Often described as the world’s largest open-air prison, Gaza is reaching breaking point. For ten years the Israeli blockade has restricted imports and exports by land, air and sea. The harbour once bustling with around 10,000 fisherman now counts around 4,000.
“In the past we were allowed to sail up to 12 nautical miles,” says Iyad Baker, a fisherman. “Even that was too short. Today only 3 nautical miles are allowed, and even these miles are not allowed in reality because it is all for the media. In fact they are chasing us before we arrive 2 miles.”
On May 15, a Palestinian fisherman was killed when the Israeli navy opened fire on a boat they claimed had breached the blockade.
The scars of the 2014 war are still evident, with the economy unlikely to rebound to pre-war level until 2018. The unemployment rate is stuck at around 40 per cent. What work there is in the fields, is also fading fast due to the restrictions.
For farmers like Ammar Al Rahel, the situation is unsustainable.
“I can not have workers with me, I have stopped bringing them in because of the loss (of income),” explained Ammar. “(I)just work with my children, maybe next year I will not be able to plant…I am praying to God, things will get better and come back as they were ten years ago, planting and exporting our products, the checkpoints (Israeli and Egyptian checkpoints) open again.”
An ongoing dispute between Hamas which controls Gaza, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has left Gazans with just 4 hours electricity per day, affecting health care and waste water treatment. The ICRC is warning of a systemic collapse. The hardships leave young Gazans little hope for their future.
“As young people and citizens of Gaza we feel that there is no horizon, we do not expect things wil get better because of the blockade, Thousands of graduates here look to a bleak future because the siege has stopped all forms of life in Gaza,” explained Mohamad Al Saiqaly, a resident of Gaza.
Experts are sounding the alarm, concerned that the deteriorating conditions in Gaza make the strip ripe for war.
The year 2017 is heavy with symbolism for Palestinians. It marks 10 years of the blockade and 50 years since the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Both time and patience are running out for the people of Gaza, held hostage by internal divisions and diplomatic stalemate with Israel.