Thousands of families flocked to the shores of the Gaza Strip days after the fighting with Israel ended, completely disregarding that the beach is polluted with raw sewage and without adhering to preventive measures against COVID-19. Many Gazans seem to believe they have already tasted death and nothing will prevent them from enjoying life.
After Israel destroyed so much of Gaza's infrastructure, the Palestine Electric Company was left without fuel to operate and has been forced to dump untreated sewage into the sea
The Israeli siege imposed on Gaza since 2007 is the main cause of the pollution crisis. As a result of 20-hour-a-day power cuts since 2013, the treatment plants are only able to operate for a few hours at a time.
These facilities are unable to get replacement parts as Israel blocks them citing possible military use, so plants have to shut down as a result of any malfunction.
The electricity crisis in Gaza began in 2006 with Israel's bombing of the enclave’s only station in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier. The 2 million people in Gaza suffer considerably from the lack of electricity, particularly during the summer and winter.
Gaza has one of the highest population densities in the world. According to the United Nations, approximately 600,000 refugees live in the Strip in eight overcrowded camps. There are, on average, more than 5,700 people per square kilometer, rising to over 9,000 people in Gaza City.
Alaa Hamid, a resident of the Shajaiya neighborhood who brought her four sons to the beach, told Al-Monitor, “This is their only outlet, as the power outage prevented them from continuing their online lessons. We only get four hours of electricity per day.”
She explained, “For five days, we have been living without electricity or water except for the water we get from our neighbors, who have a pump that runs on electric generators,” adding, “Now I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to wash my children's clothes after we go home.”
Aya al-Hato, 16, was taking pictures with her friends. She told Al-Monitor the beach is “the only outlet we have, even if it's a sewage dump,” adding that she does not swim in the polluted water.
Hato said, “I was three years old when the 2008 war on Gaza broke out. I grew up witnessing the wars of 2012 and 2014, and now the 2021 war hit hard. I think we are the only generation that will not long for our youth."
Alaa Younis, 37, who was grilling corn on the beach with his children, told Al-Monitor that the polluted sea became the only outlet for his children after Israel bombed Al-Rimal commercial district in Gaza City. Al-Rimal is one of the main entertainment centers in Gaza with parks, malls, restaurants and ice cream shops, all destroyed now.
Younis stressed, “I do not let my children swim here so that they don't get skin or respiratory diseases from the polluted water.”
Swimming in the sea is a popular recreational activity and one of the few available to Gazans. According to the World Health Organization, diseases associated with polluted seawater are the main cause of illness for children in Gaza.
The water treatment plants may operate even less in the near future due to funding problems facing the UN emergency fuel programs that keep backup generators running in vital facilities.
Alaa Saad, a translation student at the Islamic University in Gaza, was at the crowded beach with her mother and her architect sister, none of them wearing masks. She told Al-Monitor, “The last war on Gaza was way more dangerous than COVID-19. I no longer fear a virus because it does not hold a candle to war.”