The stories read like dispatches from a nightmare, describing a reality that is almost too extreme to fathom: nearly 2 million people locked inside a land mass the size of Philadelphia, the borders carefully controlled, the movement of goods and humans severely restricted; as much as 72 percent of the population facing food insecurity and 41 percent struggling with unemployment; hospitals forced to rely on generators for life-saving equipment, while supplies of life-saving medicines dwindle to dangerous levels; and looming in the not-far-off distance, as water treatment and desalination plants stop working, the risk that drinking water will run out.
Such is the daily reality of life in the Gaza Strip, the narrow Mediterranean enclave that is home to nearly half of all Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. It is a place where life has long been cruel, where refugees forced out of Israel during the Nakba and families who have lived in Gaza for generations have suffered under dire conditions for nearly 70 years. But in the last decade, it has become a site of stunning misery. Ten years ago this past June, Israel imposed a stringent land, sea, and air blockade on Gaza. With the ready help of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime in Egypt, they have restricted most movement to and from the strip and pushed the tiny territory to the brink of collapse. Today some 80 percent of Gaza’s population relies on humanitarian aid to survive. Conditions have become so extreme that the United Nations has stated that by 2020 the Gaza Strip could become uninhabitable.
And now, Palestinians in Gaza face a new crisis. Just last month, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the Israeli-occupied West Bank decided to stop paying Israel for the electricity it supplies to the Gaza Strip. This prompted Israel to cease supply: Instead of enjoying as many as four to six hours of electricity per day, Palestinians in Gaza would have to get accustomed to only two to three. In late June, Egypt stepped in with a direct shipment of diesel to Gaza, briefly easing the crisis. But, as a heat wave sweeps Gaza, it is not clear how long the arrangement will continue. Human-rights organizations warned that further electricity reduction could cause a “total collapse.”
The only time I was able to enter Gaza was in the summer of 2015, a year after Israel’s last devastating military assault on the strip. Upon leaving the last station of the border crossing, manned by officials of the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, scenes of destruction unfolded before my eyes. Apartment blocks that had formed the first line of defense against the Israeli army had essentially been gutted. On the drive south towards Gaza City, whole areas had been razed to the ground. Reconstruction had yet to commence—a result of Israel’s restrictions on the import of building material—so the collapsed buildings had been diligently swept into piles of rubble by the sides of the streets. People lived in the remnants of their homes or within the skeletons of teetering buildings, using colorful cloths where windows once stood.