No Safe Place in Gaza
Article by Nicolette Boehland, Harvard Law Fellow at CIVIC.
Article originally published by Huffington Post.
Last September, I went to Gaza to talk to civilians about their experiences during conflict. When I arrived at my hotel, the manager told me with pride that I was lucky to be staying in one of the most secure locations in the Gaza Strip. He beckoned me to the balcony of my room to show me our two security guarantees below, big blue letters, each 15 feet high, UN, and on a nearby rooftop, the huge black letters, EU.
These emblems, he explained, were the benefits afforded to a hotel that often housed international workers and provided office space for the European Union. This was an early indication of the reality that for Gazans, the notion of civilian protection is deeply ambiguous.
For Gazans, fate can be determined by the identity of a neighbor, a military target on the next street, or an international organization's emblem. Staying safe in Gaza is complex and difficult -- and it looks and feels very different to civilians living there than it does to outsiders.
My research in Gaza was for the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), and it focused on civilian experiences of the conflict between Israel and Hamas from 2008 to 2009 and in 2012. It forms part of a broader CIVIC study that explores civilian perspectives on involvement, status, and risk in armed conflict, including in Libya, Bosnia, and Somalia.
Given the current hostilities between Israel and Hamas, I decided to reconnect by phone with some of the people I talked with a year ago. We discussed the dangers they face and the efforts they make to stay safe during the fighting.
Press reports have covered how Israeli civilians are forced to move quickly to fortified shelters when hearing sirens that warn of rocket attacks -- and the anxiety and fear this causes. But how are Gaza's civilians affected by the conflict, and what are they doing to protect themselves and their families?
Each person I spoke with last week emphasized one point: they felt less safe during Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" than they had felt before, including during hostilities in 2008 to 2009 and in 2012. As a man from Gaza City put it, "During this one, every place in Gaza, every square meter of Gaza's territory, has experienced some kind of effect. There was shelling in every place. Even if you are not directly shelled or hit, your neighbor has been hit, your street has been hit, something has been hit." A 22-year-old student confirmed this view: "It was the worst -- the worst par excellence. Every single thing was targeted. You cannot go through this. We cannot go through this again ... Look, Palestinians have feelings. It's too much to endure. I feel we are all at the brink of collapse."