The humanitarian situation for the two million Palestinians living under Israeli siege in Gaza took yet another catastrophic turn this week as hospitals began to shut down for lack of fuel.
That is on top of the devastation from years of successive military attacks, delayed reconstruction, the collapse of basic infrastructure, deliberate impoverishment and the highest unemployment in the world.
“But when we visit Gaza, people tell us that one of the most difficult parts of the blockade is how it isolates them from the rest of the world,” says the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). “It cuts off travel, blocks trade, stops students from completing their studies abroad and separates friends and families.”
I can personally attest to that from my one and only visit to Gaza, in May 2013, just months before the military coup in Egypt effectively closed off access through the Rafah crossing.
It was the isolation, people told me repeatedly, that was most grueling.
It is particularly hard on young people – half the population is under 18 – whose ambitions, curiosity, thirst for knowledge and contact are as limitless as any of their peers around the world.
But in Gaza their reach is blocked by the iron ceiling of Israel’s siege, which continues with the complicity of the so-called international community.
As AFSC points out, “Since mail systems are inoperable, the one opportunity to connect to Gaza is through the internet.”
Palestinians in Gaza, of course, are among the most adept and creative at making use of the internet to communicate with the world.
And it goes both ways. This Valentine’s Day – 14 February – AFSC is asking people to use the internet “to make sure that people in Gaza know that they are not forgotten, that we see their reality and that we are committed to bringing change.”
The idea is very simple: to post messages online, including pictures like this one, with a message of solidarity for people in Gaza.
AFSC even created a Valentine that people can print out, pose with for a photo and post online using the hashtags #GazaUnlocked and #ValentineToGaza.
This is part of AFSC’s Gaza Unlocked campaign that aims to educate and mobilize people all over the world to bring pressure to at last end the cruel and devastating siege.
In Gaza, as in many places in the Arab world, people celebrate Valentine’s Day as Eid al-Hob – the feast of love.
“We hope our messages of love will help lift the spirits of those who daily suffer the indignities of life under military occupation and blockade,” says AFSC, which is asking everyone to join in the action on 14 February and invite others to take part through Facebook.