“My children wake up screaming,” a Palestinian mother of two young girls in Gaza told me two years ago after a series of Israeli airstrikes pounded the Strip, killing sixteen civilians.
Her words provide only a tiny glimpse into the horrors the two million residents of Gaza endure every day under periodic Israeli bombardment and perpetual Israeli blockade. Let us not forget that Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes barely six months ago, which left more than 250 Palestinians dead, thousands seriously injured, and tens of thousands more traumatized.
On December 7, the Israeli government announced the completion of an underground wall and maritime barrier surrounding the besieged Gaza Strip, adding yet another layer of trauma to an already traumatized and permanently encaged population.
The 65-kilometer barrier includes radar systems, maritime sensors, and a network of underground sensors to detect militant tunnels. The existing fencing has also been replaced with a 6-meter high “smart fence” with sensors and cameras, according to the Washington Post, which Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz says places an “iron wall” between Hamas and Israeli citizens.
The barrier puts a thicker wall between Gaza residents and their loved ones in Israel and the occupied West Bank
However, the barrier puts a thicker wall between Gaza residents and their loved ones in Israel and the occupied West Bank; barring them from access to travel, hospitals, education, fisheries, and freedom, while putting further distance between Israel and international law. According to a United Nations fact-finding team, the land, sea, and air blockade Israel has imposed on Gaza since 2005 is considered a “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.” Unfortunately, despite the UN’s call out, the international community has been silent.
“It’s official, Gaza is now a ghetto, not a prison, a ghetto,” stated Israeli newspaper Haaretz on December 14, invoking memories of the horrors that took place against Polish Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.
“What’s the difference between a prison and a ghetto? In a prison, they incarcerate people for their crimes. In a ghetto, they incarcerate people for their genes.”
Other outlets were even more trenchant, including the online magazine Mondoweiss, which not only described Gaza as a “concentration camp” by pointing to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, but slammed mainstream media organizations for not doing the same and parroting Israeli propaganda.
“Israel’s decision to redeploy its troops around the densely-populated coastal strip in 2005, and then impose an unprecedented, medieval siege in 2006 that has shattered all spheres of life, and then carry out four massive attacks that have killed more than four thousand civilians, including women and children, does not seem to be enough for the ruling Zionist elites of the rogue state,” observes Haidar Eid, an Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University.
Benignly and euphemistically, however, the Washington Post echoed Israeli talking points in describing the Gaza concentration camp’s walls as a “security barrier,” mirroring the right-wing Jerusalem Post, which calls the completed project an “upgraded barrier.”
The Washington Post echoed Israeli talking points in describing the Gaza concentration camp’s walls as a “security barrier.”
Surprisingly, the New York Times, which typically affords extensive coverage to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, made no mention of Israel’s increased fortification of Gaza’s borders, leaving its readers and millions of Americans further in the dark when it comes to understanding how their tax dollars are used to inflict misery and suffering on the Palestinian people.
The undeniable reality is this: not only is Gaza the world’s largest concentration camp but also the third most densely populated territory in the world, with the United Nations recently describing the encaged enclave as “uninhabitable.”
When I spoke with Dr. Basem Naim, the former Palestinian Minister for Health and current head of the Council of International Relations, he said, “The situation today is catastrophic.”
“The typical Palestinian gets only three to five hours of electricity each day,” he said. “You can’t pump water to apartments that are above ground level. You can’t pump sewage, which is why more than 95 percent of Gaza’s drinking water is undrinkable.”
This squalid depravation forced onto the population, an overwhelming majority of whom are refugees forcibly expelled from their homes by Israeli forces during the Nakba in 1948, the Arab Israeli war of 1967, and multiple campaigns of ethnic cleansing since, has been made materially worse at the hands of Israeli military ground invasions in 2009 and 2014, along with almost annual aerial assaults, which have all but pulverized what little civilian infrastructure remains in the Strip.
These numbers tell a horrific story: 38 percent of Gazans live in poverty; 58 percent of youths are unemployed; 54 percent are food insecure; 75 percent depend on foreign aid; 50 to 80 million liters of partially treated sewage is dumped into the sea each day; 85 percent of Gaza’s fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures; and one-third of items on the essential drug list are out of stock, according to the United Nations.
“The magnitude, the deliberateness, the violations of international humanitarian law, and the overall conditions warrant the characterization of a crime against humanity”
“The magnitude, the deliberateness, the violations of international humanitarian law, the impact on the health, lives, and survival, and the overall conditions warrant the characterization of a crime against humanity,” says Richard Falk, a former UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.
“And yet, we, ungrateful ‘anti-Semites,’ are being blamed for calling [the barrier] a concentration camp!’” bemoans a rueful Haidar Eid.
It’s little wonder Gaza is now faced with a suicide epidemic among its young population, with a recent report finding 38 percent have considered taking their own life at least once.
“Gaza’s young people are growing more desperate. They struggle to retain hope for a future free of violence and full of opportunities. Many have come to see suicide as a means of escape from their troubles,” says the humanitarian aid group Islamic Relief.
To that end, Palestinians view the completion of Israel’s Gaza concentration camp barrier as an extinguishment of whatever little hope they still held towards experiencing what Israeli citizens take for granted, including freedom of movement and freedom from want and fear.