For Ahmed Jaber, the new year has brought nothing special to his cramped house which he shares with his parents and other seven siblings. 2016 has started in Gaza in abysmal darkness as the power crisis has worsened, putting nearly all facets of life into serious danger.
“What does it mean to celebrate the New Year,” Ahmed asks. “The word celebration does not even exist in our terminology; it is a very luxurious expression which has no place in Gaza”.
Ahmed complains that he obtained a bachelor’s degree in science five years ago, but he has been unable to find a job. “What you feel is that you simply start to regret that day when you decided to count on an academic future to secure you a kind of decent life”.
Ahmed’s ordeal is repeated in many young men’s stories in Gaza. Their hopes for better futures have been severely crippled due to the lack of a political horizon in Gaza, and the uncertainty that covers almost everything in their lives.
Najah Saied lost her husband in the Israeli assault launched on the strip in the summer of 2014, and was left with six children to raise. Her home was completely destroyed in the war as well. She keeps looking for rented apartments to move in. “The UN paid for a rental for only two months, the rest of the time I have gone into debt to cover the rental costs”. The slow pace of reconstruction has defeated the high expectations people in Gaza had following the end of the fighting.
2015 ended for Gazans as one from the bitterest years ever. The unemployment rate recorded a dramatic increase as it shot up to about 43 percent. More than 200,000 people are registered unemployed by the Gaza labor ministry. People in Gaza also suffer from a lack of aid and food. About million people in Gaza survive on the urgent aid from the United Nations, which amounts to 60 percent of the Gaza population.
Gaza has been enduring a suffocating siege which affects all areas of life including: housing, education, sanitation, health, and food security.
At the end of 2015, the last thing Gaza people needed was an aggravated gas supply, but the supplies were severely reduced since the middle of December to less than 50%.
As a result, the price of gas took a shocking jump, making it difficult to many impoverished Gazans families to afford it. The new crisis came at a very bad time as Gaza undergoes a harsh winter without adequate means of warming young families.
“Electricity is rare, and now gas is getting even scarcer than ever”, said Ayman Homs, an unemployed Gazan, and a father of three children. “How can I warm up my little children”?
He has to make do with some primitive ways in attempt to warm his children.
Israel keeps intensifying pressure through its relentless siege on Gaza in order to humiliate and subjugate its people. Electricity is available less than five hours a day.
In addition, Israel has destroyed or damaged 17 hospitals and 56 primary health care centers during its last onslaught. Reconstruction efforts have done little to repair people homes even through that is the primary priority. Rebuilding healthcare centers has received even less attention.
Finally, the nearly permanent closed crossings remain a stark reminder that the blockade on Gaza is only getting more tighter following international promises that Gaza would witness major easing of the siege after the war. According to the Palestinian Committee for crossing and borders, Rafah crossing was open for only 19 days during 2015.
Both Egypt and Israel maintain severe restrictions on movement in Gaza, creating a sense of collective captivity felt by the beleaguered Gaza people. A few hundreds out of more than 25,000 who are registered with urgent needs to travel were able to cross the borders during rare windows when the border was open.
The blockade also keeps key elements out of Gaza, including a list of banned items that was expanded during the last year. Construction materials, notebooks, and medical treatments are not able to enter Gaza via the Israeli-run Kerem Shalom crossing.
The consistent and deliberate Israeli policy against Gaza has made prospects of improvement bleak among an increasingly desperate people. It keeps dealing significant blows to the already paralyzed economy, which is worn by successive wars, and fatigued by the never ending closure policy.
For the Gaza people, their coastal enclave is run by the Israeli occupying power via remote control. “Nothing has moved forward in Gaza last year, not even a tiny step!” shouts Hadiel, a 25-year old Palestinian in Gaza.
Hadiel believed that the political instability and Israeli practices weaken Gaza’s capability of production, and undermine efforts to revive the crippled economy so that Israel can maintain its hegemony over the strip.
“They are never interested in our own welfare. What they look for is quite the opposite.”
Regarding her expectations for the 2016, Hadiel feels pessimistic and anticipates the worse is yet to come.
Crossroads in Gaza
2016 is already off to a difficult start in Gaza. Since the start of the ongoing intifada in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Gaza has witnessed scattered clashes on the border.
Following the 2014 conflict, there was hope for a sustained international effort to reinstate the temporary ceasefire brokered by Egypt in 2014, but instead Gaza has been prone to repeated Israeli military actions on sea, ground, and air.
Many times these attacks are loud enough to revive the bitter old memories of the last war.
“We certainly did not miss the notorious Israeli raids in 2015. The world remains silent over these Israeli continuing breaches, and next time they will complain about some Palestinian errant rockets,” Ahmed Jaber said. “We are fed up with this double standard world.”