"A suicide in Gaza:
How the death of a talented young Palestinian writer brought to light a sharp rise in suicides."
"A talented writer whose short stories, many posted on his Facebook page, had won a wide
audience, Mohanned [Younis] was about to graduate in pharmacy, expecting excellent grades.
In his writing, he gave voice to the grief and despair of his generation. Only books gave him some escape."
"Such was Mohanned’s social media following that news of his death reverberated across Gaza
and beyond with a flood of shock, sadness and admiration. “He was a fighter who only
had his sad stories to fight with,” was one of many comments posted on Facebook.
But the very public mourning for the death of a talented young writer meant that Mohanned’s
suicide was not just one more tragedy in a territory where thousands of young lives are cut short.
Now it was impossible to deny what many had been whispering: the misery of the siege
and despair for the future, especially among the most talented young Gazans, was
leading to a disturbing upsurge in suicides."
"Often it has looked as if these protesters were literally throwing themselves in front of Israeli bullets.
In the early days of the protests, I spoke to young people on the buffer zone who said they didn’t
care if they died. “We are dying in Gaza anyway. We might as well die being shot,” said a teenager"
"If the world’s cameras were to move a little deeper into Gaza, into the streets and behind
the doors of people’s homes, they would see the desperation in almost every home.
After 10 years of siege, the 2 million people of Gaza, living packed on a tiny strip, find
themselves without work, their economy killed off, without the bare essentials for decent
life – electricity or running water – and without any hope of freedom, or any sign that
their situation will change. The siege is fracturing minds, pushing the most vulnerable to
suicide in numbers never seen before.
Until recently, suicide has been rare here, partly due to Palestinian resilience, acquired
over 70 years of conflict, and strong clan networks, but mostly because killing oneself is
forbidden in traditional Muslim societies. Only when suicide is an act of jihad are the
dead considered martyrs who go to heaven; others go to hell.
In nearly three decades of reporting from Gaza, I almost never heard stories of suicide before 2016....
By the end of 2016, suicides were happening so often that the phenomenon had started
to become public knowledge. Figures quoted by local journalists suggested the number
of suicides in 2016 was at least three times the number in 2015. But according to Gaza’s
health professionals, while figures cited in the media do indicate a substantial rise, they
vastly underestimate the true rate. Suicides are “disguised” as falls or other accidents,
and misreporting and censorship are common because of the stigma against suicide."
"Men and women of all age groups, from all social backgrounds, are vulnerable to suicidal impulses,
say doctors in Gaza. On a single day in March, a girl of 15 and a boy of 16 both hanged themselves.
Among the dead are men who despair because they can’t support their families; women
and children who are victims of abuse, often in situations of severe poverty and overcrowding;
and even pregnant women, who say they don’t want to bring children into a life in Gaza.
In April, a woman who was seven months pregnant slit her wrists.
Among the most vulnerable of all are Gaza’s brightest students, some of whom have killed
themselves just before or after graduating. In March, while interviewing a bankrupt businessman
in his home, I saw a photograph of a smart, bespectacled young man, prominently displayed
– in such a way that I assumed he had been a “martyr”, someone killed in the conflict.
But his portrait displayed none of the iconography associated with the martyr posters
that are visible all over Gaza. I had a translator with me, and he recognised the picture:
the businessman’s son had been one of his cleverest friends at university.
“He hanged himself,” said the businessman. “He saw no future in Gaza.”"
"Friends said he had [Mohanned Younis] fought the enemy with his pen, and had died a victim of the siege.
On his death Mohanned also won warm praise for his courage and his writing from many of his
social media fans, and even, in a eulogy, from the Palestinian minister of culture, Dr Ihab Bseiso"
"He wrote of his personal sadness. His parents divorced when he was a child, and Mohanned
felt rejected by his father. His readers could relate to this pain too, because every family
in Gaza is broken: most have had members killed in the conflict, and many have also
been separated by years of exile, or torn apart by imprisonment. Thousands of Palestinians
are today locked up in Israeli jails.
He had a large female readership: women were drawn to his particular melancholy.
“He could write about the absurdity of all our lives – the humiliation, as well as the tragedy.
He knew this was a fake place,” said one young woman I know, who had escaped through the
tunnels into Egypt in order to take up her American scholarship. “It’s normal,” she laughed.
"Mohanned’s hero was Bassel al-Araj, a youth movement leader in the West Bank who
advocated peaceful protest,"
"According to Eyad Sarraj, a charismatic Gaza psychiatrist, who in 1990 founded the
Gaza Community Mental Health programme, suicide attacks were proliferating because
of a sense that hopelessness kept getting worse, which produced “a despair where
living becomes no different from dying”."
"BUT OSLO FAILED TO ADDRESS THE INJUSTICES OF 1948. This was one of the reasons
the deal was not universally welcomed, particularly in Gaza, which has the highest concentration
of 1948 refugees. Almost all of them were farmers whose land and houses were seized
by Israel during or immediately after the war, and their crops and other possessions looted.
The Arab villages were filled by Jewish immigrants or destroyed. Of the 2 million Palestinians
in Gaza today, 1.3 million are refugees or descendants of those who fled here in 1948,
whose right to return home is enshrined in UN resolution 194."
"By the time Mohanned was five, the Oslo experiment was collapsing, as few of the promised
changes materialised. Betrayal fuelled support for the Islamic militant organisation Hamas,
rivals of the secular movement, Fatah, which had supported Oslo."
"Gaza was now choked off from the outside world, as Israel blocked movement across
its borders for people, fuel and food – everything except minimal humanitarian aid.
The southern crossing into Egypt at Rafah was also closed as Egyptian president Hosni
Mubarak, also eager to contain Islamist radicals, colluded with Israel. It was in this chokehold
that Mohanned Younis, still only a teenager, found his voice – telling the world what it
was to live behind the ever higher prison walls."
"As Mohanned prepared for university, he found his own freedom through writing and reading.
He taught himself English, hoping to study English literature, and although his mother
persuaded him instead to study pharmacy, as the job prospects were better, literature
remained his first love."
"Finding books was difficult; often the best way was to get them smuggled through the tunnels..."
"We opened a cupboard and out spilled a torrent of books. There were novels – Dostoevsky,
Dickens – and philosophy – Wittgenstein for Beginners, Hegel, Richard Dawkins’s
The Magic of Reality. Among the dramatists were Euripides, Eugène Ionesco, Terence
Rattigan and Arthur Miller. Here was A History of Zionism, stacked above works by
Che Guevara and Charles Darwin. Most were Arabic translations, some were in English.
Perhaps Mohanned read each page of this vast collection, or perhaps he just liked to
possess them, it’s hard to know. But sitting here inside these four walls, accompanied by
George Bernard Shaw, Sophocles and Mahmoud Darwish, he was able to break out of
Gaza’s walls and connect with a wider world."
"Such was the [Israeli] destruction [of Gaza] in 2014 that the world started to pay attention.
There was hope among Palestinian human rights lawyers that they could bring a war-crimes
case against Israel. The then UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, declared that the siege
must end and that the world should pay for Gaza’s homes, reservoirs and factories to be rebuilt...
[My note: That did not happen.] More than 80% of people were now dependent on food aid.
Behind closed doors, particularly where bombing had been heavy in 2014, I saw blighted lives."
"For the first time in all the years I have been reporting from Gaza, I encountered children begging,
heard talk of prostitution, and saw evidence of widespread drug addiction and domestic abuse,
often in homes where as many as 10 people lived in a single room. They had not been
rehoused since the 2014 bombardment."
"The international media had lost interest, apart from occasionally predicting a new intifada...
I asked if a new Mandela was likely to appear in Palestine. “If he did, the Israelis would shoot him,” said one.
In March 2017, Mohanned’s hero, Bassel al-Araj, the writer and one-time advocate of
nonviolent resistance, was shot dead by Israeli troops."
"During the spring and summer of 2017, I heard more reports from doctors about suicides
that were meant to look like accidents....I heard from witnesses about desperate people
who had walked into the buffer zone, hoping to be shot. A young woman I knew told me
she had taken an overdose because she didn’t want to marry or raise children in Gaza."
Continued in the next post