Posts Tagged ‘blockade’

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Aftermath of the Flotilla attack in Ramallah

October 29, 2011

Massacre on the Gaza Flotilla:

Things have been crazy here the past couple of days. My boss and some co-workers were up all night Sunday to Monday morning in constant contact with the flotilla. They talked to them the last time like an hour before they were attacked….so they have been pretty emotional about everything.

We still cant get any information about who was killed, injured etc…because the Israelis have taken them all either to the hospital or to the prison. I can’t even imagine whats happening to those on board who were Arab Israeli/Palestinian. They’re probably getting the worst of it in the jails. hmmm…

Tensions were pretty high around here yesterday. My roommate told me what happened first thing in the morning and the news just kept getting worse throughout the day, although Im sure we don’t even know the half of what really happened thanks to the Israeli orchestrated media blackout.

It was really on the point of exploding here when the news came out that Skeikh Salah (an important sheikh from Israel) was shot in the head with live ammunition. Those were the first reports…and if he is really dead there’s gonna be BIG problems here–maybe even intifada size problems. But late yesterday Jerusalem Post reported that he wasn’t even injured…so Im not sure what’s going on but I know enough not to trust Israeli army spokespeople. Ha.

I couldnt believe it when the Army statement was that the peace activists attacked the soldiers first, and with AXES of all things. Ive heard that excuse before in many cases where Israeli soldiers killed Palestinians (usually teens) in cold blood. Thats their knee-jerk reaction “He attacked the soldiers with an axe!” Like everybody around here just carries axes around with them! Ridiculous, I had to laugh when I heard that was their excuse for killing up to 20 peace activists.

Media Blackout:

Anyways…so we are waiting patiently for the eye witnesses to be released so they can tell their side of the story. But Im sure Israel will keep pumping the mass media with their lies and fake videos (how could unarmed peace activists attack Israeli special forces???) showing the activists overpowering the Israeli commandos…bullshit. And when Israel finally does release the activists and the true death toll (and which nationalities were killed/injured) the world will have lost interest in this story Im sure.

Its depressing.

American Activist Shot in the Face with Teargas Canister at Demonstration:

 We had one pretty pathetic demonstration in Ramallah about the attack…by the end we attracted a good number of people–but it definitely didnt help to have the PA driving around threateningly with their police vans for arresting protestors and the Palestinian swat forces behind them. Hmm…

Then, Qalandia Refugee Camp, as usual, made the real protest. The kids from the camp came out and started throwing stones at Qalandia checkpoint. Press and international activists showed up throughout the afternoon. That’s when the American girl was shot in the face with a teargas canister. They took her to an Israeli hospital and she lost one of her eyes. But she will live, so that is good.

And what did the US say about any of this?? “This is a tragic loss of life”. They didnt even bother to condemn it–which doesnt mean much of course, but at least its something. Ughh….

Any Punishment for Israel?

The only hope is that the UN might get something passed (not likely with the US veto….) orrr that Turkey is pissed off enough to get NATO involved on the basis that Israel attacked a ship flying Turkish flags in international waters. “An attack on one member state is an attack on all member states”.  Somehow I dont have any hope that Israel will face any real punishment from this massacre–they have gotten away with MUCH worse.

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Israeli Airstrikes Kill 2 in Gaza Tunnels

June 26, 2010

2 Palestinians were killed while working in the tunnels in southern Gaza by Israeli airstrikes early Friday morning.

Israel carried out airstrikes on 2 tunnels, causing the tunnels to collapse on top of them. One of the bodies pulled from the destroyed tunnels was identified as Amer Abu Hadid, 23 years old. The other remains unidentified. The IAF also targeted a weapons storage factory in southern Gaza, and residents have reported damage to several other buildings.

The Israeli army says that these airstrikes were in response to recent rocket attacks from Gazan militant groups.

The Gazan people build these tunnels as a way around the strict blockade that Israel has imposed on the territory in an effort to weaken Hamas, however, the blockade is seen by humanitarian organizations and much of the international community as collective punishment.

Since the Israeli attack on the Gaza Flotilla, which killed 9 peace activists attempting to bring aid to the Gazan people, the Israeli government has agreed to ease the blockade. What that means on the ground in Gaza remains to be seen…

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“There is no Humanitarian Crisis in the Gaza Strip”

June 5, 2010

A little photo album I put together in response to this statement that is all over the right-wing media now, check it out:

Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

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Update on the Current Gaza Situation……

June 3, 2010

Gaza Strip

The War on Gaza: December 27th, 2008 – January 18th, 2009

The Gaza Strip has been the setting for a protracted political and humanitarian crisis for several years by different Israeli policies against Palestinians including continuous aggression, collective punishments, economic embargo, and violations to human rights, as well as a tight blockade and war. Saturday morning, the 27th of December 2008, Israel started a massive military offensive in the Gaza Strip, with air strikes, and naval bombardment followed by a ground offensive, and using of internationally prohibited weapons leaving behind death, destruction and intense suffering for a whole population in Gaza.

The 3 weeks of the devastatingly harsh and relentless Israeli military offensive on Gaza Strip killed 1,440 people, of whom 431 were children and 114 were women, according to the OCHA reports. This number does not include those who have died due to lack of access to regular health care (including obstetric care and treatment for chronic diseases). The number of injuries still stands at 5,380, of whom 1,872 are children and 800 are women, according to the MoH reports. 16 health staff members were killed and 25 injured while on-duty too. Injuries were often multiple traumas with head injuries, thorax abdominal wounds and loss of parts of extremities that left more than 600 people with permanent disability.

Children in particular suffered the most. Terrified and displaced, they were unable to deal with their new realities. Many children have lost their homes, schools and have to deal with the loss a loved one, whether a family member or a classmate. The magnitude of the disaster was unbearable. Many may know the numbers of those affected but only a few can relate to the stories of these children.

The war caused massive damage to Palestinian infrastructure; Whole neighbourhoods were turned into rubble. Schools, kindergartens, hospitals, fire stations and ambulances on duty were damaged by shelling. Also more than 4000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged. Thousands of citrus, olive and palm groves, wells and greenhouses, including those far inside the Gaza Strip, were uprooted.

People were seeking safe places but couldn’t find any, and they kept moving from one place to other, an estimated 80,000-90,000 Gazans were displaced, seeking refuge in shelters, camp or at the homes of families and friends. The aftermath also witnessed a humanitarian crisis with thousands of Gazans left homeless in temporary shelters.

An Endless Blockade

For the past three and a half years, Gaza has been under a tight blockade imposed by Israel which has affected all aspects of daily living and development. It affected all sectors of society including industrial, agricultural, economical, health and social. It also increased levels of poverty and unemployment which have become unbearable. Before Hamas came to power in Gaza, over 14,000 trucks of goods entered Gaza daily. By April 2009, that number was reduced to 2,000.

While the war on Gaza has intensified the suffering of people and destroyed the infrastructure, the endless blockade of Gaza continues to sustain this suffering and prevents effective intervention.

Since January 2010, Gazan residents have had to deal with electricity cuts from 8-12 hours per day (as opposed to 6-8 hours per day prior to January) because of lack of funds and ability to purchase sufficient industrial fuel for the power plant. This makes an even larger impact on daily life in Gaza–especially with respect to health care, sanitation and water services, and education.

UNRWA reported that items such as candles, books, crayons, shoes, sheets, blankets, coffee and shampoo are refused entry. Given that allowing these items entry would pose no security threat to Israel, the only logical conclusion is that refusing such items amounts to punishing the population.

The blockade has had a huge effect on the economy of Gaza. Before Operation Cast Lead (Israel’s last offensive on the territory in December 2009-January 2010), the World Bank estimated that only 2% of industrial establishments were still functioning. It’s safe to say that number is even less now. One of the hardest hit sectors is agriculture–because most goods are not allowed to leave the strip to be sold outside, most of the produce has to be destroyed or sold at a loss on the local markets. Unemployment is over 50%.

Damage to Health Care Infrastructure

The health sector has been on the brink of collapsing, unable to cope with the soaring numbers of casualties and fatalities. The war caused serious damage to health services infrastructure where 15 of 27 Gaza’s hospital, 43 of 110 primary health care (PHC) clinics, and 29 of 148 ambulances were partially or completely damaged during the war.

Access to health care was severely restricted and hampered by security constraints. Several PHC centres of different health providers were closed during part of or all of the period of the war. It is estimated that, during the military operation, 40% of the chronically ill interrupted their treatment. These concerns were exacerbated by the virtual halt of referrals of ordinary patients outside Gaza as life-threatening injuries had a higher priority in an overwhelmed system. Elective surgery and non-urgent routine medical interventions were delayed or interrupted during the crisis. Maternal and child health services at PHC levels were disrupted.

 Psychological Trauma in the Palestinian Territories

Trauma from Operation Cast Lead and the high level of violence that is constant in the Gaza Strip (and West Bank to a lesser extent) has caused a high level of psychological disorders in Palestinians living there—with an especially high toll on the children, who make up over half the population of the territory. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders, even short-term psychological support can ease the burden of violence-induced psychiatric disorders—especially in children.

MSF conducted a study on data collected from 1,369 patients  (773 in the Gaza Strip and 596 in Nablus—a West Bank city with a high level of violence from the Israeli military) who received psychological support between January 2005 and December 2008.  23.2 % of these patients had PTSD, 17.3 % had an anxiety disorder (other than PTSD) and 15.3% had depression.

PTSD was more common in children under the age of 15, while depression was the main symptom found in adults. Among children under 16, factors significantly associated with PTSD included being witness to murder or physical abuse, receiving threats, and property destruction or loss. 65% of patient took part in individual, short-term psychotherapy, with 30.6% requiring psychotropic medication along with counselling.

Following psychotherapy, 82.8% of children and 75.3% of adults had improved symptoms. Among patients that showed no improvement or aggravated symptoms at the last session, the main persistent symptoms were sadness and aggressive behaviour. The study concluded that “These observations suggest that short-term psychotherapy could be an effective treatment for specific psychiatric disorders occurring in vulnerable populations, including children living in conflict zones, such as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.” (Study was published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems)

Operation Cast Lead: “War is Hell on the Brain”

According to a Ministry of Education assessment, at least 922 registered schoolchildren were injured during Operation Cast Lead, around 732 of them will live with long-term disabilities as a consequence of the war. Many children lost classmates, friends, and/or siblings and remain very much psychologically scarred.

The scale of violence during Cast Lead exposed Gazan children to unprecedented levels of stress, many witnessed horrific scenes of violence and there was no place that they could feel safe—their parents could do nothing to protect them, many of their homes and schools were destroyed indiscriminately. Children in Gaza exhibit behaviour problems such as increased levels of violence, depression, sleeping disorders, falling mute, fear and anxiety, changes in attachment to family and community, inability to concentrate, learning difficulties, and loss of recently acquired skills. An estimated 14,000-28,000 children need psychological support as a result of the war.

 Fatima B (Case 28)

“My daughter Fatima is in a very bad psychological state. Every night she dreams of Israeli aircraft attacking her; one night they kill her, another night they injure her. She wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and sweating. She needs her nerves to be examined because of her head injury that led to a mild tremor in her limbs. This tremor has affected her studies. She had beautiful handwriting before the incident…which resulted in her shaking and her handwriting is no longer clear and understandable. She refuses to go to school. I advised her to go and sit for the final exams in May. She passed all the subjects but her average marks dropped.

Fatima forces me to put a scarf over her head whenever she goes to school because of the big bald patches in her hair after she underwent surgery…she refuses to leave the house in the evening because she is afraid of darkness. These days whenever she hears Israeli aircraft, she becomes scared and rushes back to the house  and then to her room. In the daylight, her face injuries are very apparent. She has marks on her face; dark brown spots. Whenever she walks under the sun, the brown marks turn black. I do not know how to treat her and get her back the way she was before.” –Azhar Al Banna

Effect on Women and Childbirth

Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, the Hamas Health Ministry says there is a higher percentage of children being born with birth defects. According to Dr. Muweiyah Massenein, head of the ministry’s ambulance and emergency department, “we have found cases among newborn babies involving heart defects and brain abnormalities.” Hassenein states that the higher number of birth defects is a result of “Israel’s use of internationally prohibited weapons against the civilians of Gaza.”

Among white phosphorous, depleted uranium and other illegal weapons used on the Gazan civilian population during the war, many researchers and doctors working in Gaza say that Israel used the Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) weapon as well, which is known to cause biological effects on foetuses—such as the ones that are being discovered now.

Medical experts had earlier predicted that the illegal weapons used by the IDF in the densely populated Gaza Strip would cause long-lasting effects and plague the future generation physically and psychologically.

Economy

In Gaza, jobs in the private sector are basically nonexistent, so even though there are goods available to buy, the people do not have money. 80% of the people in Gaza are dependent on outside food aid, either from UNWRA or the World Food Program (WFP).

Irish FM Michael Martin described the Gazan economy as devastated and “only operating at some 10-15 percent of capacity.”

Over one thousand companies have gone out of business since the last Israeli offensive on the territory, Operation Cast Lead (27 December, 2008- 18 January, 2009). Unemployment has risen to over 50%.

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls the situation in Gaza currently a “protracted political and socio-economic crisis.”

Healthcare

WHO reports that since Cast Lead, “recent events have resulted in a severe deterioration of the already precarious living conditions of the people in Gaza and have further eroded a weakened health system.”

The situation can be characterized by delays in border-crossing permits for specialized hospital treatment, shortage of medical supplies, improperly trained medical staff as a result of isolation, and damage to health services infrastructure as the main causes of the precarious health situation.

Electricity cuts due to the Israeli incursions and blockade affect the hospitals’ ability to maintain service provision. To further aggravate the situation, the inadequate amount of fuel allowed into Gaza through the Israeli blockade removes even the option of depending on backup generators to power the hospitals.

Continuous power is required for the preservation of vaccine cold chain items, food for patients and emergency operations. Operating theaters will be forced to reduce or shut down altogether due to the lack of electricity and medical supplies. Israeli border closures also mean greater shortages of basic drugs, disposable equipment, and diagnostic materials.

Many specialized treatments, for example complex heart surgery and certain types of cancer treatments, are not available in Gaza and patients are referred to outside hospitals for treatment. But many of the exit permits are denied or delayed arbitrarily by the Israeli authorities and as a result the person misses their appointments and treatment. Many have died while waiting for referral.

1103 applications for patients to cross the Erez border crossing were submitted to the Israeli authorities in December 2009. 21% were denied or delayed, causing them to miss their hospital appointments and restart the referral process from the beginning. Over 27 patients have died while awaiting referral since the beginning of 2009.

The Death of Fidaa Talal Hijjy

Fidaa Talal Hijjy, 19 years old, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 2007, and was treated at Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Her health deteriorated and she was told she needed a bone marrow transplant, a procedure that is not available in Gaza. Her doctors referred her to Tel HaShomer Hospital in Israel on 20 August 2009 and she obtained a hospital appointment for 23 September 2009 for a transplant.

The District Liaison Office submitted an application for Fidaa to cross Erez on the date of her appointment but the Israeli Authorities did not respond to her application and she lost her appointment with Tel HaShomer Hospital. She secured a new appointment for 20 October 2009 and a new application was submitted to cross Erez. She had no response from the Israeli Authorities. Her health condition deteriorated further. She was given a new appointment at Shneider Hospital in Israel for 9 November 2009 and submitted an urgent application to cross Erez. No response was received.

Fidaa died on 11 November 2009. The Israeli Authorities approved her request on 12 November 2009, three days after her hospital appointment and one day after her death.

This is just one example, of many.

Supplies of drugs and disposable have generally been allowed through the Israeli blockade, although in inadequate quantities. There are also large shortages because of shortfalls in deliveries. Most drugs and disposables supplies are sitting at less than 30% of being fully stocked.

Delays of up to 2-3 months occur on the importation of medical equipment like x-ray machines and electronic devices. Clinical staff are frequently lacking the medical equipment they need. Medical devices are often broken, missing spare parts (which are not allowed through the Israeli blockade) or out of date.

Water and Sanitation

Recently, the salinity and nitrate levels in Gazan water supplies have been increasing due to over-extraction of ground water. Intrusion of salt water is a major concern for the safety of drinking water—especially for children. The underground wall that Egypt is building to stop the tunnel industry is also a concern—because it could cause sea water to enter the underground water supply of Gaza.

The sanitation infrastructure of Gaza was largely destroyed during Cast Lead, and has yet to be fully repaired because the Israeli blockade will not allow in replacement materials and spare parts. This has led to large sewage “lagoons” that sometimes overflow into residential neighborhoods and also into the Mediterranean Sea—causing not only a health crisis, but an environmental one as well.

For More Information About the Humanitarian Situation in Gaza:

OXFAM: “The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion”

Current OCHA Reports on Gaza

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“Of Course, They Were Asking For It”

June 3, 2010

Mark Steel

June 2, 2010

It’s time the Israeli government’s PR team made the most of its talents, and became available for hire. Then whenever a nutcase marched into a shopping mall in somewhere like Wisconsin and gunned down a selection of passers-by, they could be on hand to tell the world’s press “The gunman regrets the loss of life but did all he could to avoid violence.” Then various governments would issue statements saying “All we know is a man went berserk with an AK 47, and next to him there’s a pile of corpses, so until we know the facts we can’t pass judgement on what took place.”

To strengthen their case the Israelis have released a photo of the weapons they found on board, (which amount to some knives and tools and wooden sticks) that the naive might think you’d expect to find on any ship, but the more astute will recognise as exactly what you’d carry if you were planning to defeat the Israeli army. It’s an armoury smaller than you’d find in the average toolshed in a garden in Cirencester, which goes to show the Israelis had better destroy Cirencester quickly as an essential act of self-defence.

It’s a shame they weren’t more imaginative, as they could have said “We also discovered a deadly barometer, a ship’s compass, which could not only be frisbeed at someone’s head but even had markings to help the assailant know which direction he was throwing it, and a set of binoculars that could easily be converted into a ray-gun.”

That would be as logical as the statement from the Israeli PM’s spokesman – “We made every possible effort to avoid this incident.” Because the one tiny thing they forgot to do to avoid this incident was not send in armed militia from helicopters in the middle of the night and shoot people. I must be a natural at this sort of technique because I often go all day without climbing off a helicopter and shooting people, and I’m not even making every possible effort.

Politicians and commentators worldwide repeat a version of this line. They’re aware a nation has sent its militia to confront people carrying provisions for the desperate, in the process shooting several of them dead, and yet they angrily blame the dead ones. One typical headline yesterday read “Activists got what they wanted – confrontation.” It’s an attitude so deranged it deserves to be registered as a psychosis, something like “Reverse Slaughter Victim Confusion Syndrome”.

Israel and its supporters claim that Viva Palestina, made up of people who collect the donated food, cement and items for providing basic amenities such as toilets, and transport them to Gaza, wanted the violence all along. Because presumably they must have been thinking “Hezbollah couldn’t beat them, but that’s because unlike us they didn’t have a ballcock and several boxes of plum tomatoes”.

One article told us the flotilla was full of “Thugs spoiling for a confrontation”, and then accused them of being “Less about aid and more about PR. Indeed, on board was Swedish novelist Henning Mankell.” So were they thugs or about PR? Did they have a thugs’ section and a PR quarter, or did they all muck in, the novelist diverting the soldiers with his characterisation while the thugs attacked them with a lethal spirit level?

But some defenders of Israel are so blind to what happens in front of them there’s nothing at all they wouldn’t jump to defend. Israel could blow up a cats home and within five minutes they’d be yelling “How do we know the cats weren’t smuggling semtex in their fur for Hamas?”

If this incident had been carried about by Iran, or anyone we were trying to portray as an enemy, so much condemnation would have been spewed out it would have created a vast cloud of outrage that airlines would be unable to fly through.

But as it’s Israel, most governments offer a few diplomatic words that blame no one, but accept the deaths are “regrettable”. They might as well have picked any random word from the dictionary, so the news would tell us “William Hague described the deaths as ‘hexagonal'”, and a statement from the US senate said “It’s all very confusing. In future let’s hope they make every effort to avoid a similar incident.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mark-steel/mark-steel-of-course-they-were-asking-for-it-1988684.html

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Update on the Gaza Humanitarian Situation:

March 29, 2010

High unemployment rate, food shortages, poverty, health crisis…

Economy

In Gaza, jobs in the private sector are basically nonexistent, so even though there are goods available to buy, the people do not have money. 80% of the people in Gaza are dependent on outside food aid, either from UNWRA or the World Food Program (WFP).

Irish FM Michael Martin described the Gazan economy as devastated and “only operating at some 10-15 percent of capacity.”

Over one thousand companies have gone out of business since the last Israeli offensive on the territory, Operation Cast Lead (27 December, 2008- 18 January, 2009). Unemployment has risen to over 50%.

Because of the lack of jobs available, some Gazans turn to illegal means. Others work in the tunnel industry which brings goods from Sinai.

Fishing once made up 4% of Gaza’s economy, but has been negatively impacted by the blockade. Fishermen are only allowed to go 3.5 miles away from shore—which severely limits the amount of fish they are able to catch. If they go out past that distance, they will be fired upon by Israeli gunships. The small permitted zone for fishing has become overfished and now fishermen have begun to make the dangerous and illegal trip to Egyptian waters.

People are so desperate for jobs in Gaza that a new industry has sprung up which involves sifting through the rubble of Cast Lead, especially in the northern Gaza Strip, to separate small pebbles and gravel for building roads. They make about 8 dollars a day for this back breaking work which has become necessary due to the face that the Israeli blockade (which began in the middle of 2007) does not allow in adequate materials for rebuilding the infrastructure that they destroyed during Cast Lead.

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls the situation in Gaza currently a “protracted political and socio-economic crisis.”

Health

WHO reports that since Cast Lead, “recent events have resulted in a severe deterioration of the already precarious living conditions of the people in Gaza and have further eroded a weakened health system.”

The situation can be characterized by delays in border-crossing permits for specialized hospital treatment, shortage of medical supplies, improperly trained medical staff as a result of isolation, and damage to health services infrastructure as the main causes of the precarious health situation.

Many specialized treatments, for example complex heart surgery and certain types of cancer treatments, are not available in Gaza and patients are referred to outside hospitals for treatment. But many of the exit permits are denied or delayed arbitrarily by the Israeli authorities and as a result the person misses their appointments and treatment. Many have died while waiting for referral.

1103 applications for patients to cross the Erez border crossing were submitted to the Israeli authorities in December 2009. 21% were denied or delayed, causing them to miss their hospital appointments and restart the referral process from the beginning. Over 27 patients have died while awaiting referral since the beginning of 2009.

The Death of Fidaa Talal Hijjy:

Fidaa Talal Hijjy, 19 years old, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 2007, and was treated at Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Her health deteriorated and she was told she needed a bone marrow transplant, a procedure that is not available in Gaza. Her doctors referred her to Tel HaShomer Hospital in Israel on 20 August 2009 and she obtained a hospital appointment for 23 September 2009 for a transplant.

The District Liaison Office submitted an application for Fidaa to cross Erez on the date of her appointment but the Israeli Authorities did not respond to her application and she lost her appointment with Tel HaShomer Hospital. She secured a new appointment for 20 October 2009 and a new application was submitted to cross Erez. She had no response from the Israeli Authorities. Her health condition deteriorated further. She was given a new appointment at Shneider Hospital in Israel for 9 November 2009 and submitted an urgent application to cross Erez. No response was received.

Fidaa died on 11 November 2009. The Israeli Authorities approved her request on 12 November 2009, three days after her hospital appointment and one day after her death.

This is just one example, of many.

Supplies of drugs and disposable have generally been allowed through the Israeli blockade, although in inadequate quantities. There are also large shortages because of shortfalls in deliveries. Most drugs and disposables supplies are sitting at less than 30% of being fully stocked.

Delays of up to 2-3 months occur on the importation of medical equipment like x-ray machines and electronic devices. Clinical staff are frequently lacking the medical equipment they need. Medical devices are often broken, missing spare parts (which are not allowed through the Israeli blockade) or out of date.

Water and Sanitation

Recently, the salinity and nitrate levels in Gazan water supplies have been increasing due to over-extraction of ground water. Intrusion of salt water is a major concern for the safety of drinking water—especially for children. The underground wall that Egypt is building to stop the tunnel industry is also a concern—because it could cause sea water to enter the underground water supply of Gaza.

The sanitation infrastructure of Gaza was largely destroyed during Cast Lead, and has yet to be fully repaired because the Israeli blockade will not allow in replacement materials and spare parts. This has led to large sewage “lagoons” that sometimes overflow into residential neighborhoods and also into the Mediterranean Sea—causing not only a health crisis, but an environmental one as well.

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Egypt’s Iron Wall Targets Hamas, not the Gazan People…

January 28, 2010

“To be honest, all the people are saying the tunnels are breaking the siege on Gaza—its not.”

A Professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza City explains that in reality, the tunnel industry is a “trick” on the Gazan people which has eaten away their savings while Hamas and the smugglers get rich.

He explains that the goods brought through the tunnels for the people consist mainly of biscuits, chips and other non-essential items. “It is a very profitable trade for those bloodsuckers…they bring the goods from Egypt and sell it to us for double or triple the price.”

Gaza’s Tunnel Industry

Richard Falk of the UN described the tunnel industry as an “expression of the desperation created in Gaza as a result of the [Israeli] blockade that’s going on now for two and a half years.”

Before Israel’s last offensive on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, there were thousands of tunnels that brought everything from zoo animals to medicine into the besieged territory.

After Cast Lead, which resulted in the deaths of 1,400 Gazans, most of Gaza’s infrastructure was reduced to rubble, including the majority of the tunnels. The essential needs of the people became even more difficult to meet.

“Tunnel Millionaires”

Maha Fayek, a journalist living in Gaza, says that “after Cast Lead, there are many new tunnels, but in a business way instead of responding to human needs—because of this many smugglers have become ‘tunnel millionaires.’”

According to Mahsen Abu Ramadan, an economist and president of the Palestinian NGO Network in Gaza, “33 items are allowed to pass through the Israeli blockade above ground…traders of other goods, including weapons, bring them through the tunnels.”

“500 million dollars worth of goods have come through the tunnels in the past year.”

The tunnel industry is so institutionalized that smugglers must go to the Rafah Municipality to purchase licenses that allow them to connect to electricity and water. In addition to this, all goods are taxed by the Hamas government.

Abu Ramadan says that “because Hamas has the monopoly on the use of tunnels, the needs of the people are not the priority.”

What is Behind Egypt’s Decision to Build the Wall?

After Cast Lead, Egypt’s government came under pressure from Israel and America to take a more active role in stopping weapons smuggling from Sinai into Gaza. Egypt began by installing surveillance cameras and motion sensors on the border with Gaza. When that failed, construction on a massive underground iron wall began.

“America had some influence on the decision. They sent the Army Corps of Engineers to help the Egyptians construct the wall,” said the Professor at Al Azhar University.

The wall will extend up to 30 meters underground and will be 9-10 kilometers long; construction will take around 6 months. It will not stop the tunnels completely, but will drastically reduce the amount of weapons and other goods smuggled into Gaza.

Many suspect that Israel played a central role in Egypt’s decision. According to a former intelligence officer in the IDF, “Israel tried to do something similar in the past, but I don’t know if they’re involved.”

“I think it is very ironic, Egypt has been preaching for Gaza and Palestine, but they’re doing the same as Israel…which is to dry out Hamas until the population will want something different. [Egypt] wants a new government there—otherwise they wouldn’t do it.”

Despite the possible influences on the decision, the wall’s main purpose is to protect Egypt.

Professor __ says that “Egypt has the right to protect its borders…Hamas is smuggling drugs…weapons…even terrorists who from Al Qaeda can come in and out of Gaza through the tunnels, affecting the national security of Egypt.”

Wajdi Al Ahmed, a captain in the PA living in Ramallah, West Bank says that in addition to security concerns, Egypt is sending a strong message to Hamas.

“That’s enough playing with us. For two years Egypt has organized meetings in Cairo between Fateh and Hamas. They tried to make agreements to stop this factional fight that is destroying the Palestinian case.”

“Hamas backed out of another agreement at the last minute, Egypt is using the wall to tell them their patience is through.”

Egypt’s Role as Mediator

In 2007, Hamas staged a coup in Gaza overthrowing Abbas’ security forces there and starting a crippling, unresolved factional division. Since then, Egypt has acted as a mediator between the two groups in an attempt to restore Palestinian unity.

As soon as they get close to a resolution, Hamas finds an excuse not to sign. This leads many people to believe that this wall is Egypt’s way of telling Hamas to take the peace process with Fateh more seriously.

Gaza’s View on the Wall

Despite the international outcry against this wall, Abu Ramadan says that “it will not affect the normal people of Gaza so badly. We are working on ways to compensate and bring the essential supplies by another route. Only Hamas and the smugglers will be badly affected.”

Many Gazans also say that it won’t change the way they view Egypt.

“We believe [Egypt] is with us, they fought for us several times so they will not let us down in the end…but now they are trying to make this wall to choke Hamas because they are making problems inside of Egypt…so they have the right to protect their borders,” asserts Professor ___.

“Supporters of Hamas are condemning the Egyptian government and cursing them and making demonstrations. While the people who don’t support Hamas and want them to be finished off are happy with the wall…they welcome any steps which are taken against Hamas.”

As evidence that the wall will mostly affect Hamas negatively, and not the people, Al Ahmed asks, “If it didn’t affect Hamas, there wouldn’t be such demonstrations—and who organizes the demonstrations? Hamas…the wall will take all of Hamas’ power; all the weapons and money comes through the tunnels.”

Backlash Against Egypt’s Decision

Most of the outcry against Egypt’s decision has come from Egyptians themselves—partially spurred by Egypt’s decision not to allow any more humanitarian aid to cross their territory to reach Gaza.

“We should help Gaza with medical supplies…we know that Israel keeps them in a very bad condition and we should not be a part of that.” Ihab Ibrahim, a businessman from Sinai asserts.

However, Professor ____ said he was “in contact with people who recently came…they brought humanitarian aid with them thinking it would go to the average people. But it didn’t…it all went to Hamas members, and the medicines went to the private Hamas members hospitals.”

The tension in Egypt forced the government to start explaining their decisions.

“I have noticed an unprecedented media campaign about the blocking of aid convoys to Gaza, and trying to justify that to the Egyptian people,” Hazem Albassem, a businessman from Cairo says.

In the end, many Egyptians realize that Hamas and affiliated extremist groups could pose a real threat to Egypt’s security.

“We need strong security measures. We know that dangerous groups try to come and make trouble here. We want solidarity with Gaza but we also need good security.” Ibrahim says.

Gaza’s Future

Those same groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, have used the tunnels to travel in and out of Gaza. If they become more of a presence there they will not only affect Egypt’s security, but the security of the Gazan people as well.

Along the same lines, if Hamas continues to use the tunnels to smuggle weapons into the territory to use against Israeli civilians, they will not be helping the Gazan people either. Instead, it may lead to another war with Israel—which could be even more devastating than Cast Lead.

What Gaza needs now is not tunnels—at the moment they are doing more harm than good for the civilian population. However, if Egypt closes the tunnels Israel must ease the blockade on the territory.

Fayek reminds us “if you say these tunnels and aid are illegal or used for resistance and you want to close the tunnels, you have to see the human side of it for us Gazans…we still need essential items. Its winter now and there’s no gas, no fuels or any kind of heating.”

“If you want to close the tunnels, you must find a legal way of getting humanitarian aid into Gaza and to the people.”