Gaza’s Youth Lose Hope

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A portrait of Ehab Abu Nada, a young umemployed Palestinian who took his own life last week, hangs on the wall of his family's living room in Gaza City's al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza city 3 September 2012. The 17-year-old died on September 2 of his wounds in a hospital in Gaza, four days after dousing himself in petrol and setting himself alight in protest against the economic conditions in the Gaza Strip and his failure to find a job to help his family. (Photo: AFP - Mahmud Hams)

By: Sanaa Kamel

Published Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Gaza Strip has witnessed seven suicides in the past eight weeks, a huge increase that’s prompting Palestinians to investigate more deeply how the harsh living conditions in the besieged Strip are affecting young people.

Many Gazans believe abject poverty, widespread unemployment and the lack of any prospects for the future are fueling this rise in suicide rates, but they are unsure where to place the blame.

Is it Israel’s fault for imposing the siege which affects nearly every aspect of daily life, or are the feuding Fatah and Hamas responsible? Could the de facto government which controls the Gaza Strip do anything to alleviate some of the pressure if it were not so concerned with consolidating its political power and separating Gaza from the West Bank?

Al-Akhbar examined several of the suicide cases and found many factors that could have contributed to these young men, mostly between the ages of 16 and 25, deciding to end their lives.

Their families, neighbors and friends are in a state of severe shock. They reject rumors that the youths who killed themselves had mental disorders and had tried to commit suicide more than once. The parents instead insist that their children were living a socially normal life.

It is worth noting that all those who committed suicide performed their religious duties regularly.

18-year-old Ehab Abu Nada wanted to send a message to officials in Fatah and Hamas by setting himself on fire in order to draw attention to the despair afflicting young people. His brother, Nour, insists Ehab did not intend to kill himself.

“Lighting himself on fire at the gate of al-Shifaa Hospital clearly shows that he knew what he was doing and that he did not intend to die,” he said. “After setting himself on fire he went quickly to the clinic to get help.”

Ehab’s father, Sufian, says that his son prayed, fasted and was loved by his family and friends, but that difficult living conditions led him to commit suicide.

Ehab was a good student, his father said. He lived with his parents, four brothers and one sister in an old house consisting of two small rooms.

Sufian worked in one of the security agencies belonging to Salam Fayyad’s government, but his salary was barely enough to feed the family and provide for the children’s daily needs, let alone the rent they owed on the house.

Eventually, Sufian said he had to leave work due to his diabetes, so Ehab decided to quit school and get a job to help support the family. Despite his persistence in looking for a job, the only work Ehab found was selling potato chips in the street. Over time he tried many jobs, including working as a dishwasher in a restaurant, but the family’s situation did not improve.

Finally, Ehab decided to work in the smuggling tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip to the Sinai, despite the danger of the work. He was supposed to be paid 100 Shekels ($25.59) a day for four 18 hour days in a row.

On the fifth day he discovered that the tunnel owner did not intend to pay him. His family said he returned home looking as if he carried the weight of the world on his young shoulders.

His mother tried to console him, but he would not utter a word.

“He was late so I called to see where he was,” his mother said, the heartbreak clear in her voice. “When he answered he said that he was tired and that he was going to another world, away from Gaza. He asked me to forgive him for not being able to provide for us.”

The story of Gomaa Ourouk,19 years old, is equally tragic.

His body was discovered on the roof of the house with a rope around his neck by his aunt who was coming up to feed the pigeons they raise. Her screams echoed through the neighborhood.

Gomaa’s mother was inconsolable, unwilling to believe that her son, who was known for his sense of humor, would kill himself just a month before he was supposed to wed his fiancee.

Gomaa’s life of poverty was not so different from Ehab’s – they live in the same neighborhood.

“He had many skills but no luck,” said Gomaa’s mother. “He tried so hard to find consistent work but failed. Before he killed himself he wrote a letter that read: ‘I have despaired of life. I want to go to God, go up the heavens and live with him and he will help me’.”

She went on to say that her son lived out his last days feeling desperate and humiliated.

Although many of their neighbors are Hamas officials, she said, they were unable or unwilling to help Gomaa.

“Gomaa asked one of the officials to help get him a job in a way that was close to begging,” she said. “This pained him tremendously. And still, he got nothing.”

“Through neighbors and relatives, I came across another leader,” she continued. “One of his relatives whispered in my ear that this was my chance to get a job for my son. I felt encouraged to talk to him.”

But the meeting did not go well, and Gomaa’s mother felt humiliated about having to beg for help and began crying in front of the official, who made a vague promise and sent her on her way with 100 Shekels.

The same official paid all the expenses for Gomaa’s funeral but did not attend.

His older brother was then included on the list to receive governmental unemployment benefits for a year and his father for two months. The family was also given $200 outright.

Recently, there were reports of another suicide attempt in a bank by a young man who tried to set himself on fire after arguing with a bank employee about a financial transaction. The man reportedly poured some liquid presumed to be gasoline on himself before standers-by intervened to stop him from striking a light.

Despite assertions that those who killed themselves suffered from mental disorders, many people see a connection between the rise in suicide rates and the difficult living conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Some believe that these incidents are a precursor to the outbreak of a real revolution, not unlike the Arab revolutions sweeping the region.

Psychologist Fadil Abu Hain told Al-Akhbar that suicide is a social ill resulting from widespread despair and people losing faith in the value of life.

He said the difficult economic conditions lead many to think that death is better than life, and blamed the government for this state of affairs.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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