Gaza, emigrate or fade away

March 3, 2017
Sarah Benton

There are two articles here; the first from The Media Line on the emigration of young men from Gaza in hope of finding a future and the second from Reuters on the chronic shortage of water which the Israeli water authority could solve if it was so minded.

Young Palestinian men chant slogans during a protest against the ongoing electricity crisis in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on January 12, 2017. Photo Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

When Emigration Is the Solution

Gaza youth lose hope and wish to leave their tribulations behind

By Ashraf K. Shannon, The Media Line
February 09, 2017

Gaza City — The youth of Gaza see no hope for a better future. Frustration and dissatisfaction is the mood of the day among young people who have had to contend with living under immense pressure for the past decade.

The territory has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt and its unemployment rate is among the highest in the world.

“I feel as if I live in a big prison,” Khaled told The Media Line, which spoke to a number of young Gazans about the tribulations of living in the Gaza Strip. They asked not to use their last names, fearing retribution from the Islamist Hamas which controls Gaza.

Israel placed heavy restrictions on the densely populated Strip following the violent takeover by Hamas in 2007 and three devastating military conflicts have erupted since then, sparked by Hamas launching rockets at Israeli population centers.

Egypt has also placed restrictions on the tiny coastal sliver citing security reasons, and has kept the Rafah crossing with Gaza sealed most of the time since 2007.

Some two million Gazans, most under the age of 18, living in area of about 140 square miles, have been grappling with long hours of power outages and lack of potable water, among other shortages.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Gaza could become uninhabitable by the year 2020.

Speaking to The Media Line, Khaled, who is an unemployed mechanical engineer, said he has been trying to leave Gaza since graduation last year. His only escape is connecting with friends over social media.

Thousands of young people, just like Khaled, can’t make sense of their lives in Gaza. Ahmad, an 11th grader, who has just ended his mid-year school vacation, also wants to leave the Strip.

“I have been acquiring friends from Western countries on Facebook hoping that they would help me fulfil my dream and emigrate to a place where I could have a better life. I spend most of my time online, which also helps me improve my English,” Ahmad told The Media Line.

Hanaa, 19, has also been active on social media hoping to find a Palestinian man living in Europe to marry her and get her out of Gaza. She finished high school last year and could not afford to continue to university.

“I have been refusing marriage offers from Gazan men because I don’t want to end up living the rest of my life under these miserable conditions,” Hanaa told The Media Line.

The situation in Gaza is intolerable for most youth. They feel forgotten by the world in a forlorn area plagued by political, economic and environmental problems.

Many Gazan youth are not fond of Hamas’s Islamist rule in Gaza which prohibits many activities especially mixed events between young men and women. Several cultural events were cancelled by the Hamas police in recent years because the Islamic movement considers them un-Islamic.

Young people say they don’t want to live in a land where “bearded men” control every aspect of their lives.

“I want to live in a place where I can be free to say whatever I want without fearing being arrested by the police.” Sami, 20, who works at a coffee shop, told The Media Line.

The bearded ones. Photo of Hamas security force by AP.

Others said they don’t want to live in a land where “bearded men” (referring to Hamas security personnel) control every aspect of their lives. Many young men spend most of their time playing cards at coffee shops until late at night. Smoking water pipes, they bemoan their problems.

January 16th, 2017, protest against the enclave’s devastating electricity crisis, which left the majority of Palestinians there with only three hours of power a day. Security authorities arrested many of the young protesters accusing them of “creating chaos during the protests”. The Interior Ministry later released them as “a token of appreciation for the role political factions and security forces played in supporting popular causes for the Palestinian people.”

Most of their conversations concentrate on how to emigrate and how much it costs to reach Europe.

Atef, a man in his early thirties, was telling a group of young men that it costs about $15,000 to obtain refugee status in a European country. He used to work for the Palestinian Authority before the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.

“I helped dozens of youth to reach Europe in the past few years,” he told The Media Line.

Atef added that it is hard to get out of Gaza, especially with the Rafah crossing being closed most of the time, but that it is not impossible when money is available.

“I have contacts in Europe who get young people to Belgium via Turkey. They get half the money and I get the rest after paying off Egyptian officials to facilitate departure through the Rafah crossing – when it’s open,” Atef related.

Atef claimed to have helped at least 20 Gazans obtain refugee status in Belgium.

Many parents get into debt to help their sons leave Gaza hoping that one day they will in turn help their families.

Feeling trapped in a barricaded backwater and with no hope for a better future, Gaza youth consider immigration as the best solution.

Children are the principal water carriers in Gaza using bottles and containers with drinking water from public taps in Jabaliya refugee camp. Photo taken January 24, 2017 by Mohammed Salem/ Reuters

Gaza’s water shortage worsening, no easy solutions seen

By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters
January 26, 2017

GAZA–Marwan An-Najar, a Palestinian from the south of the Gaza Strip, says he has not tasted sweet tap water in 10 years. Every day, he travels four kilometres (2.5 miles) to fill a 20-litre plastic jerrycan at a local desalination station.

Gaza has long suffered severe water problems, with its aquifer contaminated by sewage, chemicals and seawater and the territory’s three desalination plants unable to meet demand. To drink, most citizens depend on imported, bottled water.

But locals and development specialists say the situation is getting beyond dire, with more than 90 percent of the water in the aquifer unfit for domestic use, according to Rebhy Al-Sheikh, the deputy chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority.

“The (tap) water is salty, as if it came straight from the sea. We have stopped drinking it,” said Najar, a father of six, while queuing to get water at the desalination station in Khan Younis.

Instead, he and others use the desalinated water to wash and drink, while those that can afford it buy bottled water. The water from the tap, when it flows, is barely usable, they say.

Photo taken January 24, 2017 by Mohammed Salem/ Reuters

“It is not even fit for the animals to drink,” said Fathy Mhareb, 60, an unemployed father of eight. “We buy sweet water and use the salty water to shower.”


The causes of the problem are multiple, but stem largely from the contamination of the aquifer.

Gaza’s main water source contains 55 to 60 million cubic metres of water over the course of a year, but demand from Gaza’s two million population exceeds 200 million cubic metres.

That means the aquifer is over-strained, allowing seawater from the Mediterranean to seep into it, along with sewage and chemical run-off.

“There is a continuous drop down and invasion of sea water,” said Sheikh, mentioning too the high nitrate content.

In a study published in 2012, the United Nations said Gaza would become unlivable by 2020 and its aquifer unusable by 2016. Sheikh said that was almost the case — according to international standards, the aquifer is 96.5 percent unusable.

The situation isn’t helped by desperate Gazans trying to tap into the underground reserve via homemade wells. Others use home-spun techniques to desalinate water and sell it on the streets, but the water remains contaminated, Sheikh said.

Water from the Mediterranean Sea rushes through pipes en route to Israel’s desalination plants which could soon account for 80 percent of the country’s potable water and will provide a surplus for sale. Photo by Ben Sales/JTA

One solution has been buying more water from Israel, which has vast desalination capacities. But it took the Palestinians 20 years of negotiation — from 1995 to 2015 — to secure the purchase of just five million more cubic metres.

The blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt for most of the past decade also makes it difficult to push ahead rapidly with major projects such as new desalination facilities.

A 10-million-euro, EU-funded desalination plant was opened by the European Union and the United Nations Children’s Fund last week. Mohanlal Peiris, a water and sanitation specialist with UNICEF, said the facility, which blends water with that from the municipality, would eventually serve 75,000 people.

The big hope is that a large-scale desalination plant, costing 500 million euros ($535 million), can be built to get ahead of the rising demand. Plans are in the works, but it remains years off.

For now, two of Gaza’s three desalination facilities are functioning, producing just 8,600 cubic metres of water a day.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017