Gaza’s darkest days

1, from last February, the ‘suicide epidemic’ in Gaza, NewArab; 2) Ramzy Baroud enraged at the complicity of the PA in worsening poverty and despair in Gaza.

Despair and grief: relatives help a man who lost two of his children in an explosion at a park at Shati refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, during Operation Protective Edge, August 2014.  Many have suffered poor mental health for years after. AP Photo

We need to talk about Gaza’s suicide epidemic

As unemployment and poverty rocket in Gaza, mental health issues are becoming more prevalent and manifesting in a horrific way: suicide is on the rise.

Mohammed Arafat, The New Arab
February 23, 2017

Gaza has a problem.

Away from the political clashes and the polemics between Israel and the Palestinians, social problems have inundated the Gaza Strip since the harsh siege imposed by Israel in 2006.

While disagreements continue, the people of Gaza are the ones paying the price for all political changes. Repeatedly, we are warned of a crisis brewing as life in the Strip becomes harder.

A week ago, a father stabbed his three children, nine, twelve and nineteen years respectively, before setting himself on fire.

Talal Abu Dbaa, who died four days later in extensive care at the hospital, suffered from mental disorder according to authorities. He is among the 30% of Gazans who are suffering from some form of trauma due to poverty and siege.

Unfortunately, Abu Dbaa is not the only one.

Three weeks ago, another father had also committed suicide by self-immolation, setting himself alight in front of a charity institution.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that 65% of Palestinians living in the enclave suffer from poverty, and unemployment is at an all-time high at 47%. These driving factors are likely contributing to the increasing suicide phenomenon.

The same report states that 80% of Gazans depend on foreign and external aid, including donations and food parcels from international organisations. NGOs attempt to bridge the poverty gap and overcome the high unemployment crisis.

Fearing social stigma, families of victims in the Gaza Strip often refuse to explain the reasons for suicide. Authorities also downplay these events for political reasons, and accurate numbers and details are hard to come by.

Zahiya al-Farrah, a psychologist at the Gaza Institute for Physiological Health, explains how the people in Gaza have lost hope in life, caught up between the Fatah-Hamas divisions, and the siege that has turned the Strip into an open-air prison.

“Unemployment makes people feel they are dependent and useless towards their families and country, so they go to the bad side of life”

Al-Farrah believes that depression is prevalent among the citizens, as no solutions appear to be upcoming any time soon.

“Unemployment makes people feel they are dependent and useless towards their families and country, so they go to the bad side of life, and begin committing suicide, killing and stealing,” she added.

Like any other physiological institution or centre, the Gaza Institute for Physiological Health helps those who suffer from trauma or physiological problems, nearly ten per cent of the population.

On the other hand, Issa Jaradat, a physiological and social specialist, believes that the suicide cases occurring in the Strip is not a phenomenon, but an exceptional case that occurs when these factors appear. The problem seems inherited from one generation to another, since the occupation in 1948, and is not the result of new pressures or developments.

“While the occupation is responsible, we should not neglect other factors here,” Jarafat explained.

Dr. Ayman Sahabani, speaking at a conference, says that nearly thirty attempted-suicide cases reached al-Shifa Hospital [last year?], from different methods including knives, insecticides, self-immolation, jumping off a high place or hanging.

“Most of those trying to commit suicide are youths, and thankfully, we managed to rescue some,” he added.

Mohammed Arafat holds a bachelor degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and is preparing for a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies. Author of  Still Living There, a book documenting Gaza’s last war and its aftermath.

Nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to hope for. Gaza city, November 2014. Photo by Press TV.

Pushing Gaza to suicide: The politics of humiliation

By Ramzy Baroud, Ma’an
June 27, 2017

Muhammad Abed is a 28-year-old taxi driver from the village of al-Qarara, near the town of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip. He has no teeth.

Lack of medical care and proper dentistry work cost him all of his teeth, which rotted and decayed at a very young age. Yet, his dire financial needs prevented him from acquiring dentures. His community eventually pitched in, collecting the few hundred dollars needed for Muhammad to finally being able to eat.

Muhammad is not unemployed. He works ten hours, sometimes more, every single day. The old taxi he drives between Khan Yunis and Gaza City is owned by someone else. Muhammad’s entire daily salary ranges from 20 to 25 shekels, about $6.

Raising a family with four children with such a meagre income made it impossible for Muhammad to think of such seemingly extraneous expenses, such as fixing his teeth or acquiring dentures.

Strange as it may seem, Muhammad is somewhat lucky.
Unemployment in Gaza is among the highest in the world, presently estimated at 44 percent. Those who are “employed,” like Mohammed, still struggle to survive. 80 percent of all Gazans are dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Gaza’s economy on “verge of collapse,” a  World Bank report has warned – its unemployment rate is now the highest in the world’. “Blockades, war and poor governance have strangled” the economy.  Gaza’s GDP would have been X4 higher if not for conflicts and the blockade.

In 2015, the UN had warned that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020. At the time, all aspects of life had testified to that fact: lack of reliable electricity supply, polluted water, Israel’s military seizure of much of the Gaza Strip’s arable land, restricting the movement of fishermen and so on.

An Israeli military siege on Gaza has extended for over 10 years, and the situation continues to deteriorate.

A Red Cross report last May warned of another “looming crisis” in the public health sector, due to the lack of electricity.

The energy crisis has extended from electricity supplies to even cooking gas.

Last February, Israel cut cooking gas supplies to the Gaza Strip to a half.

“The cooking gas stations stopped accepting empty gas cylinders because their tanks are empty,” according to the Chairman of the Petroleum and Gas Owners Association of the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud Shawa. He described the situation as “very critical.”

Three months ago, the Mahmoud Abbas-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah decided to reduce the salaries of tens of thousands of its employees in the Gaza Strip.

The money provided by the PA had played an essential role in keeping the struggling economy afloat. With most employees receiving half — or less — of their salaries, the barely functioning Gaza economy is dying.

‘H’ is a university professor and his wife, ‘S’, is a doctor. The middle-class couple with five children has lived a fairly comfortable life in the Gaza Strip, even during the early years of the siege. Now, they tell me they are counting their money very carefully so as to avoid the fate of most Gazans.

‘S’s salary comes from Ramallah. She is now only able to claim $350 dollars from what was once a significantly higher pay. ‘H’ does not receive his money from the West Bank’s authority, but his salary was slashed by half, anyway, since most of the students are now too poor to pay for their tuition.

Gaza graduates sit around with nothing to do, summer 2010. A university degree may do little to enhance employment chances especially since April when the Palestinian National Authority announced cuts in civil service numbers and a 30% pay cut to remaining staff. Photo by Wissam Nassar/MaanImages

Muin, who lives in the al-Nuseirat Refugee Camp, is worse off. A retired teacher, with a pension that barely reaches $200 a month, Muin is struggling to put food on the table. An educated father of four unemployed adult sons and a wife recovering from a stroke and can barely walk, Muin lives mostly on hand-outs.

With no access to the West Bank due to the Israeli siege, and with severe restrictions on movement via the Rafah-Egypt border, Gaza is living through its darkest days. Literally. Starting June 11, Israel began reducing the electricity supply to the impoverished Gaza Strip, as per the request of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.

The results are devastating. Gaza households now receive two to three hours of electricity per day, and not even at fixed hours.

‘S’ told me that her family is constantly on alert. “When electricity arrives at any time of the day or night, we all spring into action,” she said. “All batteries must be charged as quickly as possible and the laundry must be done, even at 3 in the morning.”

Palestinians – mainly unemployed young  men – protest against the ongoing electricity crisis in Jabalya refugee camp,   northern Gaza Strip,  January 2017. Photo by Mohammed Abed, /AFP

But Gazans are survivors. They have endured such hardships for years and, somehow, they have subsisted. But cancer patients cannot survive on mere strength of character.

Rania, who lives in Gaza City, is a mother of three. She has been struggling with breast cancer for a year. With no chemotherapy available in Gaza’s barely-functioning hospitals, she has taken the arduous journey from Gaza to Jerusalem every time she has needed to carry out the life-saving procedure.

That, until Israel decided not to issue new permits to Gaza’s terminally ill patients, some of whom have died waiting for permits and, others — like Rania — who are still hoping for a miracle before cancer spreads through the rest of their bodies.

But Israel and Egypt are not the only culprits. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is using the siege as a bargaining chip to put pressure on its rival, Hamas, which has controlled the besieged Strip for ten years.

Hamas, on the other hand, is reportedly seeking a partnership with its old foe, Muhammad Dahlan, to ease the Gaza siege through Egypt in exchange for making him the head of a committee that is in charge of Gaza’s external affairs.

Dahlan is also a foe of Abbas, both fighting over the leadership of the Fatah party for years.

Abbas’ requests to Israel to put pressure on Gaza via electricity reduction, together with his earlier salary cuts, are meant to push Hamas out of its the proposed alliance with Dahlan.

Palestinians in Gaza are suffering; in fact, dying.

To think that Palestinian “leaders” are actually involved in tightening or manipulating the siege to exact political concessions from one another, is dismaying.

While Israel is invested in maintaining the Palestinian rift, so that it continues with its own illegal settlement policies in the West Bank and Jerusalem unhindered, Palestinians are blinded by pitiful personal interests and worthless “control” over occupied land.

In this political struggle, the likes of Muhammad, ‘H’, ‘S’ and cancer-ridden Rania — together with two million others — seem to be of no significance.

Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, sounded the alarm on June 14 when she warned that “the latest power cuts risk turning an already dire situation into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.”

“For 10 years, the siege has unlawfully deprived Palestinians in Gaza of their most basic rights and necessities. Under the burden of the illegal blockade and three armed conflicts, the economy has sharply declined and humanitarian conditions have deteriorated severely,” she said.

Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch director for the region, rejected the notion that the Israelis cut off electricity supplies to Gaza  as per the Palestinian Authority’s request.

“Israel controls the borders, the airspace, the waters of Gaza, so Israel has an obligation that goes beyond merely responding to a request from Palestinian authorities,” Shakir said.

Between Israel’s dismissal of international calls to end the siege and Palestinians’ pathetic power game, Gazans are left alone, unable to move freely or live even according to the lowest acceptable living standards.

Fatima, a 52-old mother from Rafah, told me that she tried to kill herself a few days ago, if it were not for her children wrestling the knife away.

When I told Fatima that she has so much to live for, she chuckled and said nothing.

The suicide rate in the Gaza Strip is at all-time high, and despair is believed to be the main factor behind the alarming phenomena.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017