THE phrase the “new normal” has been bandied about a lot these past months. The framing of things in such a way is a useful if misleading concept.

Perpetuating such rhetoric helps quell uncertainty but simultaneously provides an illusory notion that we can easily settle into life under this new normal.

But still it remains the wrong lens with which to view the world we inhabit, be it with or without the Covid-19 pandemic.

Long before coronavirus touched all our lives, in many places what constitutes the definition of “normal” has always been a far cry from what most of us here in the comparative safety of our own peaceful world imagine it to be.

The Gaza Strip is one such place. After 14 years of life under a crushing Israeli-led blockade, any definition of normality for the 1.9 million Palestinians who struggle to exist there bears no resemblance to what is meant by the word normal elsewhere.

Over the past week alone this battered, beleaguered but unbowed place has been subjected to relentless Israeli air strikes, though you would be hard-pressed to know it given the dearth of headlines in the world’s press.

Years before Covid-19 came along, most Gazans have never had the luxury to “stay home and stay safe”.

The usual apologists for Israeli policy will of course already be reaching for their keyboards to tell me that Israel has a right to defend itself against the waves of incendiary balloons sent across the security fence from Gaza to nearby Israeli towns and settlements of late.

Let me save them the bother – though doubtless they will do it anyway – and say sure, I understand the need for protection from such attacks. Israeli families, too, must feel safe in the knowledge that they can go about their normal daily lives and will not be subjected to harm.

But what Gaza endures goes far beyond a simple periodic punishing by the Israeli Defence Forces, or “mowing of the lawn” as their military strategists have in the past chilling referred to it.

Just this week, as US president Donald Trump was crowing about the Washington-brokered agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to work towards a “normalisation” of relations, normality for Gazans returned in the shape of Israeli bombs.

The UAE, of course, is keen to give the impression that in bonding with Israel it did so to help Palestinians by getting Israel to stop its annexation of the West Bank. But Palestinians don’t see it that way. For them, any normalisation of relations with Israel effectively legitimises the occupation of Palestinian territories, they argue.

Dressing up the deal as if it was for the Palestinians’ benefit when it has more to do with the US flogging arms to Sunni-dominated UAE and the Gulf state sharing intelligence with Israel on their mutual arch-enemy Shia Iran, is just another slap in the face for Palestinians.

For most Palestinians, betrayal over the years by Arab states is, of course, almost as much the norm as the Israeli military bludgeoning they are regularly subjected to, and nowhere more so than in Gaza.

As far back as 2012, the United Nations warned that Gaza would be “unlivable” by 2020, given the strains of the crippling Israeli siege and the devastation caused by three wars since 2007, as well as numerous smaller military interventions and flare-ups of violence.

Israel and its supporters always argue that all that Gaza’s militants like Hamas need to do is toe the line and stop its rocket and more recently balloon attacks, and the pressure would be relieved on a blockade that has effectively turned the coastal strip into the equivalent of an Israeli-controlled penal colony.

SUCH arguments by some Israelis and other supporters are disingenuous. Most observers remain convinced that far from lifting its knee off Gaza’s neck were Palestinians militants there willing to make concessions, Israel remains determined to suffocate the life out of all Gaza’s citizens.

To say that Israel’s military and economic response to the threat Gaza poses is disproportionate would be a gross understatement. For some time now normality in Gaza for Palestinians has been the prospect of never being able to leave.

In trying to lead normal lives Gazans are thwarted at every level and the sense of claustrophobia is overwhelming. Such is the psychological pressure that human rights activists have reported that at least 16 people have taken their own lives and hundreds of others attempted suicide in Gaza in the first half of 2020. That sense of collective confinement has only been compounded by the threat of Covid-19.

According to the EU, the Israeli blockade and recurrent hostilities in the enclave have weakened the local economy to the point where a staggering 1.5 million people, around 80% of the total population of Gaza, remain aid-dependent.

Normal here means not having clean water to wash with. It means frequent and lengthy power cuts. Normal in Gaza means children dying as they are denied urgent healthcare outside the strip. Normal according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) is a situation where currently there are more than 50 children with cancer across Gaza, 15 of whom are in a grave condition and may not survive without receiving treatment soon.

“How can there be any justification anywhere and anytime for stopping children from getting life-saving care?” asked Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children’s regional director for the Middle East recently. How indeed?

Life for many of us has been a painful trial of late. We have all experienced isolation to some degree, but what must it be like to have lived for 14 years in what is tantamount to a gigantic prison with next to no hope of leaving even for the briefest of moments?

In Gaza there is no new normal, just a continuation of the hell that has existed there for far too long now, to the enduring shame of the international community.

“A previous version of this article stated that neither chemotherapy nor radiology treatments are available due to Israeli restrictions on medication entering Gaza. This was based upon a press release published by Save the Children which inaccurately cited a 2009 World Health Organisation report. We are happy to clarify this.”