Life under occupation
Aftermath of military incursion into Khan Yunis
24 January 2003
In the Gaza Strip during 2002, 497 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military, a few by settlers. 108 were under the age of 18 and 49 were women. 1932 people were injured. A doctor said to me: "Nearly everyone here has suffered at the hands of the Israelis and has lost relatives, shot or shelled or bombed." But the effects of psychological trauma are more widespread than those of physical trauma. The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme estimates that 87% of households have one or more members with psychological illness. However, everyone is affected psychologically to a greater or lesser extent by the strain of living under the very oppressive occupation.
At any time, but particularly at night, anywhere in the Gaza Strip may be attacked from the air or be the site of an incursion by Israeli soldiers and tanks. Apart from the fear of military attack, people living in the occupied territories have to live with the stresses which accompany unemployment and poverty. Before the second Intifada started in September 2000, 100,000 Gazans worked in Israel, mainly in agriculture and the construction industry. The Israeli government has reduced this to 15,000, with the result that unemployment has risen to 80%, so that 70% of the population now have an income of less than $2 a day.
The Strip is very densely populated, particularly the refugee camps, home to a third of the population. Overcrowding is exacerbated by the gradual but relentless seizure of land by the Israeli military. 42% of the area of the strip is now controlled by the Israelis and so cannot be used by the Palestinians for habitation or cultivation. The taking of this land contravenes UN Security Council Resolution 242 which was agreed to by both the Israelis and the Palestinians after the 1967 war.
Unemployment and shortage of land for cultivation have led to widespread malnutrition. In spite of the distribution of food to over half the population by the UN, nearly a quarter of children aged six months to five years are acutely or chronically malnourished. Also, one fifth of young children and half of the women of reproductive age are anaemic. The head of UNRWA, the UNís agency for Palestinian refugees, has pointed out that this malnutrition is man-made: "No drought has hit Gaza and the West Bank, no crops have failed and the shops are often full of food. But the failure of the peace process and the destruction of the economy by Israel's closure policy have had the effect of a terrible natural disaster." UNRWA has appealed to the international community for $32m to provide food for Gaza and the West Bank during the first half of 2003.* So far only $1.5m has been given. The first recommendation in Christian Aidís excellent recent report on the situation in Palestine is for the continued provision of aid during what is now an emergency.**
** "Losing Ground: Israel, Poverty and the Palestinians," Christian Aid, 2003. www.christian-aid.org.uk/indepth/0301isra/losing.htm
Donkey carts collecting food from UN depot