For most of the world, restricted movement, fear of stepping out of their homes, isolation, stock-piling foods, looking over your shoulders, and living in fear are relatively new concepts. However, for the people living in the 365 square kilometres of occupied Gaza strip, these are essential elements of their life since 2007.
The Gaza strip, a small coast between Egypt and Israel has been under heavy blockade since 2007, when Hamas, a militant group supporting Palestinian occupation won the legislative elections in Gaza with a majority. Israel, perceiving a threat to its power, implemented a heavy military blockade in Gaza, restricting movement and cutting off the small coast from the outside world while claiming that they have not occupied the territory and have only increased border protection for security. However, the fact remains that Israel blocks land, sea and air routes to Gaza, and the people of Gaza have lived under these stifling circumstances for thirteen years now.
This tussle between Hamas and the Israeli regime is evolving into a very real possibility of a full-blown war, one that the people of Gaza and Hamas may not be able to win. According to an Aljazeera report on August 26, 2020, in a series of consecutive attacks, Israeli warplanes and bombs have been attacking Hamas’ military sites, industrial and agricultural lands in retaliation to incendiary balloons launched by Palestinians into South Israel as a means to pressure Israel to live under the blockade. This act of rebellion by the Palestinians against the blockade has invigorated the Israeli regime in their efforts to completely annex Gaza.
Gaza is not the first or the last territory to become a victim of forced occupation, yet it does not make the act of forced occupation any less repugnant. The idea of home is analogous to the concept of safety and belongingness, but this has not been the case for the 1,820,000 people living in Gaza for a very long time.
“The worst thing is the sense of being a stranger in your own land and feeling that not a single part of it is yours”, said Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer and writer in an interview with Amnesty International. The feeling of safety and belongingness in one’s home is the basest of human needs. Access to land, water, food and other essential resources such as healthcare, education and economic opportunities have been restricted for the Palestinians living in Gaza as a means to force them from their homeland. The people of Gaza have been deprived of their freedom to move freely in their own homes, compounded by restrictions on trade, and constant military threat and violence, the situation has worsened every year since 2007.
Yet another saddening consequence of Israel’s occupation of Gaza is the ultimate loss of cultural identity of the people. Our cultures and who we are as individuals are determined by our homes. Development of our identity is an intrinsic part of growth and for the many children born under this occupation, military presence, fear and looming threats of war mould their childhood. The consequence of which is children growing up with hatred and fear in their hearts while the adults fear displacement from the only place they have known as their home.
In November 2019, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported the use of lethal force by Israeli forces that resulted in 252 deaths and 25,522 injuries to Palestinians in Gaza. Unlawful detention and torture of detainees are commonplace activities on the Gaza border by Israeli forces. Another report by Amnesty International reported that in March 2018, when the Palestinians conducted the ‘Great March of Return Protests’ and by December 27, 2018, 215 Palestinians were killed, including 47 children.
While unlawful killings and torture form a major chunk of human rights violations in Gaza, the rest is formed of withholding health services and restricting movement. The Israeli blockade has isolated Gaza from the rest of the world through illegal air, land and sea restrictions. The Israeli regime determines the goods that enter into Gaza and the trade the people are able to partake in. They also control the electricity and water supply in the region, and, consequently, the Israeli regime has been utilising this control to starve hospitals, shops and people in Gaza.
While Hamas has retaliated by means of violence, protests and even legislative assemblies, its impact has not made a significant bearing on the occupation. It cannot be disputed that similar crimes have also been committed by Hamas, and violent means have been heavily used to fight back Israel. However, It is not fair that the innocent civilians Palestinians in Gaza suffer while the rest of the world ignores its suffering or worse, utilises their plight to establish trade deals like US President Donald Trump did.
When Notre-Dame burnt, the entire world cried. Yet when the Palestinians cried for help, they were easily ignored. This denial of aid is fueled by the Islamophobic perspective that most of the world subscribes to. The suffering of the predominantly Muslim community in Gaza is easy to ignore for the rest of the world as compared to violations in a non-Islamic nation, and the opportunity to gain control over a Muslim dominated region is too tempting to ignore for the Islamophobic leadership of the world. It is unsurprising that Israel’s actions will go unremarked upon.
It has not been an easy journey for the citizens of Gaza, yet their indomitable spirit and determination to fight back and not give up is commendable. Their fight will get difficult in the coming months, with threats of war and weakening global support, and it remains to be seen how they fight back.
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