At least 17 people have taken their own lives in the impoverished Gaza Strip this year and hundreds more have attempted suicide, a Palestinian human rights group has claimed.
“These have mainly been among young people,” explained Samir Zaqout, the Deputy Director of Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights. He told AFP that extreme poverty, difficult living conditions and a lack of freedom of expression were all factors behind the “surge” in the number of actual and attempted suicides.
The dire political, economic and social conditions of Palestinians in Gaza have led to an increase in mental health problems such as depression, as well as drug abuse. Narcotics are said to be one thing that Israel allows to be smuggled across the nominal border without restriction.
Israel has maintained a tight blockade of the occupied territory for at least thirteen years. It claims that the measure is necessary to stop weapons and funds from reaching Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement which is the de facto government in Gaza.
Hamas won the last free and fair election that the Palestinians had in 2006, and was running the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank until the PA’s Western donors joined Israel in the blockade ostensibly in protest at the democratic choice of the Palestinian people.
The Israeli blockade has pushed Gaza’s population deeper into poverty. Unemployment has reached an unprecedented level as people struggle to make ends meet, with 80 per cent of the population dependent on humanitarian aid. The Fatah-controlled PA in Ramallah has exacerbated the problem by withholding and cutting the salaries of its employees in Gaza.
The UN predicted in 2018 that Gaza would be “unliveable” by 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has made the situation much worse. The World Bank estimates that poverty affected 53 per cent of Gazans before the pandemic and that the number could now be 64 per cent.