My last visit to Gaza had been in May 2014, just before Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, an assault that resulted in the deaths of more than two thousand Gazans – combatants and civilians – and the destruction of eighteen thousand homes. When I went back less than three years later the changes were evident everywhere. But two things struck me particularly: the now devastating impact of Gaza’s decade-long isolation from the rest of the world, and the sense that an increasing number of people are reaching the limit of what they can endure.
Gaza is in a state of humanitarian shock, due primarily to Israel’s blockade, supported by the US, the EU and Egypt and now entering its 11th year. Historically a place of trade and commerce, Gaza has relatively little production left, and the economy is now largely dependent on consumption. Although a recent easing of Israeli restrictions has led to a slight increase in agricultural exports to the West Bank and Israel – long Gaza’s principal markets – they are not nearly enough to boost its weakened productive sectors. Gaza’s debility, carefully planned and successfully executed, has left almost half the labour force without any means to earn a living. Unemployment – especially youth unemployment – is the defining feature of life. It now hovers around 42 per cent (it has been higher), but for young people (between the ages of 15 and 29) it stands at 60 per cent. Everyone is consumed by the need to find a job or some way of earning money. ‘Salaries control people’s minds,’ one resident said.