Theater of Cruelty

Blue sky over brown water

It has been a dry summer in Gaza. And worse, the authorities expect the drinking water to be completely gone by the end of 2016.


It is now just over a year since the Israeli military ended the recent war against the people of Gaza. The population has not been able to forget the horrors of war. The oppressive heat of late August and the thirst for a glass of fresh water make it easier to wash away memories. Summer and heat do not mean vacation time for families here. Still, most of them need to get together for a little space on the narrow shoreline – and a sip of water that is no longer connected to the houses in town. The already worn-out infrastructure was completely destroyed during last year's attack.

Salt. As soon as it gets warm enough in June, Gaza's residents flock to the narrow coastal strip, which is the only respite for 1,8 millions of people escaping from the darkness of the houses. Power outages often last up to 18 hours at a time. By the sea, you also get the opportunity to wash in the salty, murky water – the salt content, by the way, is just as high in the fountains in the homes.
Under one of the umbrellas that are scattered around the beach, sits Osama Abu Dali (65). He sees dozens of children bathing in the sea just before sunset. "When the sky is so blue – why is the water so gray?" He asks. He adds, still in a quizzical tone: "It seems that the world will never change – now we have got the Black Sea in both Gaza and Ukraine."
Recently, I met a group of foreign representatives of international organizations on the Gaza Strip. They claimed that the water here gets darker every time they come. The reason is that millions of liters of uncleaned sewage are pumped into the sea every day.
According to statistics from the Gaza Waterworks, the amount of uncleaned sewage that goes straight into the sea each day corresponds to a pool of 1600 cubic meters.
The locals seem to have grown accustomed to the tan and the stench that the sea breeze brings along the city.

Red flags. Although the Gaza coast is over 40 kilometers long, no one is looking for seafood on their dinner plates. The water is simply too polluted. It is also not possible to go further out to sea for fishing. The Israeli Navy has banned Palestinian vessels from taking more than six miles off shore. Violation of the prohibition means that offenders can be arrested or shot at the scene.
Abu Dali's wife Nadira (60) has not eaten fish in years and days, she says. “If we fry the fish, it smells of death and depravity. We do not exactly want to poison ourselves either, "she says. The old couple sits just 1500 meters from one of the giant pipes that continuously pumps sewage into the sea.
Local authorities say they do not have enough fuel to keep the treatment plants running, since Israel has banned the import of fuel to Gaza. The small amounts that enter the area are used for public transport and household needs.
Nadira continues: “I remember well 1962. Back then, the sea was as clear as the waves in Hawaii. There were not so many people here, and the sea smelled fresh and glorious. Today the sea is gray and dark, just like the future of the boys who swim out there. I'm afraid we will not have more food to eat soon, since the Israelis are determined to pollute everything. "
The narrow beach strip provides space for thousands of vacationing Gaza residents. Most are children under 13. They bathe side by side with red flags indicating a swimming ban due to the high degree of pollution in the water.
The families here own about 400 fishing boats in total, which can provide about 2000 tons of fish a year. To 1,8 million people, half of whom are already dependent on international emergency aid to survive.
Fishing boat captain Nizar Ayash says that the fishing industry is about to collapse. "The fishermen are being chased by the Israeli navy, and the sewer continues to pollute the sea. The sewer system in Gaza is old and dilapidated. It was built to serve 400 inhabitants – not two million. "

Destroys nature. Last year, half as many fish were caught in Gaza as ten years ago. The reasons for the decline are harassment from the Israeli navy, and that the permitted fishing zone was reduced from 20 to 6 km, several of the fishing boat captains on the beach can tell. According to UN statistics, the fishermen in Gaza are the area's poorest occupational group. Over 95 percent of them are dependent on emergency aid.
In the Gaza Strip, which has been besieged for eight years, there are no plans for how the gray sea can be cleaned again. There is only one small treatment plant, and it is only sporadically in operation – when it can get some of the fuel that must be smuggled through Israel's blockade.

The number of children in the Gaza Strip being treated for diarrhea has doubled in the last five years due to salt and contaminated drinking water.

Atteya al-Bursh from the Gaza Institute of Environmental Protection tells Ny Tid that 50 percent of the seawater is completely polluted due to the continuous sewage discharges. People do not have clean water.
"There are no shopping malls in Gaza, or cinemas with refrigeration systems. Gaza is a small country that has nothing but this gray sea, "he says. "The Israeli authorities are deliberately working to destroy all life in Gaza. They only allow enough fuel for us to operate one of the treatment plants in the far north of the Gaza Strip. And that's just to protect the beaches of Ashdod, the city closest to the Gaza Strip. So selfishly they destroy nature, "he says. "Are not the countries of the world interested in preserving marine life? Why does no one stop Israel from destroying nature in this way? Not even fish and algae escape the suffering they inflict on others, "said al-Bursh.

In the Zeitun area. East of the sea, the horizon is dominated by gray cement buildings. We drive inwards towards the houses, but soon have to turn off the car engine and continue on foot. Several of the buildings are so close together that there is no room for a car between them. We are told not to be surprised if there is an unpleasant stench from the balconies and the semi-dark rooms inside.
Samaa Natour sits outside the house with the neighbors and a dozen children who clearly live in extreme poverty. She says that it is impossible to drink tap water without getting serious kidney diseases. Life here in the Zeitoun area in western Gaza is similar to most other neighborhoods in the country. Sometimes families lack access to water for several days at a time. When the water finally comes, there is always a layer of salt left on the body if you take a bath.
The authorities estimate that by the end of 2016, the population will no longer have access to any water that can be used by humans. An important factor in this calculation is that the Israeli war against Gaza has caused damage of about $ 34 million to water-related infrastructure.

Sand and dust. According to Mundhir Shublaq, director of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), which is responsible for water and sanitation services in the Gaza Strip, the population uses the water four times faster than the groundwater has time to fill up. The population will be out of water in 15 months. After this, they will get nothing but grains of sand and dust in the tap.
Shublaq says that the population is now dependent on 98 percent groundwater, and that this is polluted with very high levels of nitrite and chlorine.
The amount of water available per capita in Gaza is among the lowest in the world, in addition to the fact that the water that exists is heavily polluted and not suitable for human use. People in Gaza are largely dependent on having telephone contact with the drivers of the water tankers, which supply water to households. No one controls how clean this water is.
Water expert Ahmed Yacoubi estimates that Gaza needs 180 million cubic meters of water per year to meet the needs of households and agriculture. As the situation is today, the country has 100 million cubic meters too little – hence the increase in salinity.
The number of children in the Gaza Strip being treated for diarrhea has doubled in the last five years due to salt and polluted water. According to a report from Save the Children, the salt content is five times higher than what is recommended for drinking water.

Radioactivity. Water is also not the only vital element that has been deliberately attacked in Gaza. The Ministry of Agriculture has classified 3500 million cubic meters of land as unusable for food production due to radioactivity. The radioactive waste comes from 4,8 million shots fired and 82 grenades the Israeli army has reported firing over Gaza during the last war, which lasted 000 days.
The World Bank has recently designed a water treatment plant in Gaza that can provide drinking water to 600 people.
Article 52 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the right to a satisfactory standard of living, with minimum requirements for food, clothing and shelter, is established as a fundamental human right. If you read this section for the Palestinians, they realize nothing but that the world treats them inhumanely – their basic human rights are not available. Neither does anyone stand up for them unless it is in Israel's interest.
Back on the beach in Gaza, Nadira Dali shakes her head. "I think the World Bank could have started so many projects in Gaza that we would have become a small Dubai, or maybe a Washington in miniature," she says. "There is just no desire for us to be able to live stably like other people. "Financial support for the spoiled Israeli military, on the other hand, is not a problem."

Translated from Arabic by Vibeke Koehler.

Alkabariti is a correspondent in Ny Tid.

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