Gaza Up Close Podcast

A project by Shatil – New Israel Fund Social Justice Fellow Lital Firestone

Next
Photo: School in Gaza. Photo by Gisha

Over the course of a 10-month fellowship at Gisha, Shatil Fellow Lital Firestone spoke with residents of Gaza and members of Gisha’s staff about the implications of systematic restrictions on freedom of movement for everyday life in the Strip. The result is Gaza Up Close, a podcast written and produced by Lital Firestone, looking at the ongoing impact of the closure tightened by Israel in 2007 and exploring what needs to change in order for people in Gaza to realize their fundamental right to freedom of movement.

Part 1
Women of Gaza
Women working in the ICT sector in Gaza. Photo by Gisha

Episode One: Education at a Distance

In the first episode of the mini-series “Women of Gaza,” Gaza Up Close host Lital Firestone speaks with several young women in Gaza about their educational pursuits in and out of the Strip. Kholoud Jwefil, a Project Coordinator at Aisha Association of Women and Child Protection describes her inability to pursue a degree in women’s studies outside of the strip because of arbitrary permit regulations, and Gisha Executive Director Tania Hary provides some background on Israel’s “separation policy.” Rawan Yaghi, who works at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, draws on her experience studying abroad to emphasize the importance of young women in Gaza gaining independence and experience. 

Music Credits: Middle Eastern Market by John Leonard French, Backed Vibes Clean by Kevin MacLeod, Tethered by Nctrnm, Edmond VI by Marco Trovatello

 

Episode Two: The Concrete Ceiling

In the second episode of “Women of Gaza,” Lital Firestone explores the concrete ceiling of the closure that women in Gaza contend with, on top of the glass ceiling of gender inequality. Mariam Abu Alatta, a Project Manager at Aisha Association of Women and Child Protection, shares how difficult it is for young graduates to find a job. Gisha’s Research Department Director, Salah Mohsen, describes the dire state of Gaza’s economy and explains its ramifications for employment among university graduates. Kholoud Jwefil, a Project Coordinator at Aisha Association of Women and Child Protection, describes how these difficulties weigh on women in the Strip.

Music Credits: Middle Eastern Market by John Leonard French, Fog by Sergey Cheremisinov, In Media Res by Nctrnm, Namaste by Jason Shaw

 

Episode Three: Taking Immediate Action

In the final episode of “Women of Gaza,” Lital Firestone speaks with Rawan Yaghi from the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme about how she uses her writing to inform the international community of the situation in Gaza. We hear from several Gisha staff: Intake Coordinator Omnia Zoubi, Research Coordinator Halah Abdelhade, and International Media Coordinator Miriam Marmur, about changes that need to be made to Israel’s policy in order for women in Gaza to have access to the education and employment opportunities they deserve.

Music Credits:  Middle Eastern Market by John Leonard French, Modulation of the Spirit by Little Glass Men, Cherry by Nctrnm

Transcripts

Episode OneEducation at a Distance

“In my mind, I drew a picture for Gaza that people are living happily, the borders are open, every graduate actually has a job, families are living well, women are receiving their rights, children are receiving their rights, we have one government, we have one authority, we don’t have this political division. We don’t request a lot, but we want to live normally like any country in the world.”

That was Kholoud Jwefil, a 23-year-old resident of Gaza sharing her hopes for the future of her home. You’re listening to Gaza Up Close. I’m Lital Firestone, reporting with Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.

Kholoud was one of many young people who found herself unable to fulfill her educational aspirations because of the closure Israel and Egypt impose on Gaza. “I got a scholarship outside Gaza but I couldn’t keep it because I didn’t have the permission, Israeli permission from Erez crossing border. First, I felt like my dream went to smoke, and I don’t have another chance to do whatever I want.”

Kholoud was among several hundred Gaza residents who seek a path to studying abroad each year. She did not receive permission from Israel to travel to her studies in the U.S. and Egypt’s border was not open at the time. Kholoud could not even consider applying to any of the Palestinian universities that sit just over an hour’s drive from her home, in the West Bank, because of Israel’s separation policy. Travel from Gaza to study at West Bank institutions of higher learning has been banned since the year 2000.

I asked Gisha’s executive director, Tania Hary, to tell me about the separation policy. “For the past two and a half decades, Israel has increasingly restricted movement between Gaza and the West Bank down to its current level, where separation is the rule and access is the rare exception. The restrictions have devastated civilian life in both Gaza and the West Bank, separating families, restricting access to educational opportunities and health services and de-developing the Palestinian economy. While security considerations have played a role in the imposition of restrictions, many restrictions cannot be justified by security needs but rather serve Israel’s political and demographic goals of fragmenting the Palestinian territory.”

While movement restrictions on Gaza impact every aspect of life in the Strip, preventing access to educational opportunities is of particular concern because over half the population of Gaza is under 18 years old. They live in the 21st century under middle age circumstances because of external political decisions. To carve out a prosperous future for themselves, these young people need access to education, sometimes beyond what local universities and colleges offer.

“I work as projects coordinator at the Aisha Association for Women and Child Protection.” Kholoud and her team advocate for gender integration through economic empowerment and psychosocial support to marginalized groups in the Gaza Strip. In order to be academically prepared for this position, Kholoud would have loved to pursue a degree in gender studies, but there are no gender studies programs in Gaza and Israel’s policy prevents her from reaching the West Bank, where there is one such program.

While Kholoud has never left Gaza, Rawan Yaghi is a young woman who was lucky enough to obtain a travel permit from Israel to leave Gaza to go study in the UK.

Every summer break she tried to come home to visit her family, but Rafah Crossing was closed or only opened intermittently when she was abroad. The Israeli authorities, for their part, either did not respond to her requests to enter Gaza through Erez in time or told her that if she was permitted to enter, she would not be allowed to exit again in order to return to her university. After spending four years away from home, I asked Rawan why she decided to return to Gaza.

“I missed my family, I wanted to come home and see them.”  While studying at Oxford was monumental for Rawan, this opportunity came at the cost of being far away from her home, family and friends. Rawan was permitted to study thousands of miles from home, but not in the West Bank, only 50 miles away.

After Rawan received an exit permit, she had to go through the arduous and often scary process of transiting through Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza. “Even when I left, my movement was decided by someone else. And just the experience of crossing a checkpoint, it’s a dehumanizing experience to say the least. You deal with military personnel, they might interrogate you, they might question you, and most of the time, until recently, you could actually hold on to your ID papers, but now if you’re from Gaza you can’t. So you’re moving from one checkpoint to another without your passport, someone else has your passport.”

But she said it is still worth enduring this stress for the opportunity to study outside Gaza. “I think leaving home as an experience for any young person is really important just to broaden their perspective of the world, so they can meet other people, meet other points of view, see other ways of living and other ways they can be creative and productive in the world. As a woman it really made a huge difference in how independent I am, in everything basically.”

While Rawan and Kholoud struggled to achieve their educational and professional dreams, the majority of women in Gaza do not have access even to the limited opportunities these unique women cultivated for themselves. In her final thoughts during our call, Rawan sounded optimistic about the power women in Gaza have to transcend the limitations placed on them by their life circumstances in Gaza. But naturally, these sentiments also brought up some emotions.

“My hopes for women in Gaza is that they will keep rising the way they are rising now. I think even when I feel really weak I find a lot of strength in the examples of women in Gaza because I know they’re going through so much yet they’re still getting up, getting out of bed every day and… shit…um yeah making lives, basically.”

Even as the women in Gaza try to persevere, there is only so much they can do to transcend their circumstances without changes in policy. Obstructing freedom of movement denies access to fundamental human rights. To learn more about how restrictions on movement affect women’s employment opportunities in Gaza, listen to the next episode.

Thanks for listening to Gaza Up Close.

Students in the Gaza Strip. Photo by Eman Mohammed

Episode Two: The Concrete Ceiling

Welcome to Gaza Up Close. Today we are asking how the closure Israel imposes on Gaza affects women’s employment opportunities there. Mariam Abu Alatta is a project manager at the Aisha Association for Women and Child Protection, which advocates for gender integration through economic empowerment and psychosocial support to marginalized groups in the Gaza Strip. Mariam told us that the process of looking for a job in Gaza is extremely difficult, and even more so for women.

“Taking in consideration being in [a] masculine society, considering the men as the main breadwinner in the family, it was really hard phase for me in achieving my dream. I tried to find another solution, but I realized that my certificate would not help me in finding long-term job.”

Originally, Mariam envisioned a future where she could help rebuild Gaza. “Being [an] architect was a dream since childhood. I was dreaming of my community, my homeland what it could look like if it was given the chance to develop and prosper.”

But she quickly realized how many barriers stood in her way. “It was a long journey to be an architect, but graduation itself was a war zone. I was searching for a job opportunity here and there. I was volunteers and having short term contracts as internship for approximately three years. It was really hard to find a job for architect and especially female architects.”

I asked the director of Gisha’s research department Salah Mohsen why it is so difficult for women to find a job in Gaza. He told me, “Unemployment rates have risen drastically in the last decade, and in 2018, 42% of men were unemployed and 75% of women. Before the closure was imposed, many men held permits that allowed them to work in Israel. But Israel stopped allowing laborers from Gaza to work within its borders in early 2006, and the economy has dwindled ever since. This had a massive impact on the job market in Gaza because prior to that, more than 26,000 laborers per day from Gaza entered Israel for work. After the closure, these individuals were compelled to seek work inside the Strip, shrinking the pool of jobs available to women even further.”

The women in Gaza who do break through the glass ceiling of their own society are faced with the concrete ceiling of Israel’s closure, including limitations on the ability to travel and move goods.

Mariam said that once she realized her diploma would not help her get a job, it was hard to find the energy to leave the house. “I got depressed but through this long way, long journey to achieve my dream I realized that there’s human rights organization that works to develop and empower the disadvantaged people. My experience working at Aisha I realize there’s many people who are suffering such as me and my story is not a personal story, it’s a story of all women in such contexts.”

Kholoud Jwefil who works with Mariam at the Aisha Association, and who we heard from in episode one, told us that even people who find a job in Gaza often still face massive financial burdens. “Salaries is not that high if actually female graduate want to attend this job in the Gaza city and she lives in Rafah city she has to pay her salaries as transportations, so you know because generally the economic situation is getting worse and worse, graduates generally cannot find job.”

Maha al-Masri, who runs an organization in Gaza that supports women in agriculture, told us “We are detecting a drop in the number of women working in agriculture, even among women who have land. Because of the closure, more and more women leave this sector because the work doesn’t pay. Farming is hard work, and the income doesn’t justify the effort.” The economic and emotional burdens of life in Gaza weigh especially heavy on women. Kholoud said she unfortunately sees cases like this every day.

“It’s not that easy to listen to those women that are suffering. You know whenever a woman come and complaining for some issue she starts to cry, her babies or children she’s coming with start to cry. We’re trying to do our best but we need maybe a turning point in dealing with women. We don’t have enough organizations in the Gaza Strip that can provide a real intervention for those cases that are in suffering or especially women.”

However, through small initiatives such as Maha’s work helping women in agriculture attain financial independence, the women of Gaza persist. Maha told us there is a lot of untapped potential in Gaza, and that women are full of talent, motivation and leadership skills. However, women, who tend to work in civil society organizations, the public sector or small businesses, don’t meet the criteria set by Israel to receive a permit to travel from Gaza or to move goods. They need the freedom to travel in order to market their goods and acquire crucial professional tools and skills that are unavailable in the Strip.

Today we heard from Mariam Abu Alatta, Kholoud Jwefil, and Maha al-Masri about some of the barriers to employment women in Gaza face, many due to Israel’s closure. Women are integral to the advancement and development of any economy, and deserve access to professional opportunities. To learn about Gisha’s policy recommendations for expanding access to educational and work opportunities for residents of Gaza, listen to the next episode. Thanks for listening to Gaza Up Close.

Ghada Mudalall, owner of a beauty salon in Gaza, November 2018. Photo by Asmaa Elkhaldi

 

Episode Three: Taking Immediate Action

“I started writing because I wanted to maybe explore a sense of fear inside me, because, for example, during 2008 I was always scared of being in a position where I couldn’t for example move, or where I would be trapped under rubble. I wrote in English because I wanted more people to see that experience, not just people here that mostly know this experience, and later I wrote about my personal experiences because I know that a lot of people don’t know exactly what we go through, not just on the narrative level but on the emotional and psychological level.”

Welcome to Gaza Up Close. That was Rawan Yaghi, who works at a leading mental health NGO in the Strip.  She described to me the anxiety of sitting through an exchange of rocket fire and airstrikes between Hamas and Israel. Rawan told me that the way she copes with this fear is by sharing her experiences online with people outside of Gaza.

She said, “I think activism and writing are both very personal and when you’re an activist, when you’re fighting for something it has to be personal because you believe in it and a lot of the time you live it.”

She said the power of a personal story is that it transcends the barrier of a screen. “People are often like bombarded with news on numbers and explosions and statistics and stuff like that, and you rarely get our voice there, and our voice is not just the voice demanding equal rights, it’s also the voice that has been through a lot and is going through a lot.”

Rawan said using online tools to share her experiences is one of the few ways Gaza residents can advocate for their human rights internationally, since most people are not permitted to travel outside the Strip. Only Gaza residents who meet Israel’s stringent criteria for movement to and from the Strip are eligible to submit a request to receive an exit permit, which is not always granted.

Under current conditions, people are only allowed to visit family outside Gaza if they are first-degree relatives who are getting married or are dying or deceased. People who engage in trade can apply for permits but the vast majority of those who get them are men. Medical patients in need of life-saving care can apply for permits only if the care they need is unavailable in the Strip. While Rawan and other activists in Gaza use their platforms to advocate for freedom of movement, policy change is crucial to granting Gaza residents the freedom they deserve. I asked some of Gisha’s staff to highlight what measures can be taken immediately, until a broader solution is reached, to give Gaza residents access to higher education and employment opportunities.

I spoke with one of Gisha’s intake coordinators, Omnia Zoubi, who helped students receive permits for study abroad. She told me that to address the issue of access to higher education in the West Bank, which we spoke about in the first episode, “The Israeli authorities must remove the sweeping ban on movement from Gaza to the West Bank for academic study. This requires examining all individual applications to study at West Bank universities. As a first step, Israel could apply the criteria for travel from the West Bank to study at universities in Israel to students from Gaza wishing to study at West Bank universities (for example, in cases where the applicant wishes to enroll in academic programs not offered by Gaza universities).”

Next I spoke with Gisha’s research coordinator Halah Abdelhade about how to ease the pressure on the job market in Gaza, and allow more women to pursue career opportunities in Gaza. She told me “Israel should grant permits for laborers to enter Israel. Since 2014, Israeli officials have been discussing quotas of between 5-6,000 laborer permits, but these quotas have never been filled. These quotas need to be filled to capacity, if not expanded or removed altogether. Allowing laborers from Gaza to work in Israel would then open up job opportunities for women inside Gaza.”

Finally, I asked Gisha’s international media coordinator Miriam Marmur how Gaza can achieve a functioning, thriving economy. She said “This requires a wide variety of businesses  and different scales of production. Israel must change the criteria for granting trader permits so that people who are engaged in small-scale export and import can obtain permits, enabling them to expand their business activity and contribute to Gaza’s economic development. Additionally, information on the process of applying for a permit should be made more accessible to all Gaza residents.”

In the absence of movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank or abroad for business and trade, there is no chance of economic recovery for Gaza, which is central to a stable future for the entire region. Israel must recognize the legitimate needs of businesswomen, students and women working in civil society organizations in Gaza and allow them to travel abroad and between the two parts of the Palestinian territory.

These are only some of the actions that could be taken immediately to ease access restrictions in Gaza and allow students, women and all Gaza residents the opportunity to pursue their dreams and live in dignity. Thank you for listening to Gaza Up Close.

*

In this short video produced by Gisha to mark International Women’s Day 2019, three women from Gaza, including Kholoud Jwefil and Rawan Yaghi who were interviewed for the podcast, share their outlook on the situation in the Strip, and point to steps that must be taken in order to promote the dignity and human rights of Gaza residents, including the fundamental right to freedom of movement. Watch:

Part 2
Bitter Sweets
Packaging snacks at Al-Awda sweets factory in Gaza. Photo by Gisha

Bitter Sweets, Part One

In part one of “Bitter Sweets,” Gaza Up Close host Lital Firestone visits Gaza businessman Mohammed Tilbani in a branch of his sweets factory in Hebron to understand how the closure has impacted his business. Through his story, we learn about the history of military operations and Israel’s restrictions spanning over a decade of closure on Gaza. Gisha’s Exeuctive Director Tania Hary explains how restrictions imposed by Israel to this day hinder economic growth in the Strip.

Music Credits: Middle Eastern Market by John Leonard French, Three Stories by Blue Dot Sessions, Ambient Electronic Loop 001 by Frankum, Rambling by Blue Dot Sessions, Adventure by Chad Crouch

Bitter Sweets, Part Two

In part two of “Bitter Sweets,” Lital Firestone interviews Mohammed Tilbani about his sweets factory in Gaza. He describes the barriers and security blocks imposed on him that place the future of his factory and its 400 employees in jeopardy. Gisha’s Public Advocacy Coordinator Noa Galili provides background on the political rationales behind Israel’s “separation policy.”

Music Credits: Middle Eastern Market by John Leonard French, Rite of Passage by Kevin MacLeod, Honey by Nctrnm, Stucco Grey by Blue Dot Sessions

Transcripts

Bitter Sweets, Part One

“I’d like to say something to Israelis and to everyone else: We are human beings and you are human beings. We want to live just as much as they want to live, we don’t want more than what they want (from life). We want them to have a normal life and for us to have a normal life and live together peacefully.” You’re listening to Gaza Up Close, a podcast by Gisha about what happens when two million people are denied the basic right to freedom of movement. I’m Lital Firestone. Today, we want to understand how the closure on Gaza has stagnated the economy. We’ll hear from a prominent Palestinian businessman who runs a sweets factory in Gaza. According to him, our best chance at understanding the disintegration in Gaza is to fill our vision… with sugar.

(Sound of Tilbani listing his products in English). “My name is Mohammed al Tilbani, I’m the manager of al- Awda Factories in Gaza and manager of Mr. Tilbani Company in Hebron.” There isn’t a child in Gaza who wouldn’t recognize the taste of Al Awda ice cream, wafers and biscuits sold in sweet shops and kiosks throughout the Strip. But on May 30, 2007, a truck left the Al Awda factory in Gaza destined for the West Bank, for what would be its last delivery out of Gaza to this day. In June 2007, following Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, Israel closed the commercial crossings between Israel and Gaza to all outgoing goods, stopping Al Awda’s trade with the West Bank and Israel altogether. Later Israel declared Gaza a “hostile entity.” Since 2007, some changes in access policy have occurred, despite Hamas still being in power, but food products continue to be banned for exit.

“Right now, it’s as if we’re drowning. We are struggling not to drown, we can save ourselves or we can drown, we are at a point of continuous struggle.” Tilbani, and all of the residents of Gaza, have experienced three major military operations in the past 12 years, the last of which was in the summer of 2014.

“The fire went on for 50 days, for 50 days we were putting out the fire.” In 2014, the Israeli army began a military operation in Gaza following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. The offensive left around 2,200 Palestinians dead in the Gaza Strip, more than 50% of whom were civilians. In the midst of Operation Protective Edge, Tilbani’s factory sustained a direct hit. Due to a shortage of water in Gaza and the large quantity of highly flammable substances present, a fire that broke out at the factory from the bombardment burned for days. Tilbani had stored enough materials in stock to last for six months of operations because he knew that the entrance of goods into Gaza could be restricted at any time. The fire destroyed it all, including equipment, machinery and thousands of liters of fuel for the generators used by the factory during Gaza’s regular blackouts.

“The fire was still going on, but I kept putting orders for raw materials from abroad because I didn’t lose hope. It was a very hard time, but those who have faith and patience believe that this is fate from God, I didn’t think it was the end of it. I didn’t feel that everything I did in the past 45 years was gone within 2-3 hours. When the war was over, I started removing all the marks that the war has left and turned the blackness to whiteness. I painted all the burned buildings with white so we could feel better working there.”

As the dust settled, the world was struck with images of the ruins, and chipped in to support Gaza’s reconstruction. Tilbani managed to get his factory up and running again over the next few years, but restrictions on entry and exit of goods remained in place. Tilbani realized that under a continued state of closure, his business was not sustainable with Gaza as its sole market. He couldn’t bring equipment to build new production lines into Gaza, and because Israel still prevents the sale of processed foods made in Gaza to the West Bank, opening another branch of Al Awda was the only way of returning to the market in the other part of the Palestinian territory, so that’s what he did.

Our research coordinator at Gisha, Halah Abdelhade and I traveled to Hebron last November to see the new factory Tilbani built in the West Bank. When Tilbani picked us up, I immediately recognized him from his photos, with a trimmed white beard and a sharp blue suit. As our car crawled up an unpaved road caked in orange dirt from the previous day’s rain, Tilbani told us how his small, home-based, sweet-making workshop became the most popular sweets company in Gaza over forty years ago. Finally, we arrived at the new factory, splayed proudly underneath the Hebron mountains and beating sun. Sitting down among piles of candy and endless glasses of coffee, Tilbani described to us the absurdity of his situation.

“Up to now, you can say that our plan is for the Gaza factory to help this one here because there is the main factory. In the future, I hope it’ll be good and benefit everyone. I have a plan to produce here and send the goods to Gaza. Why? Because here there’s electricity and it’s easier to do things and we can ship it into Gaza.”

Businesspeople in Gaza point to Israel’s restrictions on exit of goods from Gaza to the West Bank, Israel, and abroad as one of the greatest impediments to economic development because local purchasing power in Gaza is extremely limited. The inability to market processed foods to Gaza’s closest and most natural markets in the West Bank and Israel impedes technological development and revenue in the food industry as well as suppressing job growth in a place with alarmingly high rates of unemployment. But how is the closure upheld if it is so detrimental to Palestinian livelihoods? We spoke with Gisha’s Executive Director Tania Hary to understand further: “Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza are prevented from accessing resources outside of the Strip in order to pressure or punish the Hamas authorities in Gaza. Such instrumentalization of people who are subject to Israeli control and to whom Israel has corresponding responsibilities is a breach of Israel’s obligations under international law, in particular the prohibition on collective punishment. Israel’s primary security rationale for the closure is to prevent what it calls “terrorist infrastructure” from being transferred from Gaza to the West Bank, but obviously restrictions movement and trade block out the prospect of normal life – jobs, the economy, family life and a lot more. There are legitimate security needs, but people overlook the fact that most of the restrictions are about political goals.”

“Putting aside politics to the politicians and terrorism to terrorists, we’re not interested in this. We are businesspeople trying to create jobs for people to allow them to live in dignity and would also like to live in dignity, nothing more than that.” Today we heard from Mohammed Tilbani about how Israel’s restrictions on selling certain goods outside of Gaza inhibits both his dream and the economic opportunities of thousands of Gaza residents. To learn more about Tilbani’s creativity and innovation in the face of such obstacles, listen to the next episode. Thanks for listening to Gaza Up Close.

*

A short animated film produced by Gisha tells the story of the closure on Gaza the eyes of Noor, a young girl with big dreams for the future, who receives a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Al Awda candy factory and meet its owner. Watch:

 

Bitter Sweets, Part Two

 Welcome to Gaza Up Close, a podcast by Gisha about what happens when two million people are denied the basic right to freedom of movement. I’m Lital Firestone. As we heard from Mohammed Tilbani in the last episode, he dreams of expanding his company and seeing Gaza get on a path to growth and prosperity. Today, at 67 years old, and despite the obstacles he faces, Tilbani strives towards innovation, working creatively to produce new products, use advanced manufacturing techniques and develop additional markets. He is ready to pass on his work to future generations of candy makers, but can they realize his vision?

“Bit by bit I’m handing the work to my children, but travelling for them is difficult. I have a son that I’m wishing he’d receive a permit, he used to get one and now it stopped.” Tilbani’s son is blocked from traveling out of Gaza by Israel on the claim of undisclosed “security considerations,” a barrier to travel that has become more and more common for many in Gaza. To travel from Gaza into Israel or the West Bank, a person has to first receive security clearance and also meet a narrow and shifting set of criteria for receiving a permit from the Israeli military authorities. You can be blocked for “security considerations” in a wide variety of circumstances that include everything from actual participation in hostilities to just having had a relative killed or your home damaged. You don’t get information on why you’re blocked and thus have no means of knowing whether there are grounds to the “charges,” let alone defending yourself against them.

“I’m afraid that one day they’ll stop my permit and not let me in, what can I do then?” A few months after he told us this, Tilbani was in fact blocked from exiting Gaza for business. In many cases where Gisha has challenged the security block imposed on a Gaza resident, either through media work or legal intervention, the Israeli authorities have reversed their decision and granted a travel permit, in what seems to be an attempt to either avoid negative media attention or going to court. This calls into question the arbitrary decision-making process for assigning a security block in the first place.  Adding to Tilbani’s long list of obstacles, the security block places his company and his employees in jeopardy.

“Many people say to me that if they were in my place, they would deposit their money in a bank abroad and leave all this mess. After all the shocks that we have gone through, now we are used to everything. We became so cool and we have so much patience to face any problem and we don’t stand there and do nothing, but we sit down and think how to solve the problem, what are the alternatives? What can we do? So difficulties don’t mean much to us anymore while for others it might be the end.”

A production line in Al-Awda sweet factory in Gaza. Photo by Gisha

When we visited Tilbani in the West Bank, he walked us around his huge new factory with an ever-present beeping sound that seemed to be an impatient reminder that work needed to get done. He pointed out how the conveyor belts take each ingredient, from egg to jam, and transform them into thousands of sweets, which then go all the way back around the factory on another belt to be wrapped and shipped. One hundred twenty meters of conveyor belt, in fact. When I asked him how many people work at this factory he said 60, but that the factory in Gaza still employs almost 400 people. Despite the losses Tilbani faced from the fire and a shrinking market in Gaza, he did everything in his power to support this workforce, who depend on the operation of his factory for their livelihoods. He made it clear that it is a social responsibility, as any big family would take care of each other.  “I will never fire them! They started with us from the beginning, we lived together, and we are used to each other. I will help them as long as I live, because they help me. You see what I mean? So it’s social solidarity. We work 15 days every month, each of them works for 5 or 10 days every month. Instead of sending the 400 workers home, they can stay but they share the days and the shifts. For example, one works during the day and the other at night, one works this week and another works the next one, so we split the jobs, simply because there’s no other alternative. Where will they go?”

Unemployment rates have risen dramatically in Gaza over the last decade. Today, the rate of unemployment is 52% and among young people it’s nearly 70%. One thing that could help is if people could travel into Israel, where there are more job opportunities. If these same employees were just given access to jobs outside Gaza, they would not have to depend on these systems of shared work to survive. I asked Gisha’s public advocacy coordinator Noa Galili to explain the political context behind the policies that limit freedom of movement in Gaza. “While many in Israel talk about the importance of enabling economic development in Gaza, including for Israel’s own security interests, in practice, Israel imposes arbitrary and sweeping restrictions on movement that hinder economic growth in the Strip without any clear reason. Laborers have been officially blocked for exit from Gaza since early 2006 and travel for professional reasons, like to reach meetings or trainings, is severely restricted both to Israel and the West Bank. There are legitimate security needs to screen people and goods traveling to and from Gaza, but political goals are the dominant and illegitimate factors behind what’s happening: Israel wants to put pressure on the population and the local Hamas authorities by squeezing the economy and also isolate Gaza from the West Bank, what it refers to as the separation policy.”

“The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are considered one part of Palestine and they cannot be separated, we complete one another. There are things today that are in the West Bank but we cannot find them in Gaza, there are things in Gaza that you cannot find in the West bank. So they are symbiotic and they complete one another.” Gaza’s economy has faced substantial economic losses because of the closure and the separation policy that explicitly denies Gaza residents access to their natural markets in the West Bank. Unfortunately, it has an even deeper stifling effect – the longer it lasts the more it undermines Gaza’s future prospects for economic recovery, growth and development.

From Tilbani’s sequestered sweets factory to a community deplete of resources, Gaza residents have reached a critical suffering point. Israel must do everything in its power to ensure normal life in the Palestinian territory and to enable its residents to live in dignity, Israel must immediately lift its severe access restrictions. Rather than restricting movement between Gaza and the West Bank to the minimum necessary, it must allow the maximum movement possible subject only to restrictions that are necessary for security. To learn more about the work Gisha does to advocate for freedom of movement in Gaza, visit www.gisha.org. Thanks for listening to Gaza Up Close.

 

Part 3
Bonus Episode: Lights Out
A market in Gaza. Photo by Asmaa Elkhaldi

Bonus Episode: Lights Out

In the final, bonus episode of the podcast, “Lights Out,” Gaza Up Close host Lital Firestone speaks with Gisha’s Field Coordinator and resident of Gaza, Mohammed Azaiza, who discusses the reality of life with no more than eight consecutive hours of electricity supply. The episode analyzes the factors contributing to the acute, ongoing electricity crisis in the Strip, and points to measures that must be taken in order for this reality to be ameliorated.

Music Credits: Middle Eastern Market by John Leonard French, Setting Pace by Blue Dot Sessions, ZigZag Heart by Blue Dot Sessions, Elmore Heights by Blue Dot Sessions

 

 

Transcript

“If your neighbors don’t feel safe you don’t feel safe. If your neighbors feel sick, you will feel sick, if your neighbors feel love, you will feel love. So the peace cannot occur without giving the Palestinians of Gaza their rights.”

You’re listening to Gaza Up Close, a podcast by Gisha about what happens when two million people are denied the basic right to freedom of movement. I’m Lital Firestone. Looped throughout our episodes, you have heard snapshots from households in Gaza facing electricity crises, struggling to access clean water, and blocked from accessing the resources they need to build their homes and communities. Senior officials in the Israeli military and government, as well as representatives of the international community, have spoken continually about the importance of reconstructing Gaza. As the occupying power, Israel has not invested in developing infrastructure that can support the growth of Gaza’s population, and continues to hinder the maintenance and improvement of existing infrastructural systems by imposing a strict permit regime and greatly limiting the entrance of necessary equipment and specialists into the Strip. Gisha’s Field Coordinator in Gaza called me to give his perspective on the impact of these restrictions.

“My name is Mohammed Azaiza, I am from Gaza, I’m working for Gisha since 2009 until now.” Mohammed and I had to speak over a video call, since he is very rarely given a permit to leave his home in Gaza to meet us in our offices in Tel Aviv, what would be just an hour’s drive. We were lucky he had electricity to do the interview at all. “Now in Gaza this summer, we are in May 2019, we have like 8 hours of electricity on, following that 8 hours of electricity off. It’s the usual routine of electricity for Gaza since 2006.”

The supply of electricity sold and provided to Gaza by Israel, in addition to the electricity produced by the Strip’s sole power plant, only meets about half of actual demand. A chronic shortage was exacerbated in April 2017, when Gaza’s power plant had to stop operations, due to a dispute over purchase of fuel between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority then requested that Israel reduce the supply of electricity sold to Gaza by 40 percent, which they approved and implemented from June 2017 until January 2018. In November 2018, the Qatari government began donating fuel, purchased from Israel and transferred into Gaza where it’s converted to electricity at the Gaza power plant.  Today, the electricity supply is the highest it’s been in several years, and yet still, hospitals, factories, schools and households in the Strip have to cope with long blackouts.  Mohammed told me that people in Gaza are forced to adjust their daily routines around when there is electricity, and have become normalized to this way of life. But not everyone takes it as a given. “My children cannot understand why there’s no electricity, and this is like an open question that children raise – why we don’t have electricity, and you cannot clarify for children who are 7 or 8 years old about all the crisis that is happening in Gaza and the West Bank, or the Israeli closure of Gaza.”

For hospitals in Gaza, the volatility of electricity access could mean a case of life or death. “In the emergency situation when there’s no fuel, and the electricity comes down to 6 hours and to 4 hours, it’s like a big crisis especially for the patients of the hospital who need a life-saving issue or they’re in the ICU, where the electricity is needed for 24 hours.” In the absence of adequate electricity supply, neighborhoods overflow with sewage, millions of liters of partially or untreated wastewater are dumped into the sea every day, and the shortage of clean water is further exacerbated. According to the UN, some households spend an average of one-third of their income on purchase of water from the private sector. The water that is purchased is itself often still polluted and children especially are vulnerable to water-borne diseases from drinking it. “It’s like a difficult challenge for the Palestinians because water and life, there’s a big connection with water and life. Without healthy water, you cannot live. I think that it’s a big responsibility for all the parties, especially Israel because they control the movement over Gaza, to let the Palestinians build their infrastructure, especially water.”

Mohammed said people in Gaza are trying to rebuild their infrastructure, but are met by various restrictions that delay and obstruct. The Israeli authorities’ restrict entrance of goods that they consider to be “dual use,” meaning items that are primarily civilian in nature but that could also have military uses. Almost everything that is needed for maintenance and development of civilian infrastructure is on the list of items that are restricted – from pipes and valves to chemicals. It’s clear there are valid security arguments to be made about the military “value” of many of the items, yet the management of the list as a whole is problematic at best, and arbitrary, disproportionate and even punitive at worst. “Sometimes you ask to import the materials, but they didn’t give you a vital issue you need for example the pipes, a big pipes, you have to wait like a month, so the project is stuck.”

Mohammed emphasized that the vast majority of people in Gaza just want to live a normal life. “You’ll find people who love the life and they need to continue the life, they go every morning to their work, and if they don’t have work they go every morning to sit at the sea and think about the future.” As we think about Gaza’s future, it is clear to Gisha that Israel must allow free movement of people and goods to enable economic growth, opportunities for personal development and normal family life, subject to individual security inspections. Thanks for listening to Gaza Up Close.