“The heavy restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza have not only crushed the enclave’s originally trade-based economy, they are also responsible for high and increasing levels of unemployment, poverty and food insecurity and contribute to widespread feelings of depression, hopelessness and confinement, particularly among Gaza’s youth” (UNRWA)
The illegal Israeli land, air, and sea blockade has caused the humanitarian crisis that 2 million Palestinians live under in Gaza. 70% of the people in Gaza are refugees. The Israeli blockade is a crime against children, over half the population of Gaza; more than 50% of people in Gaza are under the age of 18 and 70% are under the age of 30. This human-made catastrophe has had a detrimental impact on the youth in Gaza, undermining the mental and physical health of Palestinian children, producing unbearable socio-economic conditions that have eroded employment opportunities, restricted Palestinian freedom of movement, and curtailed Palestinian education in various forms. The human-made catastrophe has caused major physical and mental problems for children, from hearing loss caused by Israeli jets breaking the sound barrier at low altitudes, to disease spread from most of the water being undrinkable and sewage flowing in the streets and directly into the sea. The shortage of food and electricity, added to being locked up without freedom of movement, results in a depressed child population.
As a result Palestinians, and in particular the younger generations, decide to take their futures in their own hands. They resist the illegal and inhumane blockade that is destroying their lives through actions like the Great March of Return. The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) repeatedly use lethal violence to reinforce both the blockade and occupation of Gaza, killing and injuring youths and further undermining Palestinian people’s rights, including to safety and security.
No human being should live under such horrific and inhumane conditions, especially not children. Yet most of the children of Gaza have lived under this 15-year long blockade their entire lives. Our task is to expose the daily suffering that the youth of Gaza experience as a result of illegal Israeli collective punishment (see Art. 33 4th Geneva Convention). The illegal blockade must be immediately lifted to free children from this collective torture. We then need to end the blockade.
“We are witnessing several phenomena that we never saw before amongst children in Gaza – hundreds of children at traffic lights, begging on the streets, trying to sell chewing gum or even to clean your car just to get one Shekel. This never happened in Gaza before – three years ago, or up to 2014, you could count five to 10 children doing this and now you can count hundreds of them” – Child protection worker, Save the Children partner organisation
Health of Palestinian Youths
The blockade of Gaza, coupled with the regular Israeli bombing, continues to wreak death and destruction. Israel has restricted building materials to repair the bombed facilities as well as medical supplies and equipment. The Israeli blockade also requires Palestinians get difficult to get permits (including for children) to leave Gaza to receive medical treatment that is not available in Gaza. For the few that are granted such permits many are forced to go without a parent when the parent is not also granted a permit.
Various human rights groups and international organisations have documented the severe youth health problems:
- “Half of Palestinian children aged 6-12 experience emotional and behavioural disorders, according to the WHO” (Save the Children)
- 295,193 (30%) children are in need of protections programmes, including psychosocial support (UNICEF)
- Due to 68% households in Gaza facing food insecurity, this is producing health vulnerabilities including the “prevalence of stunting of 10% in the Gaza Strip, highest among children from refugee and low-income families” (WHO)
- 18% of pregnant women and 14% of mothers of young infants face malnutrition, thus “putting at risk the life and growth of the unborn child” (UNICEF)
- Only 14% of children consume an acceptable diet (UNICEF)
According to Save the Children, the “lack of electricity not only causes anxiety for children but also impairs their ability to perform day-to-day activities” as darkness forces students to “rush to complete their homework or chores before it gets dark” and “restricts their ability to play or entertain themselves”, the result of which is increased stress and discontentment.
Palestinian children are trapped, unable to flee the continuous cycle of bombing and destruction caused by repeated Israeli military aggressions and the blockade. The economic restrictions from the blockade have resulted overwhelming poverty and dependence on charity. This entrapment and feeling like the helpless fish that someone is shooting in a barrel leads to mental health issues. As Save the Children reports, “the ongoing instability and feelings of entrapment have left many children and young people in Gaza with a deep sense of insecurity, fear and hopelessness, and have had a profound impact on their mental health and well-being” as they “live under the constant threat of further conflict and deepening economic hardship, with little opportunity of escape.”
According to Medical Aid for Palestinians, “prolonged stress can cause lifelong impairments to children’s educational achievement, physical and mental health, and cognitive functioning. The cumulative effects of a decade of blockade and violence means there is arguably no ‘Post’ to Post-Traumatic Stress in Gaza.” Therefore, with the continuous imposition of the blockade, the lives of children are guaranteed to continue to deteriorate and thus it is imperative that the blockade is challenged and lifted.
“We are living in a big prison; we don’t know when we will be free. There are many patients who are in desperate need to travel for medical treatment; there are also students who need to travel to pursue their education. The closure of the crossings has frustrated and eliminated their hope of a better life. We, the people of Gaza, lack one of the basics of life which is electricity, and everybody, young and old, suffers from that… Why are we living this life? Why don’t we live a happy life void of wars, bombardment and destruction?” – Ahmed al-Madhoun, 15-year old Palestinian from Gaza
Education for Palestinian Youths
The Israeli military attacks combined with the blockade of Gaza has undermined Palestinian education by destroying schools and limiting their reconstruction. During Operation Protective Edge (2014), Israel was responsible for damaging or destroying 262 schools and 274 kindergartens (UN). Severe restrictions on building materials entering Gaza by Israel severely slowed down construction attempts of such vital institutions for Palestinian youth development.
Israel has further subverted educational efforts with the blockade by restricting the importation of basic school supplies, including textbooks, notebooks and pens. Sarah Lea Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), stated that it “effectively deprives children of their right to an education.” HRW therefore concludes that such restrictions to education in Gaza violates international law as “Article 50 of the Fourth Geneva Convention concerning occupied territories requires the occupying power to “facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children”.”
The repeated electricity cuts coupled with destitute families in impoverished living conditions are eroding the performances and incentives of Palestinian students (UNOCHA). Palestinians also face difficulties in leaving Gaza to pursue their education due to Israeli restrictions.
Some important statistics on education in Gaza:
- “Only 30% of young children (aged 3-6) attend licenced preschools in Gaza, leaving many neglected in this critical phase of learning and holistic development” (UNOCHA).
- “Some 50% of students (aged 5-17) do not achieve their full educational potential, meaning that the psychological impact of hostilities has led to a deterioration in learning outcomes, and difficulties in reading and writings” (UNOCHA).
- Due to the overcrowding of schools and the lack of sufficient classrooms, 2/3rds of schools are forced “to operate on double or triple shifts, with learning reduced to 4.5 hours a day” (UNICEF).
- 86 new school buildings and 1,081 new classrooms are needed in Gaza in the next few years to effectively accommodate all children and to provide them with learning opportunities (UNICEF). Yet with the blockade severely restricting the necessary building materials many more Palestinian children are going to either experience their learning seriously curtailed or even possibly miss out entirely on their formal education.
Employment Opportunities for Palestinian Youths
The blockade of Gaza also severely reduces employment opportunities for Palestinian youths. Currently, 67% of youth in Gaza are unemployed (World Bank). As the UN highlights, “the unemployment crisis is particularly severe in Gaza due to the continuation of the Israeli blockade, which has severely affected the construction, manufacturing and transportation sectors, even bringing them to a halt on occasion.” The blockade limits imports and exports; without being able to export goods manufacturing is seriously limited.
Moreover, “the impact on the labour market in terms of loss of employment and falling wages has translated into a large increase in poverty rates … Most affected have been youth in Gaza, which has been effectively cut off from access to markets since 2007,” when the blockade went into full force (UN).
Furthermore, Palestinian university graduates in Gaza experience difficulties in finding a job which undermines their future prospects of financial stability. According to the World Bank, “roughly 40,000 young people who graduate from Palestinian universities each year, three out of five remain unemployed.” The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics further concludes that 78% of university graduates (19-29 years) in Gaza are jobless.
“As a child living in Gaza Strip, I suffer from the closure of all crossings in and out of Gaza. There are many wounded people and patients who have not been treated in hospitals, who need to be treated abroad. Also, my brother is a new graduate, but there are no job opportunities to join. He got a scholarship opportunity abroad. However, because of the closure of the crossings, he could not leave Gaza and lost the opportunity” – Samar, 11 years old (Name changed to protect identity)
The deliberate destruction of Gaza’s economy (in what the UN labels the de-development of Gaza’s economy) by Israel primarily through the ongoing occupation and brutal blockade is reducing the prospects of young Palestinians from entering the workforce and securing a stable life and future for themselves and their families. Therefore, the blockade must be immediately lifted in order for Gaza to breathe and begin redeveloping its economy by allowing the free movement of goods and people the result of which would mean greater employment opportunities for its residents.
The Great March of Return
The Great March of Return (GMR) is a movement by Palestinian youth who decided to resist the blockade and break free from the Gaza “open-air prison”. Unfortunately, Israeli Occupation Forces have responded with brutal force resulting in vast casualties amongst Palestinian civilians.
As Israeli human rights group Gisha stated, “protestors, many of them young people, hoped to be seen, to remind the world that they too deserve a future, a full life lived in peace, access to reasonable living conditions, and a solution to the conflict, including to the Palestinian refugee issue.”
Unfortunately, according to the UN, 46 children have been killed, whilst 8,800 have sustained injuries as a result of Israel’s violent response to the overwhelmingly peaceful demonstration. Israeli Occupation forces have used live ammunition, gas canisters and expanding bullets which cause unusually large and destructive bullet wounds. 30 children were amputated as a result of injuries sustained during the GMR (WHO). A 2019 UN Commission of Inquiry on the GMR found, “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot them intentionally, knowing that they were children.” Israeli Occupation Forces thus willingly shot children who were protesting for freedom and equality, and against the inhumane blockade.
Such brutality and violence perpetrated by Israel against demonstrators “have also had widespread mental health and psychological consequences” as the “impacted people include those injured during the protests, particularly those who sustained physical disability, their caregivers, those who were directly exposed to extreme violence, especially children, and people who lost a family member” (UN). It is estimated that over 22,500 children will suffer from either severe or moderate mental health problems as a result of the GMR in 2020 (UN).
Israel’s blockade of Gaza deprives Gaza residents who have sustained physical or psychological trauma of the necessary medical treatment. Gaza’s medical system, which is in dire conditions, lacks the medical equipment, staff and facilities, coupled with electricity cuts, to effectively treat all injured Palestinians and give them the necessary surgery to save lives or prevent disabilities (UN). In an area with already limited opportunities, those with disabilities are going to find it troublesome to secure a safe future. As the UN highlights, “many children with disabilities are also isolated and unable to access services such as education.” It is our moral duty to do what we can to lift the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza.