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Palestinians in Gaza reflect on 10 years of siege

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 24/06/2017
Some 80 percent of Gaza's two million population are dependent on international aid, mostly food assistance [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera] © Provided by Al Jazeera Some 80 percent of Gaza's two million population are dependent on international aid, mostly food assistance [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have entered their 11th year under a suffocating siege imposed by Israel

The blockade dictates the day-to-day reality for people in Gaza, where Israel controls the borders, airspace, and waters.

Gaza's isolation has devastated its economy, impoverished much of the Strip's two million people, and left them without adequate electricity, water and health services. 

June 2017 also marks the tenth year of Hamas' rule over the Strip, after the group won elections in 2006 and pushed out its rival, Fatah, which refused to recognise the vote. 

Al Jazeera spoke to Palestinians in Gaza about life before and after the 2007 Israeli siege was imposed and Hamas' rise to power.

Mohammad Abu Jayyab - 35 - editor-in-chief of Al-Eqtesadia*

The economic situation we're experiencing since the 2006 elections until today is a complex reality. Every year, the living, humanitarian and social situation gets progressively worse.

We're talking about some 17,000 to 18,000 university students graduating each year who have not been able to find work.

Even the industrial and production sectors, which used to offer more than 120,000 job opportunities, now do not offer more than 7,000 opportunities. The construction sector is practically idle and out of business; it used to contribute to about 22 percent of local production and offered some 70,000 opportunities.

In the sectors of education, health, infrastructure, there have been major problems, especially in water and sanitation. Water today in Gaza is not suitable for drinking or human use. We are on the brink of an environmental and health catastrophe.

This is largely due to the setback that internal Palestinian politics witnessed after Hamas won the elections and the divisions within the political scene, which pushed Hamas to militarily control Gaza and push out the Palestinian Authority to Ramallah. 

READ MORE: Gaza headed for 'environmental catastrophe'

The level of income is continuously decreasing and the level of poverty is increasing. At least 80 percent of people in Gaza live on international aid and about 60 percent are under the poverty line. The PA also took some steps a few months ago that have complicated things and resulted in gloomy economic prospects in Gaza.

Hamas does not have alternatives to make up for the horrible reality we're living in - it is like every resident in Gaza, hostage to external intervention and at the mercy of Israel, the Arabs and the international community. 

*Al-Eqtesadia is a newspaper that focuses on economic issues in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories

Hammam Alyazji - 35 - marketing specialist

The past 10 years have been tragic and disastrous. The conflict within internal Palestinian politics has also been disastrous, and the Israeli occupation has been the principal beneficiary.

We used to speak about the right of return, about Jerusalem, about a Palestinian state. Today, no one talks about these issues. Today, we talk about electricity - we're asking for just eight hours, not even 24 hours. We're asking for the crossings to open so that we can get out of here. 

The number one issue on the minds of youth right now in Gaza is to immigrate. As soon the crossing opens, without exaggeration, some 50 percent of youth in Gaza, if they could leave, they would leave.

There is no future here, no work and no life. We don't have even the most basic necessities in life, which many people do not even think about, such as electricity.

READ MORE: Israel - Water as a tool to dominate Palestinians

Freedom of movement, electricity, and open borders are a luxury to us. I think in the past 10 years, Gaza has been pushed back by 50 years. The energy of the youth is going to waste.

It's really impacted our state of mind. When you go out and see the increasingly aggressive attitudes among the population - it's not normal. There is so much pressure on everyone in society, you cannot tell me that any group of people who have been under siege for 10 years is normal. 

The only option we have is to remain steadfast and patient; we will not accept bowing down and giving in, nor will we accept to be defeated. We're not patient by choice, it's our destiny. To stay sane, I tell myself that nothing lasts forever and that this situation we're in will not last forever.

Shaymaa Marzouq - 30 - journalist

The past 10 years have changed the face of Palestinian resistance. The Gaza Strip has turned into the front line of defence for the Palestinian cause and against the projects that aim to dissolve the Palestinian right to self-determination.

Gaza has become the icon of the resistance movement, and there has been massive popular support for Gaza whether in the rest of Palestine, in the areas occupied in 1948, or in the Arab world in general. We've seen huge campaigns in support of Gaza across the world, especially during the Israeli assaults.

The presence of Gaza, as the bearer of the resistance movement with military resistance of this size, unprecedented in Palestine in confronting the occupation, carries so much value. Unfortunately, it has led to harsh consequences imposed by Israel against the Gaza as a whole. 

It was a reality that was imposed on us. Israel did not abide by the Oslo Accords, which was meant to lead to a Palestinian state, and therefore many people were bound to choose the path of resistance. 

Anyone you ask today will realise that Gaza after 2007 deteriorated greatly. There is a total collapse in all of the financial sectors in Gaza. 

We were expecting things to get better after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005. I think the fact that things got worse was a shock for some people, but the occupation imposed the siege on us so you will obviously see more negative effects after 2007.

The three wars have proved to be the most difficult experience for Gaza, but there are two sides to this.

The wars showed Gaza it is capable of fighting back through resistance. At the same time, we had to face repercussions such as the destruction of the wars and the purposeful delays in Gaza's reconstruction. I believe this was Israel's message: "You chose this path, so you have to pay the price." 

Mustafa Ibrahim - 54 

One of the factors that led to Hamas' win in the 2006 elections was that Fatah could not bear responsibility for the lives of Palestinians on the level of economic, cultural and societal rights, and it could not change the situation they were in.

Fatah could not prove that there was an adequate government for Palestinians and the corruption flourished. The elections came in 2006 and Hamas won. Hamas won within the existing government - the Palestinian Authority (PA) - and within the rule of law.

It wasn't aware of the risks or the challenges that it would face with it being both a resistance movement and wanting to be a governing party within the PA, which has internal and external obligations both regionally and internationally.

We saw that when Hamas tried to form a government, the international community, as represented by the Middle East Quartet, tried to pressure the movement to recognise Israel and renounce armed resistance, for it to be recognised as a legitimate player in the Palestinian political system. 

READ MORE: Gaza power crisis - 'We want to end this nightmare'

True, there have been internal and external challenges, but what matters to people is their source of livelihood. We've seen a rise in poverty, unemployment, social and health issues, crime, suicide - they are all emerging due to the current economic situation. Hamas says the reason behind it is that it is a resistance movement and the Strip as a whole is being targeted.

Yes, it is being targeted, but at the end of the day, people realise that the occupation is the reason.

Even the PA, since the Intifada, has not been able to take control and it has become very weak.

I don't think that any government under occupation would be able to function normally.

Fatma Ashour - 38 - lawyer 

No one can deny the changes that took place in Gaza over the past 10 years.

Today, we're talking about almost complete deprivation from electricity, we're talking about contaminated water, three extremely violent wars and the constant threat of another, and the almost complete closure of the crossings from both sides.

Yes, we're aware that there are a lot of external pressures that caused this to happen, but as residents, the only thing that concerns us is that our needs are met and our dignity is preserved.

After Hamas' arrival to power, we, as women, were faced with many restrictions with regards to public freedoms, with our clothing, with going to cafes and going out, being seen in public with a man. It was humiliating and degrading. 

To be honest, the past 10 years have been horrible on all levels and we pray that reconciliation [between the PA and Hamas] happens soon for the benefit of all people.

Mohammad Tayseer Qadada - 29 - unemployed  

When Hamas took power in the legislative elections, I was in my final year of school. Since then, I've been unemployed. I thought life would turn out to be better - I had aspirations and dreams. 

We live under a suffocating siege from all sides. We've lived through three wars.

For a while, we had only eight hours of electricity a day - a third of what the Gaza Strip needs on a daily basis. We live like beetles with a short life span.

Immigration has become our number one goal, unfortunately.

On the personal level and in terms of career development, I was only able to achieve one year's worth of work in the past 10 years due to the frequent electricity cuts and the blockade.

I write sometimes, but I did not have the freedom to express myself openly for fear of being confronted with security issues. Instead, I started writing about issues unrelated to politics - about social issues and trivial things - anything other than politics.

I worked in media platforms, but I was being chased for any political commentary that I made. It was stressful and I feared for my parents and for my own safety.

My transformation as someone who studied political science in Gaza to someone talking about non-political, trivial matters,is a real shame and humiliation for someone who had aspirations to play a vital role in the political scene in Gaza.

I do not see anything positive other than the fact that we're still alive and breathing.

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