Living behind the Wall: Navigating Life in the Gaza Strip

Living behind the Wall: Navigating Life in the Gaza Strip

Article by Hazem Almassry


Head image: A still from a video recording the destruction of the author’s neighborhood in Gaza (photo credit to Hazem Almassry)

The Zionist project, beginning 120 years ago in Palestine with Western support, led to the occupation of 78% of the land by 1948. This displaced 750,000 Palestinians, with 200,000 settling in Gaza. Today, Gaza’s population, mainly comprising refugees or their descendants, traces back to this displacement. After the 1948 war, the Palestinian national movement emerged, resisting Israeli occupation. In 1967, Israel extended its occupation, prompting Palestinian movements in Jordan, Lebanon, and other countries. The 1980s saw a shift as Palestinians initiated the intifada in 1987, an uprising against Israeli occupation that originated in the North Gaza Strip and spread across the Palestinian territories.

My family and I hail from Khan Yunis City in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, although I was born in a Christian hospital affiliated with the Baptist Church in Gaza City. The intifada commenced when I was just two years old, shaping my awareness during this period of upheaval. 


Figure  2 : A picture of the author’s house when it was still standing (Hazem Almassry)

The intifada took on various forms, initially marked by civil disobedience and limited confrontations with the well-equipped Israeli army, considered one of the world’s most advanced military forces. In certain areas, Palestinians refused to pay taxes to Israeli authorities in protest against the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The uprising, therefore, manifested as a multifaceted expression of resistance against the Israeli occupation.

In response to the civil disobedience during the intifada, the Israeli Army adopted harsh measures, including the confiscation of Palestinian properties to compel tax payment. Shop closures were also employed as a tactic to pressure Palestinians into meeting tax obligations. Personally, I witnessed Israeli forces confiscating furniture from Palestinian homes and shutting down shops. I, initially, didn’t understand the reasons behind these actions. It became clear later that these measures were implemented to compel Palestinians into paying taxes.

Facing these challenges, Palestinians resorted to using stones and primitive weapons to confront the Israeli Army. In turn, the Israeli Army employed various suppressive measures, including opening fire, deploying tear gas, and conducting house raids. I recall numerous instances of the Israeli Army breaking into our house in pursuit of stone throwers. The use of live bullets resulted in casualties among Palestinians, and the first person I knew who was killed by the Israeli Army was a street cleaner from our neighborhood. He was our neighbor and had a mental health condition. His tragic death, caused by the Israeli Army, left a lasting impact on my childhood memories, as I was around 6 years old at the time.

As part of their efforts to suppress the Palestinian Intifada, the Israeli authorities implemented road closures. I distinctly recall a day when I, along with my brothers, was heading to school, only to find the main gate of our neighborhood sealed off with concrete barriers by the Israeli army. This compelled us to navigate alternative, narrower paths to reach school. In response to such restrictions, communities gathered in each neighborhood, establishing makeshift markets to buy essential items since accessing the central market became challenging.

Israel also resorted to cutting essential services as a means of quelling the Palestinian intifada. I vividly remember a period when the Israeli Army cut electricity for over 40 days and disrupted water supply for several days, forcing Palestinians to travel to distant locations to bring water. My brothers and I would use a trolley to transport water during these times.

Furthermore, Israel imposed curfews as a strategy to severely limit the movement of Palestinians for extended periods, adding another layer to the challenges faced by the community.

 My mother was expecting my younger brother when the Israeli Army enforced a curfew that coincided with her delivery day. She shared her harrowing experience of being pregnant and going into labor during this period. Initially, my parents used a car within our neighborhood, where the Israeli Army presence was minimal. However, they had to resort to walking along narrow and unfamiliar paths to reach the hospital. I try to imagine a pregnant woman experiencing labor pains having to navigate a considerable distance on foot to reach the hospital, in extremely risky conditions.

Throughout the intifada, the Israeli Army actively targeted Palestinian symbols, including flags and even cassette tapes featuring patriotic songs. Having such items posed a risk, as individuals caught with Palestinian patriotic song cassettes or flags could face prosecution in Israeli courts. I recall a specific instance where my brother had to dispose of a cassette containing Palestinian patriotic songs out of fear of being caught and imprisoned by Israeli authorities. 

The First Palestinian Intifada concluded with the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, leading to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. In 1994, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its chairman, Yasser Arafat, entered the Gaza Strip. I vividly remember the collective excitement as people of all ages welcomed them, anticipating the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and the hope for a sovereign state and peaceful coexistence. While the situation improved compared to the pre-Oslo era, with fewer Israeli soldiers and military vehicles in our streets, it was not without challenges.

According to the Oslo Accords, the Israeli Authority was obligated to grant Palestinians permission to travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. However, obtaining this permission was not universal; some Palestinians received it, while others faced rejection. For instance, my brother applied for permission to attend a university in the West Bank after finishing high school, but his application was denied due to his association with individuals involved in resistance movements.

During this period Palestinians managed to establish an airport in the Gaza Strip, symbolizing a degree of sovereignty, albeit with partial Israeli control. However, the peace process collapsed in 2000, triggered by the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with intentions to annex them, complicating negotiations on final borders with the Palestinians. 

Following the breakdown of the peace process in 2000, the Palestinians initiated their second intifada, resorting to familiar methods of resistance such as throwing stones at the Israeli Army and employing light weapons. In response, Israel escalated its violence against Palestinians, introducing new military vehicles like warplanes and tanks to suppress the uprising.  

Notably, the Palestinian airport became an early target, ultimately destroyed a few weeks into the intifada. Israel developed military tactics, including the “Shaving” strategy, viewing Palestinian territories as a head to be shaved, signifying destruction of everything on that “head”—buildings, farms, trees, houses. This strategy aimed to dismantle the Palestinian community by obliterating homes and the economy.

Rachel Corrie, an American activist, tragically lost her life while attempting to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing Palestinian properties in Rafah City. 

In our own family, we experienced the profound impact of this strategy. We were previously in a good economic situation due to our farm, but one day, my father received an unforgettable call informing him that the Israeli Army was bulldozing our farm. This news proved catastrophic for us, leading to a severe deterioration in our economic condition. 

In 2005, the Israeli government declared a disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip, but it was, in fact, a partial withdrawal from the cities while maintaining full control over the Gaza Strip on borders, air and sea. This limited Palestinians’ ability to build infrastructure, such as an airport and port, and restricted their freedom of movement and the importation of goods. 

With Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government declared the Gaza Strip a hostile entity, officially imposing a blockade. However, I personally consider that the blockade on the Gaza Strip had started earlier, at least in 2001. The situation escalated in 2007 when the Israeli government tightened the siege, allowing only 18 items and products to enter Gaza while prohibiting others goods.

When Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, Israel aimed for them to govern but not to become a strong force. As part of their strategy, Israel regularly employed the “mowing the grass” approach to diminish Hamas’s capabilities and threat. This strategy involved launching numerous attacks on the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009, 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2021 to target Hamas’s military capabilities. Coincidentally, my father passed away during one of these Israeli attacks in 2009 naturally. The difficulties extended even to laying him to rest, as we couldn’t find cement to build his grave. Fortunately, one of our neighbors had some cement and donated it to us since it wasn’t among the permitted goods to enter the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli Army’s attacks on the Gaza Strip under the siege were described as a very high scale of violence compared to previous incidents. Despite this, Palestinians managed to smuggle goods from Egypt through tunnels along the border, improving their living conditions without relying solely on Israeli-controlled border crossings. However, after the coup in Egypt in 2013, the new Egyptian government destroyed all the tunnels on the borders with the Gaza Strip. In 2014, just before one of the Israeli massive regular attacks, I applied for a visa to Australia after obtaining a Ph.D. scholarship from an Australian University. Unfortunately, my application was rejected, with the reasoning stating that the economic and political situation in my country would not encourage my return after completing my studies. Faced with this setback, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. in Taiwan, seeking academic opportunities elsewhere.

The situation in the Gaza Strip continued to worsen, prompting Palestinians to seek alternative ways to break free from the dire circumstances and the siege imposed by the Israeli Authority. In response, people in the Gaza Strip initiated a new form of resistance through protests at the borders, known as the Great March of Return in 2018 and 2019. However, Israel responded to these demonstrations with gunfire, resulting in the deaths of more than 240 Palestinians and injuries to over 10,000, with many facing lifelong disabilities. Unfortunately, subsequent years saw little change, with the grim reality persisting between 2018 and 2023.

Living in the Gaza Strip, it has become commonplace to know numerous individuals who lost their lives at the hands of the Israeli Army. Among those affected, I want to highlight a specific category—individuals who shared the same table with me during my Senior High School years. In Palestine, every two students share a table in the classroom. 

The friends with whom I shared tables in Grade 10, Grade 11, and Grade 12, all met tragic ends at the hands of the Israeli Army. These were individuals I knew and was close to for about a year.

Even with many sad events happening in Gaza, there used to be good things before the current terrible genocide. It was like a happy and organized place, but it often faced attacks and blockades from Israel. People outside of Gaza didn’t aware of the existence of a joyful and contented life there. Despite the tough times, we had relatively decent infrastructures and services in Gaza. People there tried to have happy moments amid the rubble caused by Israel. Unfortunately, the situation has deteriorated significantly recently, marked by an ongoing and devastating genocide resulting in the deaths or disappearances of over 30,000 people. Personally, in December 2023, my mother was killed at home by the Israeli Army, causing significant damage. Subsequently, in January 2024, our house was demolished by the Israeli army, a fate shared by many other homes in our neighborhood.

Figure 3: The author’s house (right corner) still standing after an air raid in October. The house is now completely destroyed by Israeli bombs (Hazem Almassry).