Gaza: Israel dooming to a pitiless existence - without freedom, without peace & without hope
WOMEN FOR PALESTINE M E L B O U R N E - A U S T R A L I A
“Hometime” Program Wednesday 30 August 2006 at 4.05 pm hosted by Nola Brooks
Sonja Karkar, Women for Palestine, presents an updated report on Gaza
Six months have passed and Gaza is haemorrhaging badly. No one is even trying to stem the wounds: instead, Israel is pounding this narrow strip of land mercilessly with the full force of its war machine. We don’t hear that reported or see pictures on our TV screens. Our leaders say nothing except to reinforce their support of Israel. And the worse it gets, the less we know. Already the lights have been switched off in Gaza and they are being dimmed in the West Bank. The pleading Palestinian voices of the ordinary person - the doctors and medical workers in the hospitals, the parliamentarians who are left after Israel’s kidnappings, the lawyers and professors and teachers, the grocers and the farmers, the fathers and mothers and their bewildered children - are not being heard and by the time their death pangs come, it will be too late to save them for Israel has made sure that they are the despised of our world - the dregs of humanity that are superfluous to our comfortable lives and not worth reaching out to save. We are letting history repeat itself. Who would have believed it after more than half a century of films and book and museums and memorials spanning 60 years and the immortal words “never again”? But, these people are only Palestinians.
It is hard to imagine what life must be like for the Palestinians in Gaza. 1.4 million people are squeezed like sardines into a strip of land that is about 45 km in length and 12-14 km wide. For comparison, imagine Melbourne’s outer City of Casey which takes in suburbs like Doveton, Narre Warren, Endeavour Hills and Cranbourne: it is of similar size to Gaza in area but only has a population of about 220,000 people, while Gaza has about seven times that number and is regarded as the most densely-populated area in the world. In this confined space, humanity swarms maddeningly with nowhere to go as Israeli planes circle overhead, Israeli gunships patrol the sea, and Israeli tanks line up outside the borders waiting to begin their nightly incursions into the streets of Gaza. The people have no control over their lives: Israel dictates their every movement. Nowhere is safe.
It is stinking hot these days. Oppressive heat, oppressive conditions. There is no electricity except for a few generators here and there – Israel bombed Gaza’s only power plant eight weeks ago leaving about three-quarters of a million people without lights at night, without refrigeration, without fans, without any kind of electrical equipment or appliances that we all take for granted in our everyday lives. Water cannot be pumped, so people have to buy it and supplies are scarce because Israel has closed the supply route in and out of Gaza. The sewerage doesn’t work because there are no pumps working to dispose of the waste and so the sewage overflows into the streets. The city streets are congested, apartment blocks are spilling over with people, many shops have closed their doors because food supplies have run out; schools have iron bars on their windows; and hospital corridors are filled with the injured and wounded with little relief to offer because they have run out of medicines and medical supplies, many unable even to operate or run any kind of medical equipment. Nothing works and few people can work because closure, bombing attacks, and military raids have stopped everything.
This is the culmination of a slow and steady strangulation of the Gazan economy and living standards that Israel set in motion when it occupied Gaza in 1967. Before then, Gaza’s rich and fertile land yielded some of the best citrus fruits in the world and together with its flourishing fishing industry Gazans had access to substantial export markets and plentiful supplies for themselves. However, its economy has been systematically ravaged by Israel’s shutdown of its markets, destruction of its farms, and severe fishing restrictions, leading to high unemployment levels and the consequent loss of income. It is so bad that the markets are now empty of fish and 35,000 people reliant on the industry have no income. The very poor are so unbelievably destitute that they are having to raid the garbage bins to salvage anything at all to eat or sell.
Gaza has become completely reliant on external food supplies and commercial stocks. According to the World Food programme’s report of 28 August, there is only a one-month stock of food aid available and 70 per cent of Gaza’s population is food insecure. Today, unprecedented malnutrition has crept into the Gazan population and Palestinian children are suffering from micro-nutrient deficiencies, referred to as “hidden hunger” by the World Health Organisation. Over a generation, these deficiencies have led to stunted growth, anaemia, weakened immune systems, and severely damaged cognition. While not dramatically noticeable at first, the signs of mental and physical retardation creep up over years. It is malnutrition on a large-scale and entirely Israeli-made.
Closure has been a permanent reality except for what seemed a promise of hope when Israel withdrew the 8,500 Israeli settlers from Gaza last year and announced that it was leaving Gaza for good. But in reality, the occupation never ended for the people in Gaza. All that changed was the form of occupation because after the settlers left - amidst much drama and hysteria - Israel continues to control all aspects of Gazan life – the economy, the borders, the airspace, and Gaza’s coastal waters. And, it still gives itself the right to enter at will. As Israeli Prime Minister Olmert said in the New York Times “We will operate, enter and pull out as needed.” And this is precisely what Israel has done.
Israeli troops surround the cities and with few exceptions where passage might be granted, all points into and out of Gaza are closed, making the territory a virtual prison. For almost forty years, Gazans have withstood Israeli assaults, invasions, restrictions, curfews, blockades, and bombardments, but nothing quite as bad as what is happening now. More than 200 Palestinians, at least 58 of them children have been killed in the past two months and over 1000 Palestinans have been wounded, including some 280 children. It is hard to keep up with the statistics because there are new casualties every day. And then there is the devastation that Israel has wrought on the infrastructure and homes: bridges and roads have been bombed and at least 40 houses and dozens of other buildings have been razed during these few weeks leaving many families homeless. Since 2000, the Israeli army has destroyed around 2,500 homes leaving 25,000 Palestinians homeless – many of them for the second or even third time and all of them uncompensated.
Israel says it is defending itself against the crude homemade Qassam rockets that the Palestinians fire into Israel, terrifying the Israeli settlers living outside the Gaza Strip. About six of these rockets have been fired every week into Israel since 28 June causing minimal damage, no fatalities and about a dozen injuries. But, according to Major Tal Lev-Ram, a spokesman for the Israeli army’s Southern Command, “any Qassam fired toward Israel is one too many and every act of terrorism will be dealt with severely from our side.”
The human loss and pain and the damage that Israel suffers from the homemade rockets and what the Palestinians suffer from the full onslaught of Israel’s war machine is not even comparable. You don’t go into Israel and see Ground Zero type destruction or Palestinian armed men kicking down doors and rounding up Israelis while spraying family homes with bullets from their machine guns. Of course, no one is saying that the Palestinians should be allowed to continue attacking Israel, but Israel should be immediately stopped from attacking the Palestinians. What Israel is doing is collectively punishing the entire population in Gaza and this is totally disproportionate to anything the Palestinians can do to Israel. They don’t have an army or any of the military hardware that sets Israel up as the fourth most powerful army in the world. Therefore, Israel’s ferocious attacks are absolutely against international law and Israel’s claim that it is defending itself, is quite extraordinary in light of Israel’s barbaric military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. If you’re going to stop people from doing the things that make life worth living, you might well find yourself up against a seething mass of angry and humiliated people. And if some of the bitter, frustrated young Palestinian men launch ineffectual homemade rockets over the wall into Israel because that is all they have to defend themselves - and note that I say defend themselves because they do have that right in international law – then we ought to be saying to Israel to stop the lies, stop the spin, stop trying to fool people into believing that Israel is the victim of aggression. Israel is the aggressor; Israel is the occupier.
There must be a mutual respect for international law not one-sided expectations or demands. The Palestinians have long realised that international law is not even worth the paper it is written on when it concerns their rights. More than 60 UN resolutions have censured Israel, and yet, Israel is never pressured to abide by them. How ironic and tragic it is that Australia was so quick to follow America into a devastating war on Iraq because Iraq had defied UN resolutions. But Israel, of course, is untouchable.
The situation in Gaza is catastrophic and many foreigners are leaving. Most aid agencies have left and the recent kidnappings of two Fox News journalists who were released unharmed on Sunday have added to the fears of remaining aid workers and foreign journalists. Last Sunday, an Israeli missile attacked a truck with “TV” marked in large black letters and seriously wounded two Reuters journalists. Soon there won’t be anyone reporting at all on what Israel is doing to Gaza and then Gaza will really become a dark and isolated world where Israel can do anything it wants with impunity.
According to John Ging, the UNRWA director of operations, “Gaza is heading down the tubes. . . It’s about 1.4 million people who have no jobs, no money, no prospects and an acute sense of imprisonment. You have children growing up in a violent and uncivilized society, without the things most countries would take for granted as a normal existence.” I hasten to add here that this uncivilised state that John Ging refers to has been forced on the Palestinians because Israel keeps up the pressure continually so that even simple daily needs can no longer be met and desperation drives people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. A Palestinian government worker Mohammad Abdul Rahman, who hasn’t been paid since March - a consequence of Israel’s refusal to transfer customs and tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority – says “As a father, it’s hard to tell my kids that I can’t get what they need. The pressure at home is rising. Everyone feels it. I think there will be a massive strike, and the whole thing will explode. We can’t keep living like this.” He is just one of about 160,000 government workers who have not received a pay cheque in nearly six months.
Fear and hostility is brimming over into violent protests throughout Gaza City and angry government workers have begun storming the banks demanding salaries. Lawlessness is on the rise and there are many instances of car thefts which have hitherto been uncommon in the Gaza Strip. People are desperate. What do you do if you don’t have enough food to feed your children, if you have no medicines to treat your asthma, diabetes or kidney problems or heart conditions? What do you do if suddenly you find your house demolished and you and your children have no roof over your heads and nowhere to go? There are people who might take you in, but for how long because everyone is struggling? This is becoming every day life in Gaza. It is cruel, humiliating, demeaning, demoralising and the basis of so much despair. Everything that Israel has done has been carefully planned to strip the Palestinians of their dignity.
We, who are free would find it really impossible to imagine the debilitating hardships Israel’s macarbre policies place on ordinary Palestinians who live, work and raise families like we do here in Australia. Imagine a few bombs being dropped in your suburb and you see your house and your neighbours’ houses being pulverised by bulldozers. These bulldozers leave not a trace of the still warm hastily departed beds, or last night’s dishes in the sink, or the newspaper folded on the coffee table, or the sad little flowers picked from the roadside to gladden someone’s heart, or the family photos lined up to show the generations of a family life lived here, or the school bags packed and ready, homework checked and done, the polished shoes, or the breakfast prepared lovingly the night before – foul, hommous, boiled eggs, labane, za’arta, olives – the toys, the clothes, the books, the china, the linen, the little touches of home that only a mother knows how to create – all gone forever in a matter of minutes when those bulldozers grind family memories into the ground. The parents know what is happening, but the trembling children who watch these scenes in their nightgowns are unable to comprehend the enormity of the act – ethnic cleansing not yet grasped by their innocence. For anyone to lose their home is devastating, but for children to see their family homes demolished in such cruel and senseless ways is one of the most traumatic events that can possibly happen to them. Psychiatrists are well aware of the serious mental consequences this can have on children, and Palestinian children are no exception.
What about the killings and the maimings and the brutal treatment of Palestinians in the ordinary course of their daily lives? Don’t tell me that you wouldn’t be torn apart by grief and fury, that you would accept this with good grace, that you would be “civilised” about it, that you would understand that these are necessary “security” measures to protect Israel. This is not “civilised” behaviour on the part of Israel. These are the actions of barbarians. And this is the 21st century.
We cannot blame the Palestinians if they want to resist this oppression. They want a life. They don’t want to have to stand at checkpoints for hours to visit their sick relatives, or go to school, or work, or shop. They want to be able to sleep at night without wondering if the warplanes circling overhead are going to blow up their homes. They don’t want to hear the jackboots of soldiers kick down their doors and take away their husbands, sons and fathers. They want to plant their olive trees and fruit trees and strawberries and see the fruit kissed by the summer sun so that they can pick them for the markets and make a living as they have always done. They want to see their children dance and sing and smile again in the open air instead of picking their way over the rubble of their homes trying to salvage the toys they had hugged only hours before or to find anything that might be left to comfort them. They want to live in security, They want what the Israelis want – the right to live in peace in their homeland.
The worst part about all this is there is no hope at all. The Palestinians know what Israel is doing to them. They are being ethnically-cleansed in the most horrible inhuman way possible because it is not even quick, just agonisingly painfully slow. They also know that the world doesn’t care.
Israel has a lot to answer for its crimes against the Palestinians, crimes that put it up amongst the worst pariah states in modern history, but we have a lot to answer for as well. The Western world created Israel on the backs of a majority Palestinian population in Palestine in 1948 for its own imperialist designs in the Middle East. Since then, the US and its allies have done everything, to keep Israel the dominant power in the Arab world and has allowed it to commit state terrorism against millions of Palestinians. We have been brainwashed, bullied and bought to support Israel in all that time despite its criminal behaviour, too afraid to say anything in case the well-worn charge of anti-Semitism is laid at our doors. Our silence makes us complicit and we act as if somehow it will all go away, or somehow the Palestinians are responsible and deserve what is happening to them.
Hasn’t anyone sat down and thought about the immorality of all this? The inhumanity? How can Israel get away with doing something so inhumanly calculated in order to establish a heavily-armed and heavily-financed Jewish state posing as the only true democracy in the Middle East? It beggars belief. Israel is only a democracy for its proven Jewish citizens not for all its citizens and certainly not for the Palestinians living under occupation. Israel has nothing to fear from the Palestinians except what their own inhuman policies are creating: it is the Palestinians in Gaza who are in danger of being pushed into the sea, not the Israelis as we have been led to believe for decades.
We have heard so many ugly and depressing stories about life in Gaza that it is hard to imagine that the old Gaza was once a wealthy trading place and an important destination for travellers by land and sea. It is hard to imagine that its capital – Gaza City – was a beautiful metropolis with wide roads and parks, swaying palm trees and an expansive seascape. Over the years, hospitals, universities, schools, municipal council buildings have added a modern layer to one of the world’s oldest cities, developing despite Israel’s occupation. These are people who have had their will tested over and over again, but have refused to lose hope for a Palestinian state. And I really would like to just add here something about the West Bank, the other part of that proposed Palestinian state, which is 300 km away from Gaza separated by Israel itself. The two Palestinian territories form one geo-political entity, but movement between the two is impossible these days because Israel makes it impossible. What is happening in Gaza is also happening in the West Bank, just not on such an overwhelming scale. Certainly we hear nothing in our mainstream news about what is happening there, but it is very bad. Like in Gaza, the Palestinians in the cities of Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jerusalem and all the other towns and villages feel abandoned by the whole world.
If Israel has its way, the Palestinians are doomed to a pitiless existence without a state of their own, without freedom, without peace and without hope and Gaza will be the first to go.
Some of you may like to know how you can help. Please write letters to our government and the media telling them that you do not support Israel’s occupation and assaults on Gaza. If you would like more information, you can contact me by writing to
. If you would like to donate to relief efforts, you can contact Anglicord an overseas relief and development agency of the Anglican Church in Australia. Anglicord supports the provision of essential medical care through the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza and St Luke’s Hospital in Nablus. They have special online appeals for Gaza and Nablus which you can access via: www.ourcommunity.com.au/anglicord