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Gaza: The Forgotten Story [II]


 




Why are people on Gaza so unhappy? Well, if you had to live in a prison, wouldn't you be unhappy?— Former CIA officer Robert Baer[1]

It’s the most terrifying place I’ve ever been in… it’s a horrifyingly sad place because of the desperation and misery of the way people live. I was unprepared for camps that are much worse than anything I saw in South Africa.– Professor Edward Said 1993[2]

They may be living but they're not alive. – Journalist Philip Rizk[3]

What a Siege Looks Like

“Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution,” Sara Roy wrote in July.  It has led to “mass suffering, created largely by Israel,” and aided by the active participation of the United States, European Union, and Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. [1]

The Israeli policy of isolating Gaza from the West Bank has been a gradual process that started in the early 1990s. It tightened soon after Hamas’ electoral victory in 2006, and turned even more devastating after Hamas’s 2007 takeover, degrading the society to the point where 96 percent of Gaza's population of 1.5 million is dependent on humanitarian aid for basic survival. [2]

This “perverse” situation is unique in international affairs in that humanitarian groups are sustaining the Israeli occupation by providing care for a civilian population and territory whose humanitarian needs and economy are being deliberately decimated for political reasons, with full backing of the Israeli High Court, Roy explained. [3]

The UN recently reported that 1.1 million people, or 75% of the population there are food insecure.  Some 70-80% of Gazans live on less than a dollar a day and the unemployment rate is around 60%. [4] 

The UN says about 10,000 Gaza residents have no access to a water network – while about 60% — about 1 million people – don’t have access to water daily and receive water only intermittently.[5] The water consumption of Gazans is less than a third of what Israelis who live a short distance away use.[6]  Ultimately, the crippling Israeli siege has degraded the water situation in Gaza to the point that the entire system “could collapse at any minute,” which “could take centuries to reverse,” according to International Committee of the Red Cross and UN officials. [7]

In a similarly precarious situation, the sewage system is also being prevented from being repaired by the blockage of spare parts.  As a result, twenty million gallons of raw and untreated sewage has to be dumped into the Mediterranean every day, according to local officials.[8]

Forty-six percent of all children suffer from acute anemia there, former UN official and international Law Prof. Richard Falk said.[9]  He adds that thousands of hearing aids are needed for widespread deafness due to sonic booms from Israeli jets.  The restrictions on travel access alone has killed an estimated 260 Palestinians since the blockade escalated in 2007.[10]

The scale and intensity of his type of deprivation is impossible to convey through numbers, but try to imagine if three quarters of the people in your city could not find enough food and water to feed themselves or their children, where the overwhelming majority of them were unemployed, where nearly everyone lived on less than a dollar a day, and this is crucial, that all of this was the planned result of political decisions of a foreign government that has held you under military occupation for over four decades.

Even today, the most basic commodities for life still continue to be barred by the Israeli government.  Materials like wood for doors or cement for rebuilding in the aftermath of the destruction left by the last attack remained barred. 

No electrical appliances, like refrigerators or washing machines, and no parts for cars are allowed.  Also restricted are “fabrics, threads, needles, candles, matches, mattresses, sheets, blankets, cutlery, crockery, cups, glasses, musical instruments, books, tea, coffee, sausages, semolina, chocolate, sesame seeds, nuts, milk products in large packages, most baking products, light bulbs, crayons, clothing and shoes.” [11]

School supplies too, are blocked from entering.  More than 100 trucks full of stationary are still awaiting clearance to enter Gaza.  All of the 387 government-run and 33 private schools, which serve more than 250,000 students, lack essential supplies.   Draconian restrictions on glass, wood, and other building materials, has kept the hundreds of schools damaged during the assault remaining in terrible condition. [12]

When an occupying army blocks, tea, blankets, crayons, and school stationary from entering the “largest prison on Earth,” severely restricts essentials like fuel and medicine, makes travel in and out all but impossible, and exercises complete control over its borders, airspace, and seas, the pretense of “security” seems dubious at best, and suggests that turning Gazans into beggars and Gaza into a “depoliticized humanitarian catastrophe” is precisely the plan.[13] 

Perhaps former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s advisor Dov Weisglass was describing Israeli policy accurately when he said of the Gaza blockade, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”  One might ask if he includes the newborn infants, impoverished elderly, and deathly ill among those to be “put on a diet.” [14]

“What possible benefit can be derived from an increasingly impoverished, unhealthy, densely crowded and furious Gaza alongside Israel?,” Sara Roy asked. [15]

Six months have passed since international donors pledged almost $5 billion in aid to the devastated territory, yet “not one penny” has actually reached inside the borders of Gaza, according to the UN, mainly due to the tight blockade. [16]

This “macabre” situation is not the result of an earthquake or flood but rather the predictable consequence of well-planned decisions by Israeli officials, backed by their judicial body, along with complicit Western powers such as the US and EU.

Israeli Professor Avi Shlaim  observed that the major powers were “imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.” [17]

The January 2008 testimony of Gaza Community Mental Health Program Director Eyad Al Sarraj offered a glimpse into what the stranglehold of Gaza looked like from the ground: 

[The] Israeli military establishment decided to stop power supply and fuel to Gaza… food and humanitarian aid are not allowed in. My step son is on ventilator for asthma every night. What will happen to him when our generator is not running anymore? What will happen to hospitals, vaccines and blood banks? What will happen to patients on dialysis machines, and to babies in incubators? [18]

This was all before the brutal attacks this winter.  The scale of destruction left behind has been covered by numerous writers, human rights groups, and most recently by the comprehensive Goldstone report.  What has received little attention though, is the epidemic of mental anguish resulting from decades of oppression.

[The story of mental health in Gaza is covered in Part III]

 

  1. If Gaza falls . . .” Sara Roy, the London Review of Books, January 1, 2009 http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n01/roy_01_.html

2.       “Destroying Gaza,” Sara Roy, The Electronic Intifada, July 9, 2009  http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10636.shtml

3.       “Sara Roy – Beyond Occupation” Australian Broadcasting Corp. October 14, 2008, Chapter 8 Making Palestinians Aid-Dependent http://fora.tv/2008/10/14/Sara_Roy_Beyond_Occupation#fullprogram

“Israeli Supreme Court Fiddles While Gaza Starves” http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2008/02/01/israeli-supreme-court-fiddles-while-gaza-starves/

4.       Israel's Gaza blockade crippling reconstruction,” Guardian, September 18, 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/18/israel-gaza-blockade-reconstruction

Palestinian Center for Human Rights Weekly Report September 10-16 http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/W_report/English/2008/17-09-2009.htm

5.       “Analysis: Looming water crisis in Gaza” IRIN News, September 15, 2009 http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=86151

“Leaked UN report echoes Goldstone and says Israeli blockade is leading to the ‘de-development’ of Gaza” Mondoweiss, September 18, 2009 http://mondoweiss.net/2009/09/leaked-un-report-echoes-goldstone-and-says-israeli-blockade-is-leading-to-the-de-development-of-gaza.html

6.       “Gaza sewage 'a threat to Israel'” BBC, September 3, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8236733.stm?lsf

7.       “MIDEAST: Gaza's Water Supply Near Collapse”  IPS, September 16, 2009 http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48464

“Who Needs Clean Water?” Pulse, September 24, 2009 http://pulsemedia.org/2009/09/24/who-needs-clean-water/

8.        “Narratives Under Siege (17): Swimming in Sewage” Palestinian Center for Human Rights http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/campaigns/english/gaza_closure/Narratives%20Under%20Siege%2017.pdf

9.       “Israel’s ‘Crime Against Humanity,’ Chris Hedges, Truthdig, December 15, 2008

http://www.truthdig.com/report/print/20081215_israels_crime_against_humanity/

10.    “Israel tightens the noose on advocacy organizations”  Electronic Intifada, September 23,  2009 http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10790.shtml

11.    “Destroying Gaza,” Sara Roy, The Electronic Intifada, July 9,  2009  http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10636.shtml

12.    “OPT: Gaza schoolchildren lack basic equipment” IRIN News September 9, 2009 http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=86072

13.    “ Gaza Prison: Freedom of Movement to and from the Gaza Strip on the Eve of the Disengagement Plan” http://www.btselem.org/English/Publications/Summaries/200503_Gaza_Prison.asp

“The Gaza Strip-One Big Prison” B’tselem http://www.btselem.org/Download/200705_Gaza_Insert_Eng.pdf 

How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe” Avi Shlaim, Guardian, January 7, 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/07/gaza-israel-palestine

14.    “What aid cutoff to Hamas would mean” Christian Science Monitor, February 26, 2007 http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0227/p17s01-cogn.html

15.    “Destroying Gaza,” Sara Roy, The Electronic Intifada

16.     “Not one penny has reached Gaza” The National, August 31, 2009 http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090901/FOREIGN/708319876/1140

17.    “How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe” Avi Shlaim, Guardian

18.    “Israel declares Gaza "enemy entity" (19 September 2007)” Electronic Intifada http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/685.shtml

 

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