*Abed, sniped in 2008, slow road to partial recovery
Rafah crossing largely remained sealed under an Israeli-led, Egyptian and internationally-backed siege. It is supposed to open today.
I awake in Rafah to the explosions of Israeli warplanes again bombing the tunnels along the border.
For the next two days, I follow the progress of a number of friends trying to leave Gaza. One will receive professional training in the UK, and another would see his estranged West Bank family, from whom he has been exiled for 7 years. I learn later, that he is again unable to leave Gaza.
A monthly average of 800-1000 Palestinians need to leave Gaza for medical care. Over 320 Palestinians have died in Gaza due to denied access.
Returning to Gaza City, the taxi passes el Zahara district, near central Gaza’s Deir el Balah. Despite driving at full speed, the car is permeated with the stench of untreated sewage: to the west lies the black sludge that is emptied into the sea.
Following Israeli bombings of different Gaza sewage plants, which destroyed an already siege-destabilized sanitation infrastructure, a daily 80 million liters of untreated sewage are now pumped into the sea.
The multiple consequences of this sewage disaster are staggering: contaminated drinking water; contaminated fish; contaminated air; the risk of infectious disease and the list goes on.
In Beit Lahia I drop in on the Mattah family, impoverished by a decade of cut-off access to former construction work in Israel. The father is among the over 45% unemployed in Gaza. The family is among the over 80% living below the poverty line.
In Eastern Gaza’s al Wafa rehabilitation hospital, I go to see Abed, a youth I met in an Egyptian hospital one year ago after he had been sniped in the spine by Israeli soldiers during invasion ‘Hot Winter’.
Abed is still bedridden, but just had some successful surgery done on the extensive scarring all across his back. His roommate, Yahia, also lies bedridden, paralyzed on his left side with his right leg blown away by a drone missile strike during the massacre of Gaza. It is his meal time, and with one hand he is tearing bread into pieces to use for scooping up his food.
The Wafa hospital has yet to receive treatment for its own scarring: large holes are still gaping in the front of the hospital and the various hospital buildings still hold un-patched craters and holes from Israel’s targeting during the massacre of Gaza.
*Wafa hospital room, photo taken January 19, 2009
Leaving Gaza to go south, the driver makes the mistake of taking the sea road, as the morning fish market is just coming to life with a sparse haul of recently caught fish.
Somehow, despite the daily shooting and shelling from Israeli gunboats patrolling Gaza’s waters, fishermen have managed to bring in some catches. Most do not dare go beyond 3 miles, though they should be 20 miles out, according to Oslo. They miss the migrating fish roughly 10 miles out, abundant at this time of the year.
A decade ago, fishermen were annually bringing in over 3,000 tons, but in 2008 this was down to less than 500 tons. When I tie this crippling of the fishing sector to the same crippling of the agricultural sector, and the lockdown of borders, I understand the inflated food prices, soaring malnutrition, and gross poverty I am seeing all over Gaza.
*fishermen hauling in nets off Gaza shoreline [photo November 2008]
Mousa Samouni is getting on with life as much as possible after the Israeli bombardment, which killed his mother, father, 2 brothers and 44 other family members.
Mousa has taken on the role of parental figure for his younger brothers and sisters, most of them under 13 years of age, but he is also continuing with his studies at university.
"I have an exam today," he says, bringing out two thick accounting textbooks.
Islam and ‘Israh, his 5 and 3 year old sisters, are affectionate children, grabbing for hands and clinging with hugs. Issa, their 7-year-old brother, has a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
On the outside, these children seem normal, not children put through a hell still unimaginable to most, but Mousa says they are scarred. At night, particularly, his younger sisters suffer nightmares of the Israeli F-16 warplanes and tanks, which devastated their lives.
There is a demonstration in Gaza’s harbor, with hundreds of fishermen and supporters protesting Israel’s policy of attacks on and abductions of fishermen, and the damaging or stealing of fishing boats and cutting of fishing nets.
Fishermen just three miles out are still being shot at, harassed, nabbed from the sea, and their boats often damaged and/or stolen by the Israeli navy. Fifteen fishermen have been killed and over 200 injured in the last decade.
Since the end of Israel’s massacre of Gaza alone, at least 32 fishermen have been abducted, 14 fishing boats stolen and not returned, at least 6 injured while fishing, and still more fishermen and civilians injured on shore from Israeli navy shelling and shooting.
We interviewed fishermen whose boats have been damaged by intentional Israeli navy gunfire and shelling. The boats have been torn apart – the small crafts are worth over $1000, money which an already impoverished fisherman does not have. We repeatedly hear that among those shot at and abducted are men in their 50s and boys as young as 10 years old.
The Hope delegation trying to bring humanitarian goods has been stopped on the Egyptian side. Although Israel tries to downplay the seriousness of the siege, quoting the daily average of 120 trucks getting into Gaza, the UN says the amount getting in is just enough to feed 30,000 people daily, though 900,000 are dependent on food aid. Also, it is not that the aid is not there, as reports have hundreds of thousands of tons of aid wasting on the Egyptian side alone, banned by Israel’s collectively punitive and scrawny lists of acceptable items to enter Gaza.
A friend tells me his Canadian Code pink delegation has been denied entry at the Erez crossing, even though they include Jewish peace activists among the 17 members and hold letters of invitation from UNRWA.
I read reports of three UK medics starting a hunger strike in protest of being refused entry to Gaza. Their aim is to provide vitally needed training to Gaza’s medical personnel in cardiac surgery. The great irony is of their being trapped outside while trying to bring in knowledge that would alleviate the suffering of some of the medical patients trapped within.
The driver is 31 years old, and has curly strands of white mixed with his otherwise black hair.
"That’s nothing. My son is only two and a half years old, and he has some white hair," he said.
He explained that this is from stress, the stress of the last Israeli invasion.
"My brother just arrived in Gaza after the war. He is 41, but does not have any white hair," added the driver.
I meet some of the youths who work in Gaza’s over 2000 tunnels. What do they bring in? Anything: goats, chocolate, electronics, any of the things one can normally buy, but take for granted.
Over 4,000 items used to enter through Gaza’s crossings; now Israel permits just under 40. Livestock, banned entry since September 2008, is deemed ‘non-essential’ by Israeli authorities.
They speak of the Israeli and Egyptian tactics of destroying these lifelines, including bombing them, and filling them with different types of poisonous gases.
One youth speaks of surviving the gas attack, because he has been wearing an oxygen mask, but still got seriously ill, as the gas entered through his skin. They speak of tunnel-working university friends, who died after from the gas or from being crushed in a collapsed tunnel.
Later, I read of the latest deaths: a 23-year-old who was electrocuted inside a tunnel; 6 hospitalized after a liquid fuel spill caught fire.
The tunnels are necessary, the deaths unnecessary, and it all comes back to the siege.