Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Still Weeping for Gaza

“Today in Gaza we have no cement to build graves for those who die.” - words of a friend

Gaza 2007: Prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and Fr Manuel Musallam face the TV cameras during our visit.
Gaza 2007: Prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and Fr Manuel Musallam face the TV cameras during our visit.
(LONDON) - Exactly five years ago I was in Gaza to see the situation for myself. That was before the murderous blitzkrieg they called Operation Cast Lead, but Israel's crimes against humanity were already piled high.

When I got home memories of the visit so haunted me that I sat down and wrote an article titled "See Gaza and Weep".

These were my impressions in November of 2007.


Traffic into Gaza through the smart new border 'facility' at Erez is down to a trickle since Israel branded this tiny Palestinian seaside enclave a ‘hostile entity’ and imposed a blockade even harsher than before.

We came to Gaza to visit Fr Manuel, who ministers to his flock, runs an excellent school against all odds and is revered as a local hero. If he leaves Gaza the Israelis won’t allow him back, so for 9 years he has stayed put, isolated. When he heard we were coming, said a colleague, he burst into tears.

After a noisy arrival at breakneck speed, with police sirens blaring Palestinian-style, our visit quickly turned into a media circus and an unlikely cavalcade of priests, interpreters, teachers, cameramen and armed police took off to inspect the Rafah crossing into Egypt, now closed indefinitely, then followed the iron barrier down to the sea and the coast road back to the city.

I noted the deserted beaches and disused fishing boats… Israel has banned fishing off the Gaza coast, ruined the livelihood of 3000 fishermen and deprived local people of a proper diet. Boats defying the ban are fired on.

The Gaza Strip is sealed off from the outside world with an Israeli fence guarded by watchtowers, snipers, tanks, armoured bulldozers and drones. Israel pretended to withdraw two years ago but still controls Gaza’s airspace, coastal waters and airwaves. It has the place bottled up like a prison and makes frequent incursions.
Part of the welcoming committee - Hamas guards.
Much of it is blasted to rubble but many fine buildings survive. So does the defiant community. One can easily imagine Gaza blossoming into a coastal paradise, but right now the strangulated economy is in free-fall and for 1.5 million ordinary folk life is hell. Unemployment stands at 65%, and 80% live below the poverty line.

Fuel is running out, so are basics like washing powder. Shattered infrastructure and food shortages mean serious public health problems. Power cuts disrupt hospitals and vital drugs cannot be kept refrigerated. Thousands look death in the face as medi-care collapses.

A friend emailed:
“Today in Gaza we have no cement to build graves for those who die.”

We were also there to show solidarity with the whole population, Muslim and Christian, against the crippling economic sanctions that have led to this crisis.

According to the Ministry of Health 450 cancer patients (35% of them children) are forbidden to leave Gaza for treatment or surgery. Many go without medication because cancer drugs are blocked or delayed at the border. There’s no radiotherapy.

400 renal failure patients should be getting dialysis three times a week but 20 of the 69 machines are out of action – no spares – and treatment has been cut to twice a week.

400 cardiac patients suffer unnecessarily owing to shortage of drugs. Spares for therapeutic and diagnostic equipment cannot get through.

Hospitals are completely out of many essential medical and psychiatric drugs, X-ray bags and sterilisation bags. They are dangerously short of dressings, other disposables and cleaning materials. When the 2 weeks’ supply of anesthetics is finished the operating theatres will close.

Fuel stocks may last 15 days with luck, but there’s no patient food until MAP UK aid arrives.

Physicians for Human Rights - Israel have been trying to bring the critically ill out of Gaza for proper treatment, but are often refused. So they die in agony. A thousand patients – advanced kidney and cancer cases and victims of Israeli air-strikes – need immediate transfer. Channel 4 News screened a shocking report on UK TV about how the sick are blackmailed. If they agree to inform on relatives they are allowed to cross the border. If not they can “stay in Gaza and die”.

The Red Cross repeatedly reminds Israel of its obligation under international law and the Geneva Conventions to ensure that humanitarian supplies reach Palestinian civilians.

However, I’m told that drugs purchased from sales of my book ‘Radio Free Palestine’ cannot be delivered in the normal way and will have to be smuggled in somehow.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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