Life Under Lockdown

What is striking about the Gaza Strip is the lack of a visible military presence. In the West Bank at checkpoints and crossings, Israeli Defense Force soldiers in green fatigues strut about with their automatic rifles at the ready. They are young, some of them in their teens, and they sling their weapons over their shoulders like guitars as they demand papers and issue orders. At the Kalandia Crossing between Jerusalem and Ramallah in 2008, I was caught in the labyrinth of bars and turnstiles, trying to get through the metal detectors and x-ray machines. As I shuffled forward, voices yelled in Hebrew over loudspeakers. What they were yelling and to whom was unclear. I watched a middle-aged man, clearly in pain, being turned back; his wife and young daughter, who were trying to get him to a hospital for treatment, were weeping. In Hebron, the army patrols the streets in full combat gear, weighed down by helmets, body armour and radio sets, while kids on bicycles circle round them in the manner of children everywhere.

In Gaza, a narrow strip of land forty kilometers long and on average less than a quarter of that in width, the military presence is not visible but it is there all the same. From the rooftop terrace of our hotel in Gaza City I stare at a row of harsh white spotlights far out at sea. It takes me a while to work out that these banks of lights are marker buoys. Over the years the distance a Palestinian fisherman can go in search of a decent catch has been whittled down from the twenty-nautical-mile limit established in the Oslo Accords to the three-mile limit imposed by the Israelis as of January 2009. This makes 85 percent of Gaza’s waters inaccessible to local fishermen. Of the ten thousand local fishermen in 2000, there are only around 3,500 today. The lights have the effect of drawing the fish to the surface, which means that the best fishing is as close to the line as possible. It’s a dangerous task. Israeli patrol ships run circles around the smaller fishing boats so as to tip them over. They regularly fire upon fishing boats with live ammunition.

The historian Ilan Pappé described what is happening in Gaza as “slow-motion genocide.” (Jamal Mahjoub)

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