This is the month when Palestinians remember their Nakba, or "catastrophe," during which millions of women, men and children were eventually pushed off their land and rendered homeless refugees during and after the founding of Israel in 1948.
For those living in the Gaza Strip, the tragedy worsens by the day. The blockade of the territory by Israel, sanctioned by the European Union and Washington, has led to a failing economy, rising unemployment and deteriorating power, sanitation and health facilities, according to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report.
As a consequence of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, 98% of industrial operations have been shut down since 2007 and there are acute shortages of fuel, cash, cooking gas and other basic supplies. The ban on imports of building materials has prevented the rebuilding of some 6,400 homes destroyed or severely damaged by Israel’s military assault on Gaza in 2008-2009 and prevented the construction of some 7,500 homes to cater for an expanding population. Some 3,500 families are still displaced.
Water-related health problems are widespread in the Strip because of the blockade and Israel’s military operation in Gaza, which destroyed water and sanitation infrastructure, including reservoirs, wells, and thousands of kilometres of piping. “Gaza is not a refugee camp in a small remote place. It’s a city of one and a half million people with the needs of a developed urban environment that is used to certain standards. It needs certain standards of maintenance. Everybody should be worried because contaminated water has no borders,” said Filippo Grandi, commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
An electricity crisis continues in Gaza with the network only able to meet 70% of demand due to insufficient money to buy fuel for the Gaza power plant, and a lack of spare parts which is causing technical failures. Unemployment in occupied Palestinian territory is over 30%, rising to 67% among young people, according to the WHO report. Seven out of ten families were living on less than $1 a day in May 2008. Chronic malnutrition has risen in Gaza over the past few years to reach 10.2 percent.
Israel’s 2008-2009 military campaign damaged 15 of the Strip’s 27 hospitals and damaged or destroyed 43 of its 110 primary health care facilities, none of which have been repaired or rebuilt because of the construction materials ban. Some 15-20% of essential medicines are commonly out of stock and there are shortages of essential spare parts for many items of medical equipment, the WHO report said. As a result, the steady decline in the infant mortality rate in recent decades has stalled.
Israel’s blockade is ostensibly aimed at the Hamas government, which it and its allies refuse to recognise despite its election victory in 2007. In practice, however, the intention is to demoralise the Palestinians and deny them their right to self-determination. In this the Zionists have the support of Egypt’s authoritarian regime. It has blockaded Gaza’s border with Egypt, even driving a steel barrier deep into the ground to prevent Palestinians from using tunnels to bring in goods.
Gazans, however, continue to smuggle everything from fridges to fans, sheep to shampoo and even cars through the tunnels. The UN estimates that as much as 80% of imports into Gaza come through the tunnels. But the head of operations in Gaza for the UNRWA John Ging, says: "Everything is expensive because people are hostage to the dynamics of a black market."
For ordinary Palestinians, the blockade and deprivation imposed by the racist Israeli state are continuing reminders of the tragedy of the Nakba.