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An update on Gaza one year after the ceasefire.
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Children outside Al-Lohaidan Health & Community Center in Jabalia, Gaza.
One of the many apartment buildings destroyed by an Israeli attack during last summer's war
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An update on Gaza by IPMN's Chair of Advocacy, Bob Ross

When I saw five kids running on the beach during my first day in Gaza earlier this month, I cried tears of sadness and joy. From the vantage point of my hotel balcony, the image of those boys running looked remarkably similar to the photograph of the four Palestinian boys who were killed by Israeli airstrikes just a year ago during the 2014 war on Gaza. But these boys were not running from the shadow of death; they were so fully abundant with life, laughing as they raced one another, doing cartwheels along the way. A kite was flying above and other kids and their parents bobbed up and down in the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. I watched fishing boats—the same fishing boats that are regularly fired upon by the Israeli Navy for merely fishing too close to the arbitrary line Israel has drawn in the sea—heading out for their evening journey, their beautiful Palestinian flags fluttering in the wind.
 
Today is the first anniversary of the ceasefire that ended the fifty days of death, destruction, and terror, which Israel called “Operation Protective Edge.” On the surface, Gaza appears to have returned to some sense of “normal.” But one needs to just scratch the surface to find that this “normality” is completely unsustainable.
 
“All the people in Gaza are traumatized—physically, socially, and psychologically,” a public health official from United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) told me, as I toured several of the territory’s hospitals.
 
Everyone I met had a near-death experience and everyone knew people who had died.
 
My friends, Jehad and Hamza, took me to Shujayia, a neighborhood in Gaza City, where they had seen scores of dead bodies strewn across the streets and under the rubble the morning after a particularly ferocious Israeli attack. The bodies are gone but the destruction was all around us. Every building—the vast majority of which were residential—had been hit. Many were flattened to the earth; others remained standing with their walls completely blown out. Cars sat crushed under the rubble of homes demolished by Motorola bombs or Caterpillar D9 bulldozers. The silence in Shujayia was deafening.
 
More than 2,200 people—each with a name, a story, hopes, and fears—were killed. Five hundred twenty one children died. Eighteen thousand homes in Gaza were demolished. One hundred thousand people are still homeless. Not a single home has been rebuilt, as the Israeli and Egyptian blockade allows only a tiny amount of construction material to enter Gaza.
 
The blockade also prevents most Palestinians from exiting the territory. “It is impossible for Gazans to leave,” one doctor told me. “It is like a large prison. This increases all the challenges of providing comprehensive health care.”
 
The blockade and war have devastated Gaza’s economy. Forty-three percent of Gazans are unemployed, the highest rate in the entire world, according to the World Bank. Seventy percent depend on food aid. Foreign companies are largely unable to invest in the territory. And Gaza’s businesses cannot export any of their goods, due to the blockade.  
 
UNRWA, one of Gaza’s biggest employers, is facing a financial crisis so severe it is barely able to continue operating its schools and hospitals. The Gaza Ministry of Health announced yesterday that due to a fuel shortage, it will most likely have to close some of its hospitals.
 
Yet, the people of Gaza are strong. The doctors, nurses, midwives, and pharmacists I met in the hospitals continue to work through these hardships, just as they did during the war. Palestinian journalists who risked their lives during last summer’s massacres are still reporting the raw truths of Gaza, despite increasing threats to do otherwise. I saw wedding processions parade through the streets of Gaza City, men hanging out the windows singing, brides and grooms smiling together in the back seats of their cars. My friend Mazen’s baby daughter, born during the ugliness of the war, has beautiful curly hair and the cutest smile you will ever see.
 
“We love life and want to live our lives freely,” a public health official with the Union of Health Work Committees told me. “We are not terrorists. We cook, we dance, we swim, we pray, and sometimes we feel fear.”
 
I asked her what we in America could do for the people of Gaza. “We are calling for rights to live in dignity, for a peaceful future,” she said.
 
“More than your charity,” a doctor at Al Awda Hospital said, “we need your political solidarity. We need to end the siege of Gaza.”
 
Suhaila Tarazi, the director of Al Ahli Arab Hospital, added, “the most important thing is to end the injustice, the misery, and the blockade.” Al Ahli Arab Hospital is Gaza’s only Christian hospital, though it serves and is staffed by Muslims and Christians alike. “We never lose hope,” Dr. Tarazi continued. “We know that we are all here on a mission. And God who puts us here will never leave us.”
 
 
 
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