By Katya Dajani
As the world focused its collective attention on another Greek bailout, the xenophobic ranting of an American presidential candidate, and Ariana Grande’s doughnut licking stunt, the one-year anniversary of the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip went all but unnoticed by the global media. While the international community appears to have long moved on, Gaza remains crippled – an open-air prison marked by abject poverty.
On July 8, 2014, Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge,” its third military campaign directed at the Gaza Strip in six years. The 50-day offensive of air strikes, missiles, and a ground invasion left over 2,000 Palestinians dead and another 11,000 wounded. Much of Gaza’s infrastructure was reduced to rubble, largely restricting residents’ already limited access to food, shelter, and medication.
“There were 144,000 structures that were completely, severely, or partially destroyed—that includes housing and other buildings,” said Noura Erakat, a Palestinian American legal scholar and human rights attorney. “Nine thousand of those were completely destroyed homes and not a single one of them has been rebuilt.”
The most recent episode of indiscriminate attacks has only further impaired Gaza’s fragile institutional system. In just one month, over 150 schools were severely damaged, including three universities and seven others run by the United Nations. Several of these establishments, like northern Gaza’s Jabalia Elementary Girls School, served as U.N.-designated shelters for some of the 500,000 civilians displaced by the conflict.
Though Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and 41 member states of the U.N. Human Rights Council have characterized the deliberate assault on noncombatants as a war crime, Israel continues to deny culpability. “There is no sign that anyone will be held accountable by the Israeli government for anything that happened in Gaza, however egregious,” said Zachary Lockman, a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at New York University.
Even so, Israel does not bear the sole blame for what is undeniably one of the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian disasters. In October 2014, the United States, the European Union, and other international donors convened in Cairo, together pledging $5.4 billion dollars toward Gaza’s relief effort. Yet as of February 2015, over 95 percent of this aid had not reached the region, much lost to corruption or hampered by the current siege. Despite this, there has been little external pressure to ease the blockade, under which Israel and, to a lesser degree Egypt, retain the right to control the passage of goods to and from Gaza—a liberty they have consistently exercised for nearly a decade. Oxfam warned that at the current rate, it would take more than 100 years to rebuild the region.
Amidst an atmosphere of growing frustration, even nongovernmental organizations are conceding defeat. “Donors are afraid to invest in something that may be destroyed months later, and often is,” admitted Bill Corcoran, president and CEO of ANERA, an NGO that aims to advance the wellbeing of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon. “It would only be human nature, if you’ve done something two or three times, for people to walk away.”
Even if the siege was lifted today and Gaza was rebuilt, some of the region’s most troubling challenges would still endure. Palestine’s youth have grown up in a war zone, in which violence, loss, and hatred have marred any semblance of normal life. In recent months, approximately 373,000 children requiring “direct and specialized psychological support” have found themselves unable to return to school, in a community where unemployment stands at a staggering 43 percent. Growing feelings of abandonment and hopelessness have fed a recent spike in youth suicide rates, a phenomenon Corcoran describes as “culturally unacceptable” within traditional Muslim society.
If anything, the current climate has fostered even more resentment among the Palestinian people toward their Israeli occupiers. For Gaza’s youngest generation, the Israeli Defense Force has been a constant source of trauma, its actions destroying any hope for empathy between the two parties.
Tareq Baconi, a Middle East scholar and analyst, shared his encounter with a teenage boy while visiting Gaza: “Too young to remember the settlers who lived there until 2005, this boy’s whole image of Israeli Jewish citizens was constructed over the course of three hugely destructive wars and a blockade which appears unmanned from the Gazan side. This boy’s life had been shattered repeatedly through the actions of an unseen enemy,” Baconi said.
With the recent re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, progress seems unlikely. Experts admit that the repeatedly stalled peace talks are largely a farce, facilitating Israeli encroachment on Palestinian territory instead of further advancing the peace process or easement of the blockade. In turn, Hamas continuously asserts the right to launch rockets into southern Israel.
“I think when Palestinians use force to fight back, it becomes a form of last resort,” said Erakat. “It’s not ‘performative’ in any way; it actually becomes very rational. The only time the siege has been eased in the past eight years of its existence has happened in the aftermath of very large public military confrontations with the state of Israel.”
If Palestinians are to ever see freedom, they face an uphill battle against Israel’s formidable and U.S.-backed military—a feat that all but necessitates increasingly provocative measures. In Gaza, violence has become the status quo. “The whole trajectory over the last couple decades of Israeli policy has been, in a way, to create the monster that they then have to go after,” Lockman told World Policy Journal.
So while the rest of the world moves onto more exciting current events, Gaza appears almost frozen in time. Power cuts, incursions, and air strikes continue, as Palestinians bear the brunt of a conflict often framed within a strictly political context. Yet regardless of one’s view of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, it is difficult to ignore the humanitarian situation for what it is—unacceptable. Unless the U.S. exerts pressure on both Israel and Egypt to ease the blockade, and the international community takes responsibility for a crisis that is otherwise only noticed when hostilities punctuate relative calm, little hope is left for Gaza.
Katherine (Katya) Dajani is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.