If one day you were on the 40 kilometer-long Al-Rasheed Street in Gaza, a few meters away from the smelly Mediterranean waves, everything, unless it was a Friday, would look peaceful – young men eating noodles or jogging past with their shepherd dogs . Nighttime quiet is usually broken by western music that sounds loud from a wide variety of cafes on the left side of the three-lane street in this coastal enclave that has now been besieged for 13 years, while visitors enjoy the evening – smoking flavored hookahs and playing cards, especially on Thursday evenings.
The exclusively male visitors (women have no access due to social restrictions) consider these cafes as the only place where they can seek refuge from life in Gaza. They consider themselves "weak-willed and in poor mental condition" since they are still living under the region's political rivalry and severe Israeli blockade, even the last Israeli soldier withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
But every Friday at twelve, there is a different kind of chaos turning upside down on the "false pleasure" in the cafes along the wall that separates Gaza from Israel. The cries of thousands of angry protesters mixed the sirens of ambulances with wounded Israeli snipers firing shots and throwing tear gas at the protesters.
"Our generation is deeply affected by the conflict with Israel after experiencing three major wars or military escalations in the form of rocket launches from both sides."
It's been over a year since "The Great March Home" demonstrations erupted on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Since March 30, protesters in Gaza have demanded a return to their homes and villages in historic Palestine, demanding an end to Israel's 13-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has hollowed out the coastal slave's economy and robbed the area of its approximately two million residents basic life necessities. More than 250 Palestinians have been killed during the ongoing demonstrations, including 6 women.
Nearly two million Palestinians are trapped in the Gaza Strip, restrained by travel and trade restrictions imposed by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to put pressure on Hamas, which governs the area.
Esra'a Abu Tahoun, a 27-year-old telephone app programmer from Gaza City, describes the territory as follows: "A silk thread separates life from death in Gaza." She belongs to a generation that has lived all her life in the fenced-in 360-square-kilometer territory. Unlike the parent generation, which remembers a time when thousands of people from Gaza worked in Israel, very few of her generation have met an Israeli. "Our generation is deeply affected by the conflict with Israel after experiencing three major wars or military escalations in the form of rocket launches from both sides," Esra'a told Ny Tid.
On March 15, Israeli fighters attacked 100 targets along the Gaza Strip. This happened after rockets were allegedly fired from Gaza into an area outside Tel Aviv. "Although it ended up without civilian losses, it ignites new sparks between Palestinian factions (Fatah and Hamas)," she continues.
Ezra, who works for a Kuwaiti software company, views its generation as "a drop in the ocean" in an economy with more than 70 percent unemployment among young people, a collapsed health system and a society where people drink polluted water and have to live with constant electricity shortage.
“Even the sea has become a gray pond because of the sewage. Gaza's only respite has also become a victim. " An infrastructure in disrepair, chronic power outages and fuel shortages due to Israel's blockade of the area has disrupted the water treatment and sewage system. Back on the beach in western Gaza, unemployed Murad al-Jarajwa (29) says he has to choose "to live life every day" among them bomb attacks – jogging with their dog along the beach, looking for a job that is rarely paid, spending the evening at a friend's party or heading to one of the weekly protests ”.
For that, Murad may have to pay a high price. "I can get shot and lose an arm or a leg. In addition, I have no real control over my life, as the defeat affects everything down to the smallest detail, ”he elaborates on a rare concert in town.
The possibility of organizing a concert in Gaza is not often offered; The cultural offer has stalled since Hamas took power in 2007.
The Edward Said Conservatory, which sponsored the concert, proudly displayed the Gaza Strip's only grand piano. The instrument was almost destroyed by Israeli air strikes, leading to major destruction in the conservatory during both the 2008 and 2014 wars. Later, a Belgian charity sent foreign experts to Gaza to renovate the instrument.
"The world's largest prison"
Analyst Fathi Sabbah, who writes for the London-based newspaper al-Hayat, confirms to Ny Tid that the accumulation of these life-threatening conditions in Gaza has led tens of thousands to protest along the border every Friday for more than a year, and to throw Molotov cocktails and stones on Israeli snipers. Sabbah adds that Gaza has been transformed into a "hopeless, helpless and powerless area where people are imprisoned in the world's largest prison."
"People feel trapped. They feel paralyzed and unable to change the situation, "Hasan Ziyada, director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program told Palestine Daily last June. "The result is a lot of mental stress and trauma."
The WHO has estimated that up to 20 percent of Gaza's population is likely to have serious mental health problems. In 2017, the number of patients at state-run psychiatric health clinics had increased as much as 70 percent from the previous year.
Gaza has long been tantamount to violence and insecurity. But the worst period of conflict has been in the last decade, with more than 4000 Palestinians killed in three years of war between Hamas and Israel, according to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem.
Several hours before the rocket launches on March 15, peaceful protest actions were organized in three of Gaza's refugee camps with appeals from the "Youth Movement" for better living conditions. Hundreds of civilians gathered after the movement published calls on social media to take part in peaceful demonstrations under the slogan: "Let's Build It – The Revolution of the Hungry – Down with the High Prices."
The security services disbanded the protest actions after firing shots and knocking down some protesters. They also arrested several of the protesters, including some of the organizers.
In a two-storey Thai restaurant in the north of Gaza City, I meet Wafa'a Abu Maraka (30) and her husband Mansour (34), who is an accountant. “Before the blockade, we had an economic crisis. We had social challenges. But now things have deteriorated sharply, ”says Wafa'a, the mother of four children. "People had a certain hope for better times in Gaza. They could live a comfortable life, they could travel reasonably to Cairo, ”says Mansour. "Now families online are searching for countries in Europe where they can seek asylum. They no longer have any hope for the future."