strip are likely to be over-worked, which is understandable since the area is prone to attacks, as witnessed through direct military escalations and during protests along the separation barrier and the Great March of Return (GMOR). In these circumstances, the medical staff were fully exhausted while they put their lives in danger without protection. Additionally, the insufficient number of staff to cover various departments has increased the burdens. This is one of the reasons that government facilities rely on volunteers or temporary contracts – all of which affects the quality of work.

Clearly, the siege and political division heavily impact health services in the Gaza Strip. This has forced health service providers like CSOs to widen their services, establish additional health centers and mobile clinics, as well as implement new programs to cover the deficit in services. They also had to increase their staff in response to the needs of the population. For example, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) increased its staff of 70 (in 2007) to 200 (today), and UNRWA has increased its services, developed its facilities, and absorbed a greater number of workers.

How does the division of labor work between the above-mentioned agencies operating in the health sector? Are there clear policies (with division and occupation) regarding the health sector in Gaza?

In essence, the health of Palestinians is mainly the responsibility of Israel (as the occupying power). As per the Palestinian basic law and public health law, the ministry of health (MOH) is the authorial and key health provider for Palestinians in the occupied territories. However, the law has not addressed the existence of two ministries, which is reflected adversely on the provision of services such as equipping health centers and hospitals with the needed medications and health staff. These circumstances, plus the increase of the population, create a need for hiring considerably more staff, from administrative to medical professionals.

Although the Hamas government has hired some of the needed staff, yet many of them lack the required expertise and skills. Moreover, being under siege prevented most health professionals from participating in trainings and exchanges to get updated about developments in the field. The online option, although available, is not adequate to advance the health system, and while another alternative is to conduct surgeries and trainings via medical delegations from abroad, this still is not sufficient.

The lack of a centralized government has also negatively affected health policies. After all, due to the split between governments, major health-related decisions have been enforced in Ramallah and not in Gaza, or the other way around. This issue was observed in the COVID-19 strategy, seeing that the quarantine period in Ramallah lasted for 14 days and later 10 days, whereas in Gaza it lasted for 21 days.

Another key health policy affecting a wide range of the population is the Palestinian government insurance. Currently, the mandatory health insurance system (government insurance) deducts part of the salary of government employees (both PA and Hamas) to cover their health insurance. The government also covers the insurance of workers for a small fee. Those registered in the Ministry of Social Affairs and receive welfare support, are covered by the government health insurance for free. Specific cases, like those injured during the first and second intifadas, the GMOR, and other casualties due to Israeli aggressions, are also covered. Furthermore, special patients of thalassemia, cancer, and kidney dialysis are eligible for free healthcare – even if they do not have health insurance and regardless of class. These regulations have been in place since 2000, but it has become noticeable in Gaza that not all treatments were being granted due to lack of medications and tests, and because of the overall weakness in regulating the health sector. After pressure and advocacy of civil actors, the rights of patients (like with Thalassemia) were eventually restored and managed to access free healthcare services at government facilities. However, some of the required services (such as a CT or MRI) could be unavailable, broken, or put on a long waiting list, thus requiring patients to resort to civil society services.

Although patients should only pay a symbolic contribution for health insurance services, yet it has been noticed in the past few years that the amount of these contributions in the Gaza Strip has increased, largely affecting those relying on welfare or with limited income. The fact that not everyone can afford this amount, which should be covered by insurance, further violates the right to health access. Moreover, people with disabilities (PWD) being a significant part of the society, should – by law – receive free services from the MOH, yet they have not been receiving the required rehabilitation services in the last few years. A recent Memorandum of Understanding was brought forth between the ministry of social affairs and  the ministry of health to ensure that PWD will receive the needed services, and we hope it is enforced.

In addition to the horrid impact of the Israeli siege, the political division also stands in the way of access to healthcare among Palestinians. Oftentimes, the MOH in Gaza refrains from spending on health services on the premise that this is the responsibility of the MOH in Ramallah, and vice versa. With each government laying the responsibility on the other and stating the lack of funding as another reason, there is a chronic shortage of medications that is between 30 to 50%.

Adding to this complexity is the Occupation, which is not only present in the military sense but also in its direct control. In this respect, the Paris Agreement authorizes Israel to collect and deduct taxes off of the PA. In withholding tax money as a way by which to pressure the PA, the Israeli policies create a deficit for the PA, which in turn uses this as another reason to justify not sending medications.

Essentially, health personnel are the first element for providing services, yet their rights are infringed for several reasons (such as lack of adequate compensation for their work, mental state, development capacity, not to mention injuries, arrests, and deaths by the Israeli army). The fact that health providers are not protected largely influences the provision of good quality health services. Another important issue is the absence of strong medical unions, which is also linked with the political division and laws that deter and undermine union work including doctors and nurses.

What are the impacts of the siege on Gaza concerning the provision of health services?

Israel has the dual use items system, whereby it lists thousands of items that are prevented from entry. Such items that are forbidden entry include thermometers (due to containing mercury), radiation devices, and oxygen cylinders. While, CT and MRI devices are delayed for six to nine months.

As for permits, Israel has specific criteria to be allowed to exit the Erez crossing. These permits are restricted to humanitarian cases for patients in need of urgent medical interventions that are not available in Gaza (i.e., cancer cases) or that require ambulance transport and special coordination. However, not all such cases are allowed to exit due to security rejection. Meanwhile, health workers are seemingly eligible to exit Gaza to participate in training or workshops, yet this is rarely applicable.

The Israeli military control over patients’ movement and their prevention from receiving treatment on time denies the basic right to health access. Patients in need of examinations or operations have to wait for weeks to get security clearance, and many patients (or their companions) are denied to exit. They could also be returned from the crossing, detained/arrested, or blackmailed. It is worth noting that the approval rate for permits is low, while some approved cases still get prevented to exit. Out of the 1,136 patient applications submitted to cross Beit Hanoun/Erez in July, only 839 were approved[4].

Furthermore, medical supplies and materials are also delayed or banned from entering. On this note, cancer medication is usually unavailable in Gaza – not only due to the siege but also due to lack of funding, yet the military occupation’s dual use policy is what prevents the creation of radiation centers and entry of PET scans for cancer detection.

Electricity has also had a great impact on medical services in the past years. The continuous power cuts are so burdensome that the average power supply in Gaza, today, is 8 hours per day (at some point it was 4 hours a day). This inconsistency of power supplies has clear repercussions on hospitals that have to dedicate heavy budgets for maintaining and supplying expensive generators that they reply on, as well as to preserve and replace medical equipment (like the CT and MRI).

Another critical issue is the water. 97% of the water in the Gaza Strip is unsuitable for drinking and human use. The fact that the sewage system also relies on the availability of power and gas supply would cause water contamination, and this evidently increases the risks to health.

What new challenges do COVID-19 and military aggression pose to health access?

COVID-19 impacted the global health system, and we saw advanced health systems struggling to cope with the pandemic. One of the ironic advantages of the Israeli siege is that it may have delayed the Coronavirus from reaching the Gaza Strip, thus giving health workers the chance to train the staff and learn from the experiences of others. To respond to COVID-19, additional personnel, protective gear, and services such as PCR tests were needed, all of which require increased financial capacities.

Eventually, COVID-19 arrived in Gaza in August 2020 to an already vulnerable health system amid occupation, siege, GMOR, and without resources. Despite the human and financial burden, the health system in Gaza was able to respond to these needs. We did not have a crisis as seen in other countries. This was possible due to learning from other’s experiences, support, cooperation, and coordination of all health service providers. This was in addition to government measures taken – such as lockdowns, quarantines, and community awareness campaigns implemented from March 2020 to August 2020. We were concerned that the situation would be much worse, but all these measures and precautions contributed to contain the pandemic.

As for the vaccines, Israel is the one responsible for the health of Palestinians, especially during pandemics. Accordingly, it helped the PA with the testing, yet it had a negative role in the vaccination process. Israel began vaccinating a large number of its population (starting at the end of Dec 2020), but it did not consider vaccinating the Palestinians under its occupation, let alone the Palestinian prisoners – even though it is its responsibility under international law. After intensive campaigns, it finally allowed prisoners to receive vaccination, and we later heard about Palestinian/Israeli cooperation over the vaccination.

In our defense of the right to health for all, we believe that the PA should continue to uphold Israel its legal obligation and duty to provide vaccination for Palestinians, and not to resort to background contracts with companies. The disparity is evident in how 100% of the Israeli population has already been vaccinated, and the third vaccination shot vaccination commenced, whereas in Gaza only 26% are vaccinated (and not fully). This is not to mention the dubious vaccination agreements (as the one discovered in June 2021 wherein expired vaccinations were to be sent from the Israelis to the PA).

The Israeli military attack in May 2021 was an additional burden to the already-challenged health sector in Gaza (due to COVID-19, regular patients, previous injuries from the GMOR and Israeli aggressions, and the shortage of medications and staff). The military escalation in May caused around 2000 casualties , damaged 30 health facilities and roads leading to health centers[5]. After the end of the aggression, the health system was severely affected as Israel closed the crossings for over two and half months, thus restricting patient movement and the entry of medications, medical supplies and some equipment. The PMRS, for example, has been waiting since May for the entry of an Echocardiogram, which is not available in Gaza.

What emerging action/recommendation is required to improve access to good quality health?

The main recommendations relate to the factors that affect the right to health in Gaza. First is ending the Israeli occupation over the Palestinian territories and lifting the siege so that Palestinians can enjoy their right to health. The second is ending the Palestinian division, introducing new laws, updating the public health law (introduced in 2004), and organizing health services. The PLC in Gaza had previously discussed some laws such as organ transplantation, smoking, and profession regulations – all of which are needed, but the political split affected the ability to issue such laws and regulations. It is vital to update and improve the health insurance system. Lastly, it is critical to increase funding for health services in the Gaza Strip.

* Do you see glimpses of hope when you observe the health situation in Gaza?

So far, no, because hope is conditioned upon political change. Our problem is political: It stems from the Israeli occupation. We welcome any intervention that will improve the Gaza Strip’s health and humanitarian conditions, but not at the expense of the political issues. We find that all these solutions are temporary and will not end the main problem. Our problem will only be solved when we are freed from the Occupation; Only then can we enjoy good health.


[1] Level I provides: Preventive services (mother and child health care, immunization, and health education), and curative services (first aid). Level II provides: Preventive services (mother and child health care, immunization, and health education) and curative services (GP medical care, and, in some clinics, laboratory. Level III provides: Preventive services (mother and child health care, immunization, family planning, and health education) and curative services (GP medical care, dental health care, medical specialist laboratory and some specialized clinics).

[2] Reliefweb., Gaza unemployment rate in the second quarter of 2020: 49.1%., 2020., https://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/gaza-unemployment-rate-second-quarter-2020-491

[3] Health Annual Report, Palestine 2020, State of Palestine Ministry of Health, pp. 23. http://site.moh.ps/Content/Books/mv2fIO4XVF1TbERz9cwytaKoWKAsRfslLobNuOmj7OPSAJOw2FvOCI_DQYaIXdf2i8gCmPHbCsav29dIHqW26gZu9qJDiW2QsifZt6FrdS4H2.pdf

[4]WHO., Health Access, Monthly Report., 2021.,  http://www.emro.who.int/images/stories/palestine/July_2021_Monthly.pdf?ua=1

[5] Health Cluster Occupied Palestinian Territory., 2021., https://healthclusteropt.org/admin/file_manager/uploads/files/shares/Documents/60a7b8680e887.pdf ;             OCHA., Protection of Civilians Report., 2021., https://www.ochaopt.org/poc/24-31-may-2021

 

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Delays to EU aid mean Gaza’s poor get jailed for debt

Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, a senior EU diplomat, has blamed internal procedures for holding up aid payments on which Palestinians depend.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Life is hard for Muhammad.

“We have to make the bread we eat last as long as possible,” the father of five said. “We try to make sure that it doesn’t rot. Sometimes we have to moisten it with a little water.”

A resident of Beach refugee camp in Gaza City, Muhammad has not been able to pay electricity or water bills for many years.

“I cannot pay the money I owe to the supermarket,” he stated. “So I avoid walking past it.”

Muhammad was imprisoned twice during 2021.

In April, he was locked up for three days, then for six weeks beginning in October. On both occasions, court orders were issued for his arrest over unpaid debts.

Muhammad had borrowed money from someone he had worked with in the past. He needed the money to buy food, clothes and school stationery for his children.

The lender insisted that Muhammad pay back the money in full.

Under a 2005 law, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza may be imprisoned for up to 91 days per year if they do not repay debts.

Approximately 116,000 families in Gaza had until the recent past received welfare allowances from the social development ministry of the Palestinian Authority. Around 80,000 of those families were deemed to urgently need financial assistance.

Muhammad and his family are among those who depend on these allowances. While the benefits had previously been transferred to recipients every three months, no payments have now been made for almost a year.

“Shattered hopes”

The allowances are mainly financed through a $165 million annual grant from the European Union. The EU did not hand over the full amount of that grant to the PA in 2021.

Aziza al-Kahlout, a spokesperson for the PA’s social development ministry, said the EU’s delays had “shattered the hopes” of the people hoping to receive the allowances last year.

Asked for a comment, the European Commission – the EU’s executive – said its “internal adoption procedure” on aid to the PA for 2021 “is still being finalized, so we are not going into more details at this stage.”

In November, the EU transferred around $17 million to the PA.

That was the first “budget support contribution” handed over last year, according to a statement issued by Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, the EU’s representative for the West Bank and Gaza, at the time. The statement blamed the delay on “lengthy administrative processes.”

While the EU’s bureaucrats offer unconvincing excuses, their delays cause real suffering for Palestinians.

Ahmad and Jamil are two brothers living in Gaza City affected by these delays.

Both work as porters in the Sheikh Radwan market for a few days each month. They have been unable to find steadier jobs for around six years now.

The welfare allowances from the PA have proven essential to the two men and their families. “These checks are like oxygen for us,” Jamil said.

After he and Ahmad were unable to pay grocery bills, two shop owners began proceedings against them.

“Stigma”

Ahmad was imprisoned in December last year and held for 20 days.

He is worried about the long-term consequences of his imprisonment for his family.

“There is a stigma attached to having police arriving at your home,” he said. “If my sons’ friends see the police coming to arrest me, they will think I am a thief or some other type of criminal. That is what they learn at school. They do not know that people can go to jail for being poor.”

His brother Jamil was jailed in September for 15 days. Two further court orders have been issued against him since then and he could be arrested at any time.

Most days Jamil leaves his home early in the morning so that the police will not be able to find him if they call around.

“I move between the homes of my friends,” he said. “I fear that I will be sent back to jail.”

Ziad Thabet heads the Judicial Inspection Department – a body overseeing courts – in Gaza. He noted that tens of thousands of court orders are issued over unpaid debts per year.

“But only 10 percent of those orders are implemented,” he said. “Opportunities are given to pay back the debts at a later stage. And judges try to find amicable solutions [between lenders and people in debt].”

He acknowledged that the people imprisoned for debt in Gaza are often those who are poor or with modest resources.

“Some people are jailed for debts of up to $1,000,” he said. “Or $500. Or even less. Many people have lost their jobs due to the Israeli siege on Gaza and the recent Israeli war [of May 2021]. Some of them borrow in the hope they will find a new job and then repay. But conditions are getting worse in Gaza.”

The law allowing imprisonment over unpaid debts clearly hurts the poor most in a situation where levels of economic hardship are extremely high due to a complete Israeli blockade that has lasted more than 15 years.

“On a diet”

Unemployment in Gaza stood at 45 percent during the last three months of 2021, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

Having work does not always allow people to escape poverty. More than 80 percent of workers in Gaza receive less than a minimum wage worth around $200 per month.

As if things were not bad enough, social problems have been exacerbated lately by rising prices for food and drink.

During February, the price of fresh chicken rose by almost 7 percent in the West Bank and Gaza compared to the same month last year. Prices of fresh vegetables and eggs rose by more than 2 percent, while the price of soft drinks rose by 3 percent.

The senior Israeli strategist Dov Weissglas famously claimed that the reason for blockading Gaza was to put its inhabitants “on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.”

The cruelty he recommended has indeed been realized. Out of economic necessity, Gaza’s poor eat less varied diets than previously.

Mariam Daher lives in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City. She prepares meals for 10 members of her extended family based on items she receives in aid packages from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.

Her dishes usually consist of bread, rice, onions, milk and sometimes eggs. She has not cooked meat for her family in two years.

“A lot of meals have changed,” she said. “Even our breakfasts. We miss being able to have cheese, herbs and [cooking] oil in the morning. There are no jobs at the moment and the wages are low. So we can’t afford to buy basic types of food. We keep an eye on the prices of vegetables in the markets so that we can buy the cheapest ones and only cook [a substantial meal] once a week.”

Ola Mousa is an artist and writer from Gaza.

Additional reporting by David Croni

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Gaza’s tower of dreams

Gaza’s tower of dreams

A space between housing blocs marks the place where al-Jawhara Tower used to stand
All that remains: Al-Jawhara Tower played a central role in the professional lives of many in Gaza City.

Bashar Taleb APA images

Last May’s Israeli assault on Gaza had devastating consequences.

Hundreds of lives were lost, whole families were wiped out and neighborhoods were flattened by Israel’s bombing campaign.

That campaign also targeted several tall mixed residential/business towers. These were not just prominent features of the Gaza skyline. They held prominent places in the hearts and memories of many Gaza residents: those who lived and worked there, and also those who lived in their shadow and promise.

Without them, Gaza City seems notably distorted and gloomy.

One of these was al-Jawhara Tower, a nine-floor tower bloc that was completed in 2004 and which housed residential apartments, private businesses, legal and educational offices, as well as a number of mostly Palestinian and Arabic media offices.

The tower was effectively destroyed on 12 May following successive Israeli missile attacks.

Today, all but the last of the rubble of al-Jawhara has been cleared because of the danger it posed.

But the space left behind is not just an absence on the land. A prominent feature of Gaza City’s professional life, many Palestinians in Gaza have stories connected to the tower.

With its rubble, there are many memories and dreams from al-Jawhara now buried.

Memories and devastated dreams

Asma Abu Telkh, 33, a writer and entrepreneur, got her first job as a computer coder in al-Jawhara.

“This place looms strong in my memory. I started a job there 10 years ago and have many beautiful memories.”

Al-Jawhara Tower and others played an important role for many in their professional lives, Abu Telkh told The Electronic Intifada.

“They embodied my memories of work: meetings with colleagues, interviews and the ends of working days. It feels like my memories have been erased, like something deep inside of me is about to be amputated and I don’t know how to prevent it.”

With so many companies located in al-Jawhara, some, like Abu Telkh, even moved from job to job within the same tower.

“I spent much of my life in it,” Abu Telkh said. “A complete memory carries our experience of growth, our development within these walls where we got to know many lifelong associates, both colleagues and friends. Everything that threatens our memories threatens our existence in life and hurts us deeply.”

Mahmoud Ammar, 42, is a music producer and a sound engineer.

With a friend, Wael Bassiouni, Ammar opened a studio in al-Jawhara in 2011, fulfilling a lifelong dream. That dream shattered in just a few minutes.

“I worked for many years to realize this dream, to create this studio and work in production. We focus on patriotic music inside and outside Palestine. Wael and I tried so very hard to realize our dream. With some personal support, we managed to purchase expensive audio and recording equipment that was difficult to find in Gaza.”

For 10 years, he said, he was living the dream. But, already back during the all-out military assault of 2014, it became clear that Israel had also started to target residential and commercial towers.

Ammar began to worry, though, fatefully, he didn’t act.

“When Israel began a policy of destroying towers, I began to worry about the possibility of them bombing my tower.”

Livelihoods and jobs

Ammar said the destruction of al-Jawhara Tower came at a great cost to him and everyone else who worked there. He estimates that he has lost some $5,000 in studio equipment alone, equipment that, even if he had the money, would be hard to replace in Gaza, which is under debilitating Israeli restrictions on what goods and products can and cannot enter.

It was not just an assault on their livelihoods – and the hopes and opportunities for many young people – but an attack on a place filled with many beautiful moments.

He still visits where the tower stood.

“Every day I come here and look at it, and in my heart, I am overcome with great sadness. I cannot believe this place no longer exists.”

Ammar is determined to build another studio. That, he noted, is what life in Gaza is all about: the constant destruction and rebuilding of dreams.

Muhammad al-Samouni, 46, a father of six, used to be a guard at al-Jawhara Tower.

“Even now, I am in shock. I used to spend my day working at this place where I have many friends. The tower was really a small city.”

Al-Samouni has now been unemployed since the May attack, after which unemployment in Gaza topped 50 percent.

“I did not expect the tower to be bombed because there was no political activity there. When the Israeli military warned the tower’s occupants that they would bomb it, none of us believed the news.”

Hundreds of citizens used to visit al-Jawhara Tower every day to take advantage of its many institutions, companies, services and shops. It had become central to life in Gaza City. Everyone thought it was safe.

Al-Samouni misses his job, and not just because he is downcast about his chances of finding another in Gaza’s desperate economic situation.

“This place holds so many happy and sad memories; this was a place of so many people’s achievements … but this is what wars do to us. They leave us with pain, day and night.”

Rebuilding

In all, according to Ahmad al-Zaim, the owner of al-Jawhara Tower, more than 700 people lost their jobs – some permanently and others just temporarily – as a result of the destruction of the tower.

“The tower was home to engineering offices, clinics, restaurants, lawyers, accountants, apartments, public service providers, and tourism and travel offices,” he told The Electronic Intifada.

And it was more than just that to him. It was home. A home that was destroyed before his very eyes.

“I will never forget the look in my children’s eyes after we had evacuated and we stood there watching as the tower was hit by missile after missile.”

This was their home. All their childhood memories.

“They were crying over their home and their childhood. Watching them, screaming with fear on the side of the road, I saw how unstable this world is.”

Al-Zaim is rebuilding. He is in a hurry. The tower, he said, was once “the soul of the neighborhood.”

He wants to breathe life into Gaza again. And he wants to help those who were displaced.

“Dozens of apartment owners and their families became homeless, without shelter and stability. It is so sad to lose this place completely.”

It was the panic ahead of the bombing that many remember the most vividly.

The families residing in al-Jawhara Tower were informed in the middle of the night that their home was a target.

Tens of millions

Bleary-eyed and scared, they had to get everyone up and out.

“My neighbor told me in the middle of the night that I had to leave the house because the building would be bombed,” Nabil al-Sakka, one former resident, told The Electronic Intifada.

“I woke up my three sons and my wife and searched for official documents, such as ID cards, and our phones.”

Amid the hurry, the grief was overwhelming for the 40-year-old project coordinator.

“I couldn’t control my tears. So many years, so much work and struggle in order to buy this apartment. It was a difficult and sad moment that our children will never forget.”

The al-Sakka family is now renting an apartment and intends to move back in as soon as the tower is reconstructed.

Rebuilding the tower may help in the longer term as new memories and connections are re-established.

But for now, the bombing of Gaza’s four towers last May – in addition to al-Jawhara, there was Hanadi Tower, al-Shorouk and al-Jalaa – has caused significant economic consequences.

According to Gaza’s chamber of commerce, total losses incurred as a result of the destruction of the towers reach into the tens of millions of dollars.

“There are the direct losses resulting from the destruction of the commercial towers, and there are losses incurred from damage to the infrastructure and the dozens of small- and medium-sized shops in the area also struck during the barrage,” said Maher al-Tabaa of the chamber.

“The destruction of these towers will have serious negative repercussions on the fragile economy of Gaza,” al-Tabaa said.

And it is always the same after every Israeli assault, he noted.

“The greatest impacts come in the high rates of unemployment and poverty after every war.”

Ruwaida Amer is a journalist based in Gaza.

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