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A child stands in a bombed-out apartment

A Palestinian girl stands amid the rubble of her destroyed home on May 24, 2021 in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. (Photo: Fatima Shbair/Getty Images)

Suffering at Extreme Levels in Gaza After 15 Years as World's Largest 'Open-Air Prison'

"Over 800,000 young Palestinians have spent their entire lives trapped within Gaza," said one aid agency. "They have known nothing else."

Julia Conley

Marking 15 years since Israel began imposing its land, air, and sea blockade on Gaza, Oxfam International said Wednesday that the international community is complicit in Palestinians' ongoing suffering and demanded the United Nations and its member states "become the diplomatic power brokers needed to end this blockade now."

The international humanitarian group noted that governments have spent "an estimated $5.7 billion in Gaza just to help keep an incredibly resilient population afloat" as 2.1 million Palestinians face power cuts, undrinkable water, and restricted movement.

"The humanitarian relief effort has long become a permanent operation," said Oxfam International executive director Gabriela Bucher. "We are collectively forced into being de facto enablers of an open-air prison."

In a social media post, Oxfam campaign coordinator Fatima AbdulKarim bemoaned that humanitarian aid groups and their donors have been compelled to sustain a situation that has only prolonged and entrenched the suffering of people in Gaza.

Oxfam announced it was joining a campaign with other civil society groups, #OpenUpGaza15, which will feature the personal stories of 15 young people living in Gaza and discussing their hopes and aspirations.

"We need to stop the tragedy of Gaza from continuing to drain all the joy and aspiration of its youth, year upon year," Bucher said. "It is imperative that we help the next generation not to be lost to the blockade. Over 800,000 young Palestinians have spent their entire lives trapped within Gaza. They have known nothing else."

The campaign was announced as Save the Children released a report showing that four out of five children in the Gaza Strip suffer from depression, grief, and fear.

Compared to 2018, the group saw huge increases in the number of children who reported feeling sad or depressed—77% compared to 62% in 2018. More than half of the children there have contemplated suicide and three out of five have intentionally harmed themselves.

"It is imperative that we help the next generation not to be lost to the blockade. Over 800,000 young Palestinians have spent their entire lives trapped within Gaza. They have known nothing else."

"Five years ago, caregivers said that their capacity to support their children is being pushed to the limit by the blockade, chronic poverty, and insecurity, and would most likely be utterly destroyed in the event of another conflict. Our findings show that caregivers' concerns have sadly come true," said Jason Lee, the group's country director for the occupied Palestinian territories.

“We call on all sides to tackle the root causes of this conflict, and take steps to protect all children and families who deserve to live in safety and dignity," he added. "We need an immediate end to the conflict and economic deprivation that are huge stressors in children’s lives, as well as action to support the coping potential and resilience of children and their families in the Gaza strip.” 

Young people growing up under the blockade face a 63% of not being able to find paid work after they finish school, according to Oxfam. Nearly all of the piped water in Gaza is unsafe to drink and electricity supply is restricted to just 12 hours per day.

Israel's government has found numerous other ways to deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of living a normal life, said Shane Stevenson, Oxfam's country director for Palestine.

"Palestinian families in Gaza are being collectively and illegally punished," said Stevenson. "Israel bans the export of date paste, cookies, and French fries. It has forbidden 3G and 4G phone data and there's no PayPal. This is not a place where a young person can be expected to flourish and find happiness." 

Currently, said Oxfam, there is "no diplomatic resolution in sight."

Oxfam demanded that the international community "commit to a time-bound plan with actions and strong accountability mechanisms" in order to secure justice for Palestinians.

"We refuse to accept that all the effort made to maintain the blockade for 15 years can't instead be harnessed for good and to consign it to history," said Stevenson.

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