- Written by Abby Smardon Abby Smardon
- Published: 06 November 2017 06 November 2017
I’ve visited the Gaza Strip for each of the past six years, including in 2014 a few months after Israel’s devastating military assault. And yet, I’ve never seen Gaza like I did when I had the privilege of visiting this summer.
I call it a privilege because, due to the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel (with the support of Egypt), which is part of Israel’s now 50-year-old military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories, internationals allowed in and out of Gaza are few, and Palestinians even fewer. This illegal land, air, and sea blockade, which has just entered its tenth year and amounts to collective punishment, as has been noted by the UN and human rights groups, has decimated the economy of Gaza and allowed for the near complete destruction of critical infrastructure. Experts use the term “de-development” to describe this once-bustling Mediterranean coastal enclave of two million Palestinians.
Nearly half the population are now unemployed and 80% rely on humanitarian assistance from organizations like UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Nearly one million refugees require UNRWA food assistance now, up from 80,000 people in 2000, before the blockade was in place. At its heart, UNRWA is a human development agency, running the largest and one of the best performing public school system in the entire Middle East, 10 times the size of DC Public Schools. But due to decades of Israel’s dispossession, occupation, and systematic oppression of Palestinians, UNRWA is forced to prioritize emergency interventions like food assistance and emergency protection. It’s an affront to humanity.