With all the focus on Syria in recent weeks, it is easy to forget that what is happening there is not isolated. The interconnectedness of the Middle East region, and the confusing web of loyalties between various countries and powers, means that the repercussions of all of this violence and upheaval are widespread.
Gaza, as ever, is precariously balanced. It’s political position means that it is often very much at the whim of external actions and events. Indeed, the changes of power in Egypt has led to serious economic difficulties in the region. A significant part of Palestine’s economy relies on “secret” tunnels between Egypt and Palestine through which large quantities of goods, including building materials, fuel and other items are smuggled to it’s 1.7 million people. These goods can be bought at a reasonable price and are essential to the Palestinian people and their economy. However, since deposing Morsi as president, the Egyptian army have destroyed 90% of these tunnels because they put a portion of the blame for the violence in Egypt on Palestinians and the Islamist Hamas movement. Therefore, Palestinians are now having to buy goods at almost double the price from Israeli sources, a difficult and wholly unsustainable situation.
Gaza’s lack of self-agency leaves it incredibly vulnerable and this has become particularly apparent over recent weeks with the escalation of violence and threats of military action in Syria. Threats from the US to use airstrikes against the Assad regime has made the prospect of retaliatory chemical attacks on Israel a distinct possibility. Some of these retaliatory attacks could even come from Palestinian militant groups, such as Islamic Jihad, who have strong ties to Syria and this could mean ensuing direct attacks from Israel on Palestine. People in the region, according to a recent Global Post article, feel both stranded and worried by these possibilities. As with all situations such as this though, the human spirit and human resourcefulness comes to the fore, adapts and astounds.
The threat of a chemical attack and the difficulty of access to goods and materials, in particular specialist items such as gas masks, has meant that many in Gaza have started to make their own gas masks from simple materials. An empty, two-litre plastic bottle is used to form the shape of the mask. Attached to this is a plastic jar which, stuffed with paper towels soaked in vinegar and a little charcoal, acts as a filter. It is by no means fool-proof but it is at least some form of protection in the event of a chemical attack.
In the midst of the power-politics and struggles for supremacy between super-powers and political blocs, it is sometimes forgotten that this is not a game for many people. Their lives are being threatened and made more difficult every day and the possibility of death and destruction looms clearly to them, it does not merely exist as brief pictures on the night-time news. In these situations, it is often uplifting to see again and again that, despite the bad and the sapping of hope, human beings still do good and don’t give in.