I saw what blockade means in Gaza. I saw empty medicine boxes, people who were disabled by war and desperate babies who were born premature or with abnormalities due to chemical bombs. I saw the desperation of cancer patients and kidney patients who need dialysis machine. I saw hours-long power cuts and kilometers-long gas queues. Yet the more important than all these, I saw existence of hope in Gaza this time in my second visit to the region.
When we enter Gaza from Egypt’s Rafah Border Crossing, a friend from the team which have come to welcome us says: “Welcome to Ribat,” and our Gaza trip begins. We are proceeding toward the center of Gaza with the Palestinians who welcome every delegation coming from Turkey with open arms. Pile-up of garbage through the road attracts my attention. Officials say they have found no solution to dispose the garbage as they have no technology to dispose solid waste. Another official says: “We are trying to collect garbage with 1,500 donkey carts.” They say the number of garbage trucks given by the United Nations is insufficient.
As I take a glance at Gaza, constructions attract my attention. It is mostly construction materials which are brought from the increasing number of tunnels. Buildings, hospitals, roads and schools are being constructed. The increase in the number of tunnels has eventually reduced the price of construction materials. The price of one ton of iron which was sold for $, 3,000 before is around $1,000 now. The price of one sack of cement has fallen as low as $5.
Sitting in the most famous pastry shop of Gaza, I ask the waiter who served us the second plate of dessert why he made such a gesture. In response, he said: “IHH [Humanitarian Relief Foundation] reconstructed our homes which were demolished by war. Serving a plate of dessert cannot even be compared to IHH’s efforts it made for us.”IHH is carrying out significant projects in Gaza. I learned that IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation is carrying out serious work in Gaza and caring for 10,000 orphans.
It is impossible to tell how I was shocked upon witnessing the things at the Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza. The hospital’s delivery room is filled with babies who are born premature or with abnormalities. All the incubators are filled with these babies. When I ask why the number of these babies is so high, Eymen al Sahbani, head of the surgery department, said phosphorus bombs used by Israel in its last war on Gaza is the reason for this. He said there is also 50 percent rise in the number of cancer cases.
Receiving us at his office, Gaza Deputy Health Minister Dr. Hasan Khalaf said they made a list of the medicine and medical supplies on which there is a blockade. “210 of 460 essential medicine and 250 out of 900 medical consumables are not available in Gaza. Israel does not allow the entry of these medicine and medical consumables. It is impossible for us to bring these supplies from the tunnels. We are unable to bring the broken parts of medical devices, which have a cost of millions of dollars, due to the blockade. So, we cannot make use of those devices. We sometimes have to bring engineers from Egypt from tunnels,” he said.
Khalaf also noted that there is a shortage of doctors with advanced medical knowledge such as pediatric cardiologists, experts on coronary diseases, plastic surgeons and experts on burn and eye surgery.
Under these circumstances, patients in critical condition who cannot have a treatment in Gaza are sent to Egypt. This creates a financial burden both for the patients and Hamas government. I heard that some patients lose their lives on their way to Egypt. The story of three children we listened to here, was very dramatic. One of these children, a heart patient, lost his life after having a surgery in Egypt while the second one lost his life in Rafah. The third one lost his life as he was being transferred to Turkey. Officials from the Health Ministry say Israel accepts Palestinian patients on condition that they agree to work as spies for Israel.
Life in Gaza is dependent on tunnels. According to official figures, there are 900 tunnels in Gaza while unofficial figures say it is 2,000. Everything we see in Gaza including food, construction materials, automobiles, animals, fruits and vegetables, tools, medicine and medical supplies, comes from tunnels.
According to official figures, 1,5 million people live in Gaza which has an area of 360 square kilometers; however, Hamas officials say the population has reached 1,8 million. The length of Gaza Strip, from sea to the land, changes between 7 and 10 kilometers. The length of the Gaza Strip toward Egypt’s side is 45 kilometers. So many people live in such a small area. Around one million people live here in camps as refugees.
Around 80 percent of the population lives under the poverty line. Unemployment level is at 40 percent, which is too high. Average monthly income per person is $350. Living in Gaza is very expensive due to the blockade. Gazans say life was even more expensive in Gaza following the 2008 war and it has become relatively cheaper recently due to a rise in the number of tunnels.
Over the past several months, there is a shortage of oil in Gaza. Due to Egypt’s objection, there is no sufficient oil flow from the tunnels. So, Gaza’s only power plant does not work due to lack of oil, which leads to eight-hour-long power cut every day. When there is a power cut, generators are activated. People wait in queues in oil stations for hours in order to get oil for their vehicles and generators. Gaza Energy Minister Yousuf al Mansoor says he uses a car accumulator in his home as a solution to power cuts. Power cuts paralyze daily life everywhere but its effects are felt more at hospitals.
To sum it up, life goes in Palestine somehow although it is severely affected by the blockade. Hamas government makes important jobs in Gaza. Investments by Turkish and Arab countries make big contribution to Gaza’s reconstruction and transformation. It seems that Israel is likely to perpetuate its blockade; however, Egypt is likely to change its Palestinian policy following the presidential elections. If Egypt opens Rafah crossing completely, Gazan people will have gotten rid of tunnels. It is very likely that the Arab Spring will turn into Palestinian Spring. There is no other choice.
And the most important thing is that the Islamic ummah should never forget Gaza as every promising development in Palestinian cause depends on the support of the ummah.