Gaza appears sporadically as front-page news in the context of violence and terrorism, as it has with the murder on Friday, 1 June, of Razan Ashraf al-Najjar, a 21-year-old paramedic who was fatally shot by Israeli snipers as she was treating wounded protesters along the fence that separates Gaza from Israel. After a day or two of attention, usually marked by the disproportionate deaths of Palestinians, Gaza recedes from view until the next assault. Israel is part of the story but all too often cast as responding to Hamas aggression, acting in self-defence. Without excusing Hamas for its misdeeds, Gaza's misery, isolation and hopelessness are primarily a product of Israeli policy. The form of occupation may have changed since Israel’s ‘disengagement’ in 2005, but the fact of occupation has not. One result is the dehumanisation of the men, women and children who live in Gaza, the denial of their innocence and the resultant loss of their rights.
The recent decision by the Trump administration to drastically cut its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has left the Palestinian refugees in a more precarious position than ever. A conference was recently held in Rome to raise money to allow UNRWA to continue its vital work providing education, health and other social services to more than five million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. Given a projected budget deficit of nearly $500 million in 2018, UNRWA’s funding prospects look dim.
I recently returned to the US from a week in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. I arrived in the city on Sunday, 26 September, the day the temporary freeze on Israeli settlements was set to expire. I was staying with a friend in Sheikh Jarrah, metres away from where two Palestinian families were evicted from their homes last year; more are expected to be forced out in the coming months. As the end of the settlement freeze came and went, what struck me most about it, and about the latest round of peace negotiations of which it was a part, was their utter irrelevance to the realities of Palestinian life.