An unliveable life: Surges in unemployment, population threaten to paralyse Gaza

5 min read
18 January, 2022

"It's not easy to live in one of the world's most impoverished areas when you don't have a future," Magdolin al-Saway told The New Arab, her voice breaking mid-sentence. 

Magdolin, 38, thought she had planned her life out when she graduated from college in 2007 and married an engineer. Little did she know it was the start of an arduous, heart-wrenching journey

"For more than 15 years, neither I nor my husband has had employment – governmental or private. Meanwhile, our family got bigger. I now have six children, with another on the way," Magdolin said with exacerbation. 

"Because of the impact of the Israeli blockade and internal Palestinian division, our generation is in seemingly perpetual stagnation"

To subsist, Magdolin and her family depend on international institutions' financial and food aids, mainly the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Ahmed al-Sawy, Magdolin's husband, also chimed into the interview held with The New Arab about the lack of stability and the need to provide his family with basic needs, something that he fails on a regular basis. 

"I planned to work in my area of expertise. I had initially planned to have only three kids, and live stable just like other engineers around the world, but my dreams were quickly submerged by the waves of our desperate reality."

In 2007, Israel tightened its blockade on the coastal enclave, which is home to more than two million people, after the Islamic Hamas movement forcibly seized the area and ousted its previous rulers, Fatah. 

Israel, which considers Hamas a terror organisation, then launched four large-scale military operations in the Gaza Strip between 2008 and 2021 to curb the perceived threat emanating from the enclave. 

During this time, living conditions have expectedly worsened, with more and more people unable to meet their daily needs. 

"Because of the impact of the Israeli blockade and internal Palestinian division, our generation is in seemingly perpetual stagnation," Magdolin's husband said with evident despair. 

"I have only gained a big family, while I can provide nothing for them and have nothing to build their future," he added. 

The Gazan couple is among hundreds of thousands of prominent Palestinian families who are suffering from poverty and unemployment because of the ongoing Israeli blockade, according to Amjad al-Shawa, director of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Network in Gaza.

He told The New Arab that the coastal enclave is enduring its "worst humanitarian crisis" because of the culmination of various political, economic, and social crises. However, he says, the Gaza Strip has been worsened by population increases which place acute stress upon any semblance of infrastructure. 

"The strip is like entering a stage of "clinical death" without any form reconstruction, work, life, or development"

"At the end of 2021, Gaza's population reached 2,313,747 people," according to the Hamas-run General Administration of Civil Status at the Ministry of Interior. According to the statistics, the number of males has reached 1,173,814, while females were numbered at 1,139,933,  50.8 percent and 49.2 percent, respectively. 

"If the population continues to grow, the situation will deteriorate because of dire economic conditions that are expected to get worse," al-Shawa said.

In 2012, the United Nations warned of the sharp deterioration in the Gaza Strip due to the 15-year long Israeli blockade imposed. The agency also warned that the enclave might not be liveable in the near future. 

In 2021, the unemployment rate in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip exceeded 50 percent, with more than 250,000 Palestinians unemployed, according to Maher al-Taba'a, director of the Chamber of Commerce in Gaza. 

He told The New Arab that the unemployment rate has soared to 78 percent among graduates aged between 20 to 29, defined as those who have a certificate with an intermediate diploma or those with a bachelor's degree.

Meanwhile, Maher explained that the Gaza Strip's poverty rate has grown to 64 percent. In comparison, the rate of food instability among the Gaza Strip households reached 69 percent due to the issues caused by the ongoing Israeli blockade and internal Palestinian paralysis

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Unfortunately, the strip is like entering a stage of "clinical death" without any form of reconstruction, work, life, or development. The noose is narrowing around the neck of the territory, which threatens to explode the situation.

Al-Taba'a has also explained that many negative phenomena have emerged as a result, such as increased levels of begging in public places, increase in divorces, the financial failure of merchants and businessmen, bankruptcy and imprisonment for financial receivables."

Nevertheless, Gazans wake up daily in the hope that the situation would change for the better, calling on the international to pressure Israel to lift its siege and introduce comprehensive facilities-based mainly on economic development to ensure a significant improvement in the population's lives.

The Palestinian couple expressed their hope that Egypt would succeed someday in reaching a long-time ceasefire between the Palestinian factions and Israel to allow the local residents to rebuild their life once again.

Sally Ibrahim is The New Arab's correspondent from Gaza