How the blockade hurts children

A decade of collective punishment has stripped children of their human rights

Aug 03, 2017
How the blockade hurts children
A Palestinian girl plays outside her house in Gaza City on July 27, 2017. (Photo: AFP / Mohammed Abed)

CHAPTER 1 Children’s basic needs are under seige in Gaza

Ramallah, August 4, 2017 — It’s been ten years since Israel began its land, sea, and air blockade on the Gaza Strip. This military siege has largely cut Gaza off from the rest of the world and prevented or acutely limited a wide range of goods and services from reaching children in Gaza.

As the siege grinds on, a man-made humanitarian crisis faces the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza, 43 percent of whom are children under the age of 15.

Repeated Israeli military assaults over the last ten years have worsened the situation. Since 2007, Defense for Children International - Palestine has documented 1,045 child fatalities due to Israeli military incursions, border violence, and explosive remnants of war (ERW).

Without adequate food, health care, education, or safe spaces, Gaza’s children are growing up without a childhood.

Hunger.

Flour, yeast, rice, salt, sugar, cooking oil.

Israel limited or prohibited each of these staple foods, at some point, from entering Gaza over the last decade. Further exacerbating food shortages, Israel has restricted Palestinian access to up to 85 percent of Gaza’s fishing waters and 35 percent of its agricultural land, including a strip of Palestinian territory along the Gaza-Israel border that Israel unilaterally declared a “no-go or “buffer” zone.

Today, approximately 47 percent of Gazans are food insecure.

Poverty and food scarcity have forced many children to seek food or income in dangerous ways, including entering the “buffer” zone. The exact range of the buffer zone remains unclear. Children who use the land to graze animals or scavenge for scrap metal to sell, often only know they have strayed into the buffer zone when Israeli soldiers begin firing at them.

“I placed my right hand on my eyes to close them and waited for death to come and get me,” Fadel said.

Fadel O., 11, was injured in the buffer zone while trying to meet his older brother, Nedal, to help bring home the family’s grazing sheep. Before reaching his brother, Israeli forces shot him in the thigh and groin. The soldiers left him bleeding on the ground for three hours.

“I placed my right hand on my eyes to close them and waited for death to come and get me,” Fadel said. He was discovered by relatives who rushed him to the hospital. Surgery saved his life but probably cost him the ability to have children, according to doctors.

Home.

The 2014 Israeli military assault on Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective Edge (OPE), left an unprecedented 22,000 Palestinian homes uninhabitable.

With the blockade restricting “dual-use” materials, reconstruction has been slow. Three years on, around 40,000 individuals are internally displaced, many of whom are living in emergency shelters not intended for long-term use.

Displaced Gazan children are exposed to nearly every kind of human rights risk including poor water and sanitation conditions, illness, weather-related risks, psychological distress, and in some cases, death.

Ahmad J., 10, fled his home in Khuza’a, near the southern border town of Khan Younis, with his family after the Israeli army invaded the area, taking shelter in a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school. When they returned home, they found only rubble. Their home and neighborhood had been razed to the ground. Ahmad and his family were told aid trailers would be imported, but Israeli authorities banned their entry and the family was forced to move into a trailer manufactured inside Gaza using substandard materials.

When winter rains began, the floor collapsed and the trailer was flooded by sewage. “The floor split into two halves, and the furniture and clothes were soaked in sewage water,” Ahmad told DCIP. “And because it was really cold, we froze under the blankets. Especially when electricity was cut off almost the entire day.” Conditions were equally difficult for the family in summer, as the tin walls of the trailer conducted heat, turning the inside of the trailer into an oven.

Outside spaces are also often unsafe. According to UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), multiple wars have left Gaza contaminated by ERW. ERW pose a particular danger to Gaza’s children who may come across them while walking, playing, or working.


Health.

Hospitals, primary care facilities, and ambulances were all hit and damaged during OPE, some destroyed beyond repair. Gaza’s sole power plant, also damaged during OPE, was left funtioning at low capacity.

Ten years of “chronic electricity deficit” have meant frequent blackouts, degraded access to medical care and treatment delays.

The electricity shortage was exacerbated in June, when Israel reduced Gaza’s electricity supply by 40 percent, at the Palestinian Authority’s request.

Hospitals have turned to generators to fill the gaps but these, too, are an unreliable power source. When they fail or need repairs, new parts or replacement machines are hard to come by because of blockade restrictions.

The blockade often prevents Palestinians in need of medical attention from leaving Gaza and medical aid from entering. In May 2017, Israel denied or delayed over half of the applications for patients to leave Gaza for medical reasons, including 255 children, according to a World Health Organization report.

Poor nutrition from poverty, inadequate shelter, and low access to water, power and sanitation services throughout Gaza, make children more vulnerable to falling seriously ill. Gaza’s water and wastewater infrastructure—already in desperate need of repair—were further damaged during OPE.

Each day, more than 100 million liters (26 million gallons) of sewage is being released into the Mediterranean Sea because of Gaza’s meager access to energy for waste water treatment.

Ahmad K., 9, used to live in an apartment block with his family in Beit Hanoun. After their home was destroyed, they relocated to a temporary trailer with inadequate access to water or electricity. In winter, Ahmad came down with both the flu and typhoid fever.

“All my brothers have fallen ill during our stay at the UNRWA school and in the trailer,” he told DCIP, adding, “My other brother, Dawoud, has anemia because of the poor food we eat.”

Future.

The blockade, punctuated by repeated Israeli military incursions, paints a dark picture of the future for children.

The 2014 assault caused an estimated $4.4 billion loss in damages. After, poverty spiked to 39 percent and unemployment reached a staggering 43 percent, likely the highest in the world.

One father, Sa’d B., 30, explained he and his family have barely been able to make ends meet since his donkey—his family’s primary source of income—was killed in a strike during the 2014 assault. Sa’d has since been forced to rely on supplemental income from his children.

“I had to take [my children] to the dumpster in Yarmouk area to collect and sell plastic objects…[It’s] dangerous because of the many diseases, germs, flies, and smells, and they could get injured by the glass and metal objects,” Sa’d told DCIP. “I wish I would die instead of living like this. I see my children in need and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Sa’d and his family are not alone. Economic destitution in Gaza has left families unable to meet their most basic needs, forcing many to rely on income from their children, putting children’s educations and futures at risk.

Even for children who don’t need to work to survive, access to education in Gaza has become increasingly difficult. According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), over half of Gaza’s educational facilities were damaged during the 2014 assault, affecting an estimated 559,000 students.

This humanitarian crisis is entirely man-made and it can be stopped.

The horrible truth for children in Gaza is that survival, itself, is a challenge. According to a UN report, Gaza may be uninhabitable in just three year's time. This humanitarian crisis is entirely man-made and it can be stopped. As the world marks this dark 10 year anniversary, we must demand an end to the military siege so children in Gaza can enjoy a safe and secure future.

CHAPTER 2 Schools on Gaza’s Border: “Something bad is about to happen”

Students in the Shuja’iyya neighborhood of Gaza City attend class in a school damaged during Israel’s 2014 military assault. (Photo: ActiveStills / Anne Paq)

Ramallah, August  10, 2017 — Imran M., a 14-year-old from the eastern part of Gaza City, spends his school days in constant fear. Imran’s school is 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from the Gaza-Israel border, in regular proximity to Israeli forces. “We always have this feeling that something bad is about to happen to us.”

For children like Imran who are enrolled in schools near Gaza’s border with Israel, frequent clashes and shootings make each school day a dangerous challenge.

Imran told Defense for Children International - Palestine about a particular day last year when clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces stationed across the border sent a bullet flying through his classroom window, striking a blackboard. “We were so terrified by the sound that we rushed out of the classroom. We left our books and notebooks on the seats and rushed out, shouting in fear,” said Imran.

“We left our books and notebooks on the seats and rushed out, shouting in fear,” said Imran.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are 13 schools serving over 4,500 students within 1500 meters (0.9 miles) of the Gaza-Israel border fence. For many of these children, being close to Israeli military fixtures and in range of military actions every day is stressful, affecting both school attendance and performance. Students said they often struggle to pay attention to the lessons at hand.

“We don’t focus that much on what teachers are saying because we’re looking through the windows at Israeli tanks, bulldozers, watchtowers, and army jeeps,” 17-year-old Amira Q, from the southeastern village of Khuza’a, told DCIP. “Imagine what would happen if the Israeli army opened fire, or bulldozers moved toward the school. It happens a lot. We’re scared and distracted.”

Israeli military vehicles travel along the Israel-Gaza border, approximately 300 meters (33 yards) from Khuza’a Secondary Boys school in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. (Photo: courtesy of the Ministry of Education).

In 2005, Israel unilaterally declared a long strip of Palestinian territory along the border a no-go zone, often referred to as the “buffer zone.” The exact range is unclear and Palestinians often only know they have entered it when they encounter Israeli fire.

Military fixtures like watchtowers, gunmen and tanks are common along the border, and the buffer zone is the site of frequent clashes representing significant risks for children in the area.

Ahmad Fateeha, an educational supervisor at Shuja’iyya Secondary School for Boys said that even when no active clashes are taking place, shootings and other military activities can be seen or heard. “There are always shootings by Israeli soldiers with heavy machine guns while combing the border area, targeting lands, farmers, and bird hunters,” Fateeha said.

The school he works in is approximately 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from the border, by his estimate, and serves around 550 students. Located in Shuja’iyya, a neighborhood that was devastated by Israeli air strikes during 2014 hostilities, the school has been struck by bombs. It once temporarily converted into a military post by Israeli forces.

Each day, there are many reminders of the school’s vulnerable location, Fateeha noted. “We hear Israeli tanks very clearly across the border and we see warplanes, mostly drones, from inside the school.”

Located in Shuja’iyya, a neighborhood that was devastated by Israeli air strikes during 2014 hostilities, the school has been struck by bombs.

Compounding these risks, children who attend schools near the border also often live near the border. As such, neither home nor school is entirely safe.

“I live near the border and I go to school close to the border,” said Malak R., 16, who lives and studies in the northeastern corner of the Strip, in Beit Hanoun. “I’m scared to leave the house because there might be Israeli special forces moving into the border area. I can’t really focus in this kind of atmosphere because there’s always tension and fear.”

”I can see Israeli tanks and some soldiers, and I get really scared,” Malak told DCIP, describing the 30-minute trek he makes to school each day. “Sometimes I bend over and look straight and walk faster to make it to areas where there are people,” he said. “If I hear any sound of gunfire when I’m home or on the way to school, I rush back inside.”

For most of the children DCIP interviewed, transferring to another school is not an option because of long travel distances or overcrowding. Building new school facilities is a challenge in Gaza, as the now decade-long Israeli land, sea, and air blockade of Gaza has prevented or acutely limited a wide range of goods and services from reaching children, including construction materials.

A Palestinian child walks next to a destroyed house near Beit Dajan elementary school in Shuja’iyya, east of Gaza city in March, 2017. (Photo:DCIP)

Gaza’s need for new schools has been exacerbated by damages to educational facilities during repeated Israeli military assaults. Over half of Gaza’s educational facilities were damaged during the 2014 assault, affecting an estimated 559,000 students. According to OCHA, while there is a need for at least 20 new schools in Gaza each year to keep up with population growth, a mere 20 new schools have been built since 2013.

Students and faculty from schools along the border still suffer from the trauma of Israel’s 50-day military assault on Gaza over the summer of 2014, when they often came under heavy bombardment or were taken over by the Israeli army. Proximity to the Israeli military often forces children to re-live this trauma.

“We still talk about the war almost every day,” Imran told DCIP. “When we leave school, we see destroyed houses and factories nearby. We see Israeli tanks and soldiers across the border, near the school. How could we forget the war and the things the Israeli army did to us? I can’t deny we’re afraid something bigger will happen.”

“Following the recent war on Gaza in 2014, students had nightmares and disturbing dreams,” Iman Qdaih, a school counselor at Khuza’a Secondary School for Girls in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, told DCIP. Qdaih observed that her students are still greatly impacted by these memories.

“[I]f I enter a classroom suddenly and perhaps knock on the door loudly, it’s likely the girls will start to scream and cry,” said Qdaih. “In their minds they’re still afraid of what they went through during the war.”

An evacuation practice takes place at Beit Dajan elementary school in Gaza City’s Shuja’iyya neighborhood. (Source: courtesy of the Ministry of Education)

The Ministry of Education has created training programs for teachers and students in schools near the borders to practice evacuating the school in the case of attack. In Khan Younis, Akram N., 17, and his fellow students have practiced evacuations, first aid, and how to deal with suspicious objects.

But students, many of whom have now lived through three wars, are not comforted. Akram explained, “They taught us how to evacuate the school if there is an emergency. But the problem is, after we leave school, where can we go? There’s no place to run or hide.”

CHAPTER 3 Two meals and two fields: At the intersection of hunger and labor

Muath Ghalia, 12, inspects corn growing on his family’s rented agricultural lands in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza. (Photo: DCIP / Saud Abu Ramadan)

Ramallah, September 19, 2017 — “My favorite dish is fish,” said Muath Ghalia. At 12 years old, he is well versed in the challenges of producing and eating food in the Gaza Strip. “The last time I ate it was four or five months ago, I don’t remember clearly,” he added.

Muath and his family of eight depend on the two acres of agricultural land his father rents in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza, for their vegetable intake.

Muath and his brother eat only two meals a day, lunch and dinner, while putting in long hours between school and the farm. “We do not have breakfast,” he explained to Defense for Children International - Palestine, “because we wake up early and go directly to work.”

Lunch typically consists of potatoes or tomatoes, fried, to add in extra calories. Although hungry, Muath said he is at times too exhausted to eat. “Sometimes I skip dinner and go to bed once I come home from work because I am very tired.”

Most of the family’s meals are vegetarian by default. The family rarely eats chicken, red meat, or fish.

“Red meat costs 40 NIS ($11) per kilo, explained Muath’s father, Raed Ghalia. “I can’t afford it.”

A Palestinian boy helps load sacks of flour from a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) distribution center onto a truck in Shati refugee camp, western Gaza. (Photo: DCIP / Saud Abu Ramadan)

With little in hand, the World Food Programme (WFP) provides the family with much needed food assistance. “We receive four bags of wheat, five kilos (11lbs) of lentils, five kilos (11lbs) of sesame oil and five kilos (11lbs) of chickpeas every three to four months,” said Ghalia.

The assistance goes a long way in staving off malnutrition. Even so, the diet it allows is fairly limited, putting the family’s eating schedule on repeat mode. “The last meal I had was lentils. We had lentils yesterday as well,” Muath told DCIP.

Muath holds a small bundle of jute leaves that he helped to cultivate as part of his regular work on his family’s leased agricultural fields. (Photo: DCIP / Saud Abu Ramadan)

The land Muath works on also acts as the family’s main source of income, provided that the family is able to sell what they grow in the local market.

With high poverty rates depressing the market and the blockade preventing the family from exporting crops to the West Bank, the harvest is sold for pennies.

Their main crops are jute leaves, used for the Palestinian dish of “molokhia,” corn, and eggplant.

With high poverty rates depressing the local market and the blockade preventing the family from exporting crops to the West Bank, the harvest is sold for pennies. Jute will go for six cents a pound.

Muath and other youths load crops onto a cart in preparation for selling them at the market. (Photo: DCIP / Saud Abu Ramadan)

Ghalia explained that the farm’s profitability has decreased under the blockade, causing a shift in the types of crops they can afford to grow. “We used to export a kilo (2.2lbs) of strawberries for 18-20 NIS ($5.12 - $5.69). After the blockade, it is sold locally for 3-5 NIS ($0.88 - $1.42) which does not cover its cultivation costs,” said Ghalia.

The intersecting experiences of childhood hunger and labor within a gaunt food economy is common to many in Gaza.

Ahmad Abu Samra, 13, works on his family’s land to help provide food for his family. (Photo: DCIP / Saud Abu Ramadan)

Only a year older than Muath, Ahmad Abu Samra, 13, also gets just two meals a day. “Because we don’t have enough food,” the boy said, “we have adjusted ourselves to having two meals per day.”

His family of seven depends on their house’s 145-square-yard garden in Beit Lahia for the majority of their food intake.

“My kids don’t eat well, and I am not able to provide them with sufficient food and water,” said Ahmad’s father, Adeeb Abu Samra, to DCIP.

Ahmad’s family grows tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, corn, eggplant and pumpkins on their small plot. (Photo: DCIP / Saud Abu Ramadan)

Ahmad works on the farm, along with his elder brother and mother, to save the wages of one or two workers. When he’s not busy there, he takes on paid labor at other farms.

“If I don’t work, we wouldn’t find food in our house. We already don’t have much but it’s better than nothing,” commented Ahmad.

Israel’s 10-year blockade on Gaza has highly impacted food availability and production. The blockade has limited the entry of both food and agricultural materials, keeping farms and kitchens operating close to the bone.

The blockade has limited the entry of both food and and agricultural materials, keeping farms and kitchens operating close to the bone.

According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding’s report, pasta, yeast, flour, cooking oil, canned tuna, beans, black pepper, sugar, and rice are among the food items that the blockade has limited or prohibited from entering Gaza at some point in the last decade.

Ahmad’s mother fries vegetables picked from their family farm in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza. (Photo: DCIP / Saud Abu Ramadan.)

Land and sea access restrictions enacted by Israel have only worsened the shortage by cutting Gazans off from their own food sources.

Repeated Israeli offensives have also wrought damage on food production, leaving sections of Gaza’s agricultural land unusable. The Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO) confirmed direct damage to 17,000 hectares of Gaza’s agricultural land after Israel’s 2014 50-day assault on Gaza.

Ghalia estimated that his agricultural profit losses from the last three Israeli offensives on Gaza total over $30,000.

Ahmad Abu Samra, 13, sits on the floor for a meal of bread, eggplant and peppers with his mother and sister. (Photo: DCIP / Saud Abu Ramadan)

War has also caused large price fluctuations for some staple ingredients. During tensions surrounding Israeli 2014 offensive on Gaza, FAO reported “upward spikes have ranged from a 40 percent increase in the price of eggs to a 42 percent increase for potatoes to a 179 percent spike in the price of tomatoes.”

Together, these factors have produced widespread food scarcity and international aid dependence. Today, nearly half of the Strip’s 2 million inhabitants are moderately to severely food insecure.

In July 2017, the WFP and its partners provided food assistance to 246,000 qualifying Gazans.

However, food assistance, like all other types of donation-driven aid, is not always guaranteed. Just last June, the UN headquarters announced that food assistance to Gazans could be scaled back because of insufficient funds.

Access to adequate food is a basic right, according to Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child but Israel’s decade-long siege is blocking multiple pathways to solving Gaza’s food shortage. For now, with no easing of restrictions on the horizon, Ahmad and Muath will continue to bend their backs into the fields, in hopes of a good yield.

CHAPTER 4 End collective punishment against Gaza’s children

An evacuation practice takes place at Beit Dajan elementary school in Gaza City’s Shuja’iyya neighborhood. (Source: courtesy of the Ministry of Education)

An entirely man-made humanitarian crisis faces the nearly 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza, 43 percent of whom are under 15 years old. Israel’s 10-year military siege of the tiny coastal enclave and repeated Israeli military offensives have trapped Palestinians in dire conditions.

The 50-day Israeli military assault over the summer of 2014 killed 547 children, 535 as a direct result of Israeli attacks, and left an unprecedented 22,000 Palestinian homes uninhabitable.[1] Israeli blockade restrictions on building materials have slowed reconstruction efforts and around 40,000 individuals still live in temporary, substandard shelters.[2] Displaced Gazan children are exposed to nearly every kind of human rights risk, including poor water and sanitation conditions, weather-related risks, psychological distress, and in some cases, death.

Repeated Israeli bombardments have severely damaged Gaza’s sole power plant, causing frequent and lasting blackouts. In June 2017, at the request of the Palestinian Authority, Israel drastically reduced its power supply by 40 percent, plunging the population into approximately 20 hours of darkness a day. Ten years of 'chronic electricity deficit' have left Gaza's remaining hospitals operating with little power, causing reduced capacity and treatment delays.[3]

Repeated military assaults and the decade-long Israeli blockade deny and disrupt access to food, healthcare, education, and safe spaces, amounting to collective punishment against Palestinians in Gaza, prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention.[4]

For children in Gaza, survival itself is a challenge. Until we hold Israeli authorities accountable and demand an end to Israel’s collective punishment against Palestinians, these children will suffer grave violations of their basic rights to life, safety, health, and childhood.

[1] DCIP, Operation Protective Edge: A War Waged On Gaza's Children (2015)
http://www.dci-palestine.org/operation_protective_edge_a_war_waged_on_gaza_s_children_resource.

[2] Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), Report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (2017)
http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/UNSCO%20Report%20to%20AHLC%20-%201%20May%202017.pdf

[3] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "Gaza plunges into darkness: Severe deterioration in the energy situation" (2017)
https://www.ochaopt.org/content/gaza-plunges-darkness-severe-deterioration-energy-situation.

[4] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/34/70 (April 13, 2017)
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session34/Documents/A_HRC_34_70_E.docx.

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