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Gaza Strip on Brink as Young Suicides Mount
Sheikh Mahmoud Alhasanat speaks about suicides in this video of a recent sermon at a Gaza Strip mosque. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Gaza Strip on Brink as Young Suicides Mount

‘It was no accident – it was the inevitable result of losing all hope,’ a Facebook user writes

In the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian coastal enclave where two million people are packed into a small parcel of territory, at least four people committed suicide in the past 48 hours and a fifth attempted to take his own life.

This lit the fuse of fierce controversy on social media among youths and activists, and drew attention to reasons behind the sharp increase in suicides there in the past couple of years.

In search of greater insight, The Media Line examined some of the most widely debated social media posts.

One was by Khader Almajdalawy, a Facebook user.

“The suicide of this beautiful young man, Suliman Alajouri, was no accident: It was an expected – actually an inevitable – result of a suffocating present and the prospect of a wasted future and aspirations,” Almajdalawy wrote.

Khader Almajdalawy’s Facebook post. (Facebook)

“Suliman,” he continued, “would have stepped back from his reckless decision if he believed in the most recent reconciliation efforts [between Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank]… but like us, he didn’t, and what is more dangerous for a man than to lose all hope?”

Alajouri shot himself near his home in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday.

Many blame the youthful suicides themselves.

“They are of little faith and have committed a sin,” said one person, while others held the government in the Gaza Strip responsible for a dramatic deterioration in living conditions, describing its role as “collecting money without meeting any of its duties.”

“The matter is not complicated. It’s briefly: Either you feed those you govern or you go away and allow them to find [a way to feed themselves],” Jameel Abdelnabi posted on his Facebook account.

“Leave us…. The hunger killed our sons so that it became a thousand times more preferable for them to choose death rather than remain deprived of their most basic rights….,” he said.

Salah Abdelati, chairman of the International Commission to Support Palestinian People’s Rights, blamed the Israeli occupation for the current collapse in Gaza.

“What led to these suicides are the poor conditions the Palestinians are living under due to the occupation’s practices, which obstruct any process of development and continue the blockade imposed 14 years ago [by Israel],” he said.

“Moreover,” Abdelati continued, “ongoing internal divisions have led to serious political squabbling and human rights violations, including the Palestinian Authority imposing collective punishment on the Gaza Strip for the past three years, either by cutting and withholding salaries or through discriminatory policies.

He also blamed the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, which, he said, “imposes high taxes and fulfills none of its duties except for those concerning security and some minor services…. All this has led to a toll of 16 Gazan suicides since the beginning of the year.”

According to Mazen Alijla, a Gaza-based economist, skyrocketing unemployment reaching close to 60%, and a poverty rate approaching 70%, have aggravated what was an already profound crisis, especially with the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Suspending whole sectors such as domestic tourism, and shuttering restaurants, cafés and public facilities for nearly three months has increased the number of the unemployed by 12 percentage points, imposing a heavy burden on households and individuals, and creating an environment suitable for deviations from social norms,” Alijla told The Media Line.

Suspending whole sectors such as domestic tourism, and shuttering restaurants, cafés and public facilities for nearly three months has increased the number of the unemployed by 12 percentage points, imposing a heavy burden on households and individuals, and creating an environment suitable for deviations from social norms

While it is widely known that suicide is forbidden in Islam, Sheikh Mahmoud Alhasanat, an Islamic scholar, is seeking to shift the focus to the reasons.

“All sheikhs, scientists and khatibs [persons who deliver the sermon during Friday and Eid prayers], we agree on the fatwa [ruling] against suicide in Islam and agree that it’s forbidden…, but what I want from you is a fatwa to tell people why those young men committed suicide,” Alhasanat said during recent prayers in a mosque.

“Why don’t you tell people that this man [who committed suicide] had been killed thousands of times a day before he committed suicide?” he implored. “Why did you speak up about one thing and remain silent about the oppression he faced daily that pushed him toward a single solution?”

Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come, according to Tawfiq Suliman, a Bethlehem-based psychiatrist.

“As long as the circumstances in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank remain the same,” he told The Media Line, “we can expect rising rates of suicides and violence as a means of expressing anger and rejecting the state in which one perceives him- or herself as a burden.”

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