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Harsh living conditions in Gaza fuel little-to-lose mentality

Palestinians have been protesting for weeks for the right to leave Gaza; in the last two days, tens of thousands have joined in. Under an 11-year blockade by Israel and Egypt, life there has become a painful struggle. Unemployment stands at 40 percent, with few prospects for the young, and most Gazans cannot afford a generator during lengthy power cuts. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, it has been a day of anger and recrimination in the Middle East and beyond.

    In a few moments, Nick Schifrin will be back to speak with a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

    But, first, special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports for us again from Gaza.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces broke out on the West Bank today. Protests also took place on the Gaza border, although they were smaller than Monday's, when an eruption of anger in Gaza led to desperate scenes, crowds of young protesters trying to rush towards the border fence with Israel, hundreds shot down and carried away.

    For weeks, Palestinians have been protesting for the right to leave this strip of land. And in the last two days, tens of thousands have joined in. The Israelis have been mostly concerned about the size of this growing crowd and trying to persuade Gazans not to show up for these mass protests.

    They have been dropping leaflets that say, what has Hamas ever done for you, and Hamas is killing the people here, in an attempt to try to stop them being told to come to the protests.

    It didn't work, with people arriving in huge numbers to the edges of the Palestinian territory, including Imad Obeid. He was shot in both legs by Israeli snipers at these protests weeks ago, but keeps coming back. Limping slowly, and in pain, he brought his four young children with him.

    You're not afraid? The Israelis are close.

  • Imad Obeid (through translator):

    We are not afraid of the Israelis, because this is our right. We are ready to push forward. Even with the pain of our wounds, even as people get killed, we are ready to sacrifice to free our lands and take back our rights.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    To him, that means returning to their ancestral villages. The protesters want to go back to the homes their families lived in before the formation of the state of Israel, a day marked today by Palestinians as Al Nakba, Arabic for The Catastrophe.

    Israel says these protests are the sole work of Hamas, the armed Islamist group that runs Gaza. Hamas has encouraged the people to turn up for the protests. Shops were shuttered as a strike shut down city streets, and loudspeakers urged people to attend. Hamas insists these are popular protests by the people.

  • Bassem Naim:

    For the last few days, or weeks maybe, the Palestinian issue has been taken from the table and put under the table. And the international community now is concentrating on Iran, Syria, North Korea and others.

    Palestinians today were able to raise their voice and to remember to the world that we are still here, we are still suffering.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Life in Gaza is a painful struggle to get by. An 11-year blockade by Israel and neighboring Egypt has cut off the Palestinian territory from much of the world and brought its economy to its knees.

    The siege was put in place in 2007 after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. To the U.S. and Israel, the group is a terrorist organization. Two million people are packed into this small strip of land one-tenth the size of Rhode Island.

    Permission to leave is rare, and unemployment stands at 40 percent. For the young generation protesting, few have any prospects of a job or a future where they can afford to raise a family.

  • Man:

    You cannot believe how complex and different life as we are now. All the streets are full of trashes, all of garbage. All the people, they have no work. They have no employment.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    We visited Imad from the protest in his home. He and his family have fallen on very tough times. Before the 2014 war, he drove a taxi. But his car and apartment were destroyed in the Israeli airstrikes. So they moved into this cinder block shack.

    It has no running water, and they cook on an open fire, unable to afford gas. He did causal work on building sites to pay the rent, but hasn't been able to work since he got shot. The family survive on handouts and the small vegetable patch in their backyard.

    Most Gazans cannot afford a generator during the lengthy power cuts here.

    When people run out of electricity here, they only get three hours a day. They can either buy a small battery to try to operate lights, or they just go outside and light fires. This life has given Imad, like many Gazans, a sense of having little to lose.

    Why do you go?

  • Imad Obeid (through translator):

    Although it is dangerous, and they use ammunition and gas, if the Palestinian nation doesn't go to fight for its rights, then who will do it for us?

    We are walking into death, but we are not afraid. I have the right to do this. Even when the Israeli soldier shoots me, he is afraid of me. The soldier knows this is my right.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Over 2,000 people have been injured in the protests. Many, like Imad, have been shot in the leg. At a field hospital nearby, the conditions were those of a war zone. Some who had been shot were painfully young.

    Medical workers raced to the demonstrations to collect the injured. We're heading out with the ambulances now. They have been racing back and forth from the field hospitals to the front near the fence. And now they're going back to pick up more people who've been shot.

    When we arrived close to the border fence, carried towards us on a stretcher another protester, another gunshot wound in the leg. Back at the field hospital, some of the injured shook with convulsions, a side-effect of the tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers. Others lay in pain, quietly hoping they will walk again.

    Gazans have vowed to continue the protests, despite the deadly consequences. With the peace process in the Middle East a mere memory at this stage, these bloody images will keep coming.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jane Ferguson in Gaza.

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