Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 3 August 2020

Gaza's young people turn to suicide amid growing desperation

A spate of suicides – including that of a leading activist – has rocked the besieged Palestinian enclave

A boy is pictured at the sunset on the beach in Gaza on July 3, 2020. / AFP / MOHAMMED ABED
A boy is pictured at the sunset on the beach in Gaza on July 3, 2020. / AFP / MOHAMMED ABED

A rise in the number of reported suicides and attempted suicides among Gaza’s youth is causing concern about growing desperation caused by living conditions in the Palestinian enclave under an Israeli blockade.

On Sunday, Ahmed Al Malahi, a man in his thirties, was rushed to the Indonesia Hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip after swallowing 50 pills and another youth from the camp, Ibrahim Yassin, died in hospital a week after setting himself on fire.

A day earlier, a young man from Al Shati refugee camp, Ayman Al Ghoul, died after throwing himself off a five-storey building.

The death that shook Gazans the most, however, was that of Suleiman Al Ajouri, who shot himself because of what friends described as frustration over his future.

Al Ajouri was one of the leading activists behind the “we want to live” protests that erupted in Gaza in March 2019. Thousands of young people from all over the territory took to the streets over the grim living conditions under Hamas, the Islamist movement ruling Gaza, and the Israeli blockade. The protests were violently subdued within a week by Hamas security forces.

If young people don't feel any hope for the near future, pressures will weigh on them and they will think about finding a way out, such as ​​suicide

Dirdah Alshaer, professor of psychology

Al Ajouri was facing extreme financial hardship, friend Shaher Al Habbash told The National.

He had been “hoping to emigrate from Gaza but couldn’t get the money to do it, which devastated him more in the past months”.

There is no official count for suicides and suicide attempts by the authorities in the Gaza Strip, but multiple suicide attempts are reported on a weekly basis.

Human rights centres in Gaza, like Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights and the independent commission for Human Rights, have repeatedly warned about the worsening economic, humanitarian and living conditions in recent months and called on the international community to put pressure on Israel to end the blockade imposed on Gaza.

“Suicide is a tragic phenomenon that has begun to spread in the Gaza Strip due to economic reasons – high unemployment rates, poverty, and extreme frustration faced by the people,” said economic analyst Moeen Rajab.

"By tracking cases of suicide year to year and month to month, we can see they are increasing, which means that there is an alarm that must be sounded or else this phenomenon will exacerbate," he said.

Dirdah Alshaer, professor of psychology at Al Aqsa University in Gaza, said the main factor that drives people to suicide in Gaza is the lack of future opportunities, as well as a lack of any sign that positive change will happen.

"There is general tension and psychological distress among young Gazans," he said.

"If young people don't feel any hope for the near future, these pressures will weigh on them and they will think about finding a way out, such as ​​suicide."

Prof Alshaer said he expects a further increase in suicide rates in the coming months.

The Gaza Strip has been under a tight Israeli blockade since 2007, rendering life in the coastal enclave “unliveable," according to the UN.

More than 80 per cent of the population are reliant on international aid and about 69 per cent live below the poverty line.

As many as 73 per cent of Gazan families are experiencing food insecurity, according to the Gaza-based Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights.

The situation is further aggravated by the division between Hamas, which governs the Strip, and Fatah, which oversees the Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank, since 2007.

Young people, in particular, have been hit the hardest by the political and economic crisis.

Unemployment stands at a high 45.1 per cent but, unemployment among young people stands at an even higher 69 per cent, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. More than half (57 per cent) of the young live in poverty and more than 80 per cent suffer from depression, according to the UN.

“There is little interest in this matter from the official authorities,” said a Gaza-based human rights worker, who asked not to be named.

"As suicide cases have increased over the past couple of years, the Hamas government has not given the issue attention or taken any preventative measures."

Activist Hamza Saleh vented his frustration on Twitter after the latest deaths, saying that while young people are committing suicide due to tough living conditions, the sons of officials and leaders are "living in luxury, whether in Gaza, the West Bank, or Turkey or Qatar”.

After hearing of Al Ajouri’s death, Palestinian journalist Fathi Sabah wrote on Facebook: “I think the idea – of committing suicide – did not come only to Suleiman Al Ajouri, but many others.

“But Al Ajouri made the decision to put an end to the pain and depression and the injustice to which he and his whole generation have been subjected.”

Rania Skaik, another young Gazan, wrote on Facebook: “For Gazans to commit suicide and risk going to God’s hellfire over staying in Gaza – it really says everything you need to know.”

Updated: July 7, 2020 04:51 AM

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