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Thu Aug 2, 2012, 11:16 AM

Children are in the Front Line of Israel’s Blockade of Gaza

By Stephen Mccloskey

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


The Gaza Strip is inching toward a humanitarian crisis as Israel’s five year blockade of the territory has been exacerbated by a dispute over fuel supplies. Gaza’s young people are on the front line of this crisis as failing utilities like water and electricity and an inadequate diet have seen rampant rates of anaemia and diarrhoea. Meanwhile, the main provider of food, healthcare and education in Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), has come under political attack in Israel and the United States, threatening the main institution that fills the gap between poverty and utter destitution.

Hady Mattar is a five year old boy playing among hundreds of young people in Gaza’s YMCA. He is easily distinguished from his peers by his bandaged hands covering severe burns sustained at home from a domestic electricity generator. Hady, like most of Gaza’s children, is paying the price of Israel’s blockade of the territory, which allows only a trickle of basic humanitarian items into the territory, and has been exacerbated by a fuel crisis that has shut down Gaza’s electricity supply for up to 12 hours a day. The blockade has already shattered Gaza’s economy which is denied access to external markets and starved of investment and jobs. Most of Gaza’s 1.7m population have been propelled into chronic poverty and children are on the front line of the blockade, their lives made even harder by the fuel crisis. Yasmeen El Khoudary, a young blogger from Gaza, recently described herself as being part of a ‘blindfolded generation’ physically separated from the outside world and psychologically damaged by the effects of isolation and disempowerment.

Electricity cuts have been a constant feature of life under the blockade, which was intensified by Israel in 2007, and has severely restricted the supply of fuel for Gaza’s only power plant. The Hamas government in Gaza came to depend on supplies imported through the smuggling tunnels between Egypt’s Southern border at Rafah and the Gaza Strip. But since February the length and regularity of cuts have increased as Egypt has clamped down on smuggled fuel. The ostensible reasons given are a shortage of fuel in the Sinai region and Cairo’s insistence that the tunnels are an unsuitable and unsustainable means of importing industrial goods. However, what may also underpin this new regimen, is a sense that Israel’s ulterior purpose in maintaining the blockade is to have Cairo assume increasing responsibility for the welfare and movement of Palestinians – a responsibility that legally resides with Israel as the occupying power in Gaza.

What is indisputable are the effects of the crisis on utilities and hospital services with Oxfam suggesting that Gaza is ‘inching towards a total collapse of essential services’ with the health situation reaching ‘catastrophic proportions’ (February 2012). For children, the crisis has created a new of set of problems to be negotiated. Without electricity, water is not pumped to domestic consumers which regularly imposes on young people the task of collecting water in buckets for sanitation, cooking and washing. For those homes with access to fuel for domestic generators there is endless drone of their engines and the health hazard for children. But for most of Gaza’s young people the main frustrations presented by electricity cuts are the lack of light for reading and study at night, and reduced access to computers and the internet. In a territory where education is considered the primary means of escaping poverty, electricity cuts can be at once disabling and dispiriting, negatively impacting on classroom performance and the development of young people.

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