People with disabilities can face an “extraordinarily difficult” life in the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli blockade and lack of assistance from Hamas which governs the enclave, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said.
Two million Palestinians live in the poverty and conflict-plagued enclave wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.
In a report released on Thursday, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, HRW said the blockade Israel imposed in 2007 on the territory following Hamas’s rise to power “robbed people with disabilities in Gaza of their freedom of movement”.
According to official statistics from the Palestinian Census Bureau, about 48,000 people in Gaza, or about 2.4 percent of the population, have a disability. More than one-fifth are children.
Some people acquired a disability following injuries stemming from the Israeli authorities’ use of force, the report said.
Emina Cerimovic, senior researcher in HRW’s disability rights division, said Israeli control of Gaza’s eastern border had also impaired “access to the devices, electricity, and technology they need to communicate or leave their homes”.
Israel limits the entry into Gaza of goods that could be used for military purposes and controls the flow of fuel needed to power the enclave’s sole electricity plant.
The report noted the effect of recurring power cuts on people with disabilities who need light to communicate through sign language, or electric lifts or scooters to get around.
I ‘feel less of a person’
A 26-year-old woman with a physical disability was quoted in the report saying she has to cancel outings due to her inability to charge her mobility scooter.
“Electricity shortages control my life,” she said. “It makes me feel more aware of my disability.”
The report added that Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, has failed to provide sufficient ramps or lifts in many buildings in the enclave.
“Israel’s policies, alongside the failure of Hamas authorities to address the lack of accessibility across Gaza and widespread stigma, contribute to making life in Gaza extraordinarily difficult for many people with disabilities,” the report said.
The report quoted three women with hearing disabilities saying that public hospitals do not provide sign language services.
“Whenever I go to a hospital without someone to interpret for me, they write on a piece of paper that I should come back and bring someone with me,” one of the women said. “This experience made me feel less of a person.”