Road to Hope
Arrived in Gaza on 25th November 2010, after being with the convoy for 42 days, in Libya from 21st October. One week at the border, 4 days at Dernah port, and 2 nights at Benghazi airport.
26.11.10. Walked by the sea with a minder. Then four women joined us. We went around the various places destroyed by the war. A building with 99 dwellings and a little house just outside was completely destroyed with a loss of life as no warning was given. The only reason for its being targeted was that an Israeli settlements could be seen from the roof. Building including a gym for the Olympic committee was targeted and destroyed. The laboratory buildings of the Islamic University, (2m$ to build) were totally destroyed. (Gaza was occupied by Israel until 2006, so they clearly knew what they were destroying.) Ministry buildings, built with European money, had been targeted by the Israelis for 6-7 hours by land and sea. The people have large families, so as a result of this and the housing destruction in the war, there is a great need for new buildings. The only cement in Gaza comes through the tunnels, and as a result is very expensive. Population 1.7m.
This is the story of one of the women who joined me by the sea. She lives in a refugee camp near the border, which means they are the first to be attacked. When the drones started she told her parents they had to move. They did not want to go, and so she left with her sisters to go to her grandparents who were a little further from the border. Later her parents arrived. She spoke of the UNRWA An-Anchor school which opened its doors to the families who had to leave their homes as a result of the war. Despite the Israelis knowing the purpose of the school, it was targeted and 30 people, including women and children, killed.
After lunch we went to a place which has helped the children war victims. We saw a play depicting Gaza as a wounded angel, with five other children singing and moving around. Then an excellent play of a trial of an Israeli soldier for the war crimes, where the children were able to speak of how they had been harmed, the deaths etc in their family. The 3 judges found him guilty of war crimes. 'All the world please hear us. End the siege. Protect Gaza. We hope to live safely as do children all over the world.' We then gave toys, which was a horrid experience as we loaded a few children and then had nothing for others approaching us, let alone all the other children of Gaza. I don't like being Lady Bountiful! How to distribute anything, with 1.7m people, 80% unemployment, and a very large majority living on no more than 2 dollars a day!
27.11.2010. A boat trip, which was good. Saw a boat fired on by the Israeli navy, as presumably over 2 km out. Went to see the Prime Minister, who seemed a good, honest and kind man. Back at the hotel I met friends of the Devon surgeon David Halpin, Dr Khamis Elessi and Nihad Taha, from David’s charity, the Dove and Dolphin. Nihad spoke of this charity he represents and the small factory where they make good quality school uniforms. His hope to set up a workshop to repair wheel chairs and make electric ones. There are people here who have the skills but the workshop needs money. I also met a man from Mercy Malaysia which has a base in Gaza. I hope that they and others can support my application to go back in Gaza with an invitation to offer some counselling and shock and trauma training.
Evening: An outdoor screening of a film depicting the war, and the ongoing gathering together of evidence to take Israel to the international courts for war crimes. There was an interesting discussion. To hope that we can make a difference is very hard, as only we can know how impotent we feel, when it comes to the governments and public opinion. It was explained that one of the reason they keep us so carefully with minders is the government fear that one of us will say something out of turn, and this get reported in the Israeli press. Also the fear that one of us will be hurt and again this be reflected in such a way that Israel take advantage of it. While I understand this I think it is misguided, and whatever, the representation will be bad. All the Palestinians could lie down on their backs, with their arms crossed, and still the portrayal would be hostile and as if they were dangerous. And who am I to talk with such a fear of another invasion. We women, Palestinian and Western, then walked the streets together. The bus at a reasonable distance, bought gifts, bought oranges, the only Gaza fruit there was, the rest imported, and large large ice creams.
28.11. 2010. Took the gloves the etc given by Exeter firemen to a fire station in Gaza City. They were carefully searched to ensure nothing compromising. The fire chief said that they did their very best with the sparse equipment, and the loss of personnel in the war. I wondered if his heart was broken – he looked so hurt. I visited Al Rentesi Paediatric Hospital, where I delivered clothes knitted for the children. The patients are aged 1 month to 12 years. The hospital works with chronically ill children, and tries to offer all services: cardiac, respiratory, haematological, neurological, kidney dialysis, ICU. There is a good endoscopy department. The hospital lacks equipment. Also it is extremely difficult to get the parts for the equipment when it breaks down. The power cuts put great pressure on the equipment, which causes damage. The CT scanner has been broken for 3 years.
The hospital wants to be able to do more, and to reduce the proportion of children who have to try to travel to Israel or Egypt for more complex treatment. Currently 35 to 40 children a month have to travel abroad. The journey is very stressful and painful for the seriously ill child, and should be unnecessary. It is also extremely expensive. It can take 7 days to a month for permission to come through, the child will not be refused passage through the border, but Israel and Egypt insist on the child being accompanied, and the relative may be refused. When we asked how to give money, I was touched by something the director said: 'We are the mother and father of the patient'. He meant that the money should be given to the families, and drew up a list amongst whom the money would be divided. And then back to the border and eventually out into Egypt.
Thousands of square metres of land has been bulldozed by the Israeli army: trees and houses. Because rural communities live closely together, housing for whole communities has been destroyed, meaning that the normal community support has been eradicated. Houses, farms, and small businesses are all targeted. This is nothing less than a determined effort to destroy a nation. Fishermen are fired on if they go further than 2 km out, so the catch is very small. Fishing has been a traditional industry for generations, and now men are having to find an additional or alternative ways of making a living. I met a young woman whose brother had been killed by the Israelis. He was driving an ambulance. The people hear Israeli planes overhead everyday, fearing the bombs they carry.
The only bottled water that can be bought is from Israel. A supply of tap water is being maintained, but there is not a continuous supply of electricity for the water purification plant. Fuel comes via Israel. Sewerage is a major problem because there is not enough fuel to run the processing plant. Consequently raw sewerage has to be discharged into the sea, so swimmers have a high risk of getting infections. Rubbish is buried in pits, and everything possible is recycled.
Being in Gaza felt like the most difficult part of the whole journey. So many impossibilities and so much hope.
Karenza-Monica Case, 5th December 2010