By Yvonne Ridley
It’s that time of year again when vast amounts of money are spent on celebrating the New Year. Nowadays that often means wasteful firework displays with money quite literally going up in smoke. This time, we are also entering a new decade, and already the great and the good are spewing out positive, life-affirming quotes for the arrival of 2020.
In besieged Palestine — the Gaza Strip to be precise — the prospect of a new era brings nothing but more trepidation. This is the year, remember, by which a 2012 UN report predicted the total collapse of life in the tiny enclave unless there was an urgent intervention by the international community. In short, Gaza was predicted to be “unlivable” by 2020.
Did the world respond positively to make sure that the grim prophecy contained within the pages of Gaza 2020: A Livable Place? did not come to pass? There were interventions, but not in the way that the Palestinians expected. Since 2012, the Palestinians’ neighbor and brutal occupier, Israel, tightened its iron grip with its land, sea and air siege; and unleashed major military offensives, killing thousands of men, women and children with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, and wounding many thousands more. When the Palestinians in Gaza had the temerity to stage massive protests against the siege and the ongoing denial of their legitimate right to return to their occupied land, Israeli army snipers killed scores and disabled thousands more during the weekly Great March of Return demonstrations.
Every Friday since March 2018, Palestinians — young and old, male and female — have gathered to protest peacefully along the nominal border separating the besieged population from their ancestral lands in Israel. They are demanding the right to return to the homes from where, in 1948, Zionist militias forcefully expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages to clear the way for Israel’s creation. More than 530 Palestinian towns and villages have been wiped off the map in the intervening years.
Journalists write about the 12-year-old siege, but the truth is that the siege of the Gaza Strip has been in place for decades. When members of Free Gaza sailed into the enclave’s tiny harbor in 2008, myself included, we were the first outsiders to do so in more than 40 years. Since then most of the attempts to repeat the siege-breaking moves have been thwarted by the Israeli military. In 2010, nine peace activists on board the Mavi Marmara flotilla were killed when a humanitarian aid convoy was hijacked in international waters by Israeli commandos. A tenth victim died later of his wounds.
Aspirations for a degree of normality in Gaza are crushed by Israel and its allies, making even the most routine event an uphill struggle and a challenge for the Palestinians. Each day brings some new catastrophe, often in the shape of Israeli missiles and bombs which increase in frequency during election campaigns in the Zionist state, a regular occurrence these days as beleaguered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form a government.
The third General Election in a year is scheduled for March and so, with good reason, Palestinians are bracing themselves for more bombardments courtesy of the Israel “Defense” Forces. It is no secret that Netanyahu fabricates “self-defense responses” in order to flex his muscles by unleashing his country’s army, air force and navy against the largely civilian population of the Gaza Strip. He has to demonstrate to the electorate that he alone is the “strong man” capable of protecting Israel, and the voters fall for it.
Israeli state terrorism aside, the Palestinians in the besieged territory are probably more focused on surviving day to day. Half of the population subsists on just over five dollars a day; that figure is less than 10 per cent in the occupied West Bank.
Little wonder that Gaza is often described as the world’s largest open air prison, when seriously ill patients are refused permission from Israel to travel for life-saving treatment; academically gifted students are unable to take up their scholarships in Western universities; and even the Palestinian FA Cup Final was cancelled because Khadamat Rafah FC players were banned by Israel from travelling to play the second leg in Nablus.
Israel is hell-bent on making life insufferable for the Palestinians. Arguably no other people in the world have been persecuted in such a brutal and sustained manner than the Palestinians. For those living in Gaza, it is set to get much, much worse. Unless Israel eases up in the misery stakes, it is hard not to conclude that it is intent on wiping out Palestine and its people completely.
Israel’s closest-ever US President, Donald Trump, has enabled the Zionist state in its genocidal mission, not least by stopping US donations to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees. Of the two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA provides essential services to 1.3 million, spending about 40 per cent of its overall budget. By pulling US funding, Trump immediately threatened the education of 262,000 boys and girls enrolled in 267 UNRWA schools in Gaza; cut medical supplies to 22 clinics and hospitals; and made it even harder for desperately poor people to put food on the table. Malnutrition is on the rise.
Qatar has more than stepped up to the plate, as have some other countries and NGOs, but will it be enough to get Gaza though another year? Internationally-funded water purification plants supplement the severely restricted state facilities in Gaza, but 95 per cent of the water is still unfit for human consumption. Furthermore, around 100,000 cubic meters of raw and semi-treated sewage is pumped into the Mediterranean Sea every day because Israel destroyed the treatment infrastructure and refuses to allow materials into Gaza to repair them. Nothing happens in Gaza without Israel’s permission. It is still very much the occupying power legally and in practice. With their neighboring tormentor so full of malice and spite, the expectations of the Palestinians in Gaza are not high.
Electricity is still a rare commodity although Qatari-funded fuel for Gaza’s only power station — also damaged by the Israelis — means that there is an average of 12 hours of power a day for families. Of course, that can and does get cut to just four hours a day when Israel decides to pull the plug.
The Gaza Strip is indeed on a knife edge, and has probably been practically “unlivable” for years already. As 2020 and a new decade is swept in, my thoughts are with all of the Palestinians in the territory where every day is a struggle for survival. Life affirming quotes and feel good messages — even a simple “Happy New Year” — have a hollow ring about them in this part of the world. We all need to wake up to the suffering, daily torment and misery inflicted on the Palestinians by the self-declared “only democracy in the Middle East”.
Colonialism has no place in the 21st century, and Israel is a colonial-settler state. Apartheid is alive and well in Israel, as its dreadful siege of Gaza and treatment of its own Palestinian citizens illustrates very clearly. If we sit back and allow Israel to continue to act with impunity and contempt for international laws and norms, then far from yelling banal seasonal watchwords to all and sundry, we should hang our heads in shame. Happy New Year? Not for the Palestinians.