Gaza City – “What are your wishes for the new year?”
It’s a typical question, but you don’t ask that in the Gaza Strip.
If you did, you would open yourself up to strange or angry looks, or someone might think you were making fun of them.
So instead I asked the question to myself.
I am a journalist, but I am from Gaza; I have experienced the daily reality, the hardships and the challenges of it.
Being a journalist is a heavy burden here.
You bring news that can make you despondent, but it is news that has been repeated for more than 15 years, since the beginning of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, about an ongoing human tragedy experienced by my fellow Palestinians in Gaza.
We have written about the same issues, the same circumstances, the same news of military escalations and the same suffering, with nothing changing.
Does this mean that the lives of the two million people living in Gaza are worthless?
Many Palestinians in Gaza are struggling with the ongoing suffering and have lost the desire to talk and be interviewed.
Their answers to my questions always start with the same answer: “What are we going to say? No one hears or feels us.”
Gaza was not spared military attack last year.
In August, Israel launched an offensive that ultimately killed at least 49 Palestinians, injured hundreds and displaced dozens.
It’s a bloody scenario that keeps repeating itself and only serves to worsen conditions in an area that has already collapsed economically, ecologically and politically, one that the United Nations once predicted would be “uninhabitable” by 2020.
When I think back to the three days of the Israeli attack in August, I remember many painful stories of grief and loss.
I do not know how Umm Khalil Hamada would look forward to the new year without the only child she gave birth to after 15 years of trying to conceive.
What about 11-year-old Rahaf Suleiman, who lost her hands and feet after an Israeli bombing?
How will the people of Gaza forget all this grief, sorrow and bitterness? How do they keep knowing that the truce hanging over them could collapse at any moment with no political solution in sight? How how how?
In Gaza, a round of conflict may end, but people feel that they are experiencing a daily war. A fierce war was waged against closed border crossings and travel restrictions, against high unemployment rates, against extreme poverty and against daily blackouts.
Desperate search for medical treatment
One of the main effects of living in Gaza occurs when seeking medical attention.
In the past year, my mother developed lung complications after being infected with COVID-19 twice. Her condition began to deteriorate significantly and the doctors in Gaza were unable to help with their limited resources and dilapidated health system.
In Gaza, in this case, the best option is to think about treatment in Israeli hospitals. However, this comes with a few hurdles: providing medical reports, requesting a medical referral, security clearances, and paperwork from a human rights organization to prove it is a humanitarian case.
The Civil Affairs Department is where you go when you apply to travel through the Israeli-administered Beit Hanoon Crossing, known as Erez to Israelis.
Of course we were not alone. Dozens, if not hundreds, of civilians entered the building to request medical treatment in Israel.
A state of great despair and helplessness tormented all who desperately waited for a permit. Frowning faces covered in sweat, fatigue and fear, waiting for an answer that would usually involve a long list of safety conditions, and most likely a rejection.
After weeks of waiting and trying, my mother’s request was approved by the Israeli hospital.
But the Israeli authorities refused to allow her to pass Erez. No reason was given.
In general, Israel says these measures are necessary for security reasons, but to the Palestinians in Gaza it feels like yet another way of punishing the population.
So we turned to our other option: the crossing at Rafah and Egypt.
Here began a new journey of complicated procedures.
It is worth noting that the journey through the Rafah border crossing is known as “a piece of agony” as travelers wait long hours on the Egyptian side, before passing through Egypt on a road that takes several hours, interrupted by traveler checkpoints.
The distance between Rafah and Cairo should not exceed six hours, but with restrictions it will take more than 20 hours.
Finally, my mother made it to Turkey, where she realized what life could be like outside living under a blockade in Gaza.
In video calls, she expressed her grief for her children, for the young people who will have to live through what she described as the “cemetery” that is Gaza.
My mother told us that she had met her death in Gaza without medical treatment. After she was able to travel and go to Turkey, she came back to life.
Our conversations would end when our power went out.
It would make me think about our situation, our reality and the deterioration of our quality of life.
How do Palestinians in Gaza deal with this? And why is the idea of a normal life just a dream for them?
I have no answers to these questions, but with no hope of a solution in sight, everyone in Gaza I speak to believes that what’s to come will be even worse. The thought is that if you are optimistic, you are only setting yourself up for disappointment.
In Gaza, people can’t stop talking about what they predict to be the inevitable explosion of the situation, another devastating war that most believe will eventually come one day.
And yet the general feeling is one of worrying ambivalence.
“If it happens, will it be worse than what we’ve been through?” is the common refrain. “Then there is no difference with what we are already experiencing.”