Posts Tagged ‘humanitarian aid’

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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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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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Israel Attacks Gaza Flotilla, Kills up to 16 so far…

May 31, 2010

Israeli forces attacked the Gaza Flotilla late last night in international waters, killing up to 16 activists and injuring more than 50.

The ships, carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid for the besieged Gaza Strip, left Cyprus on Sunday and aimed to reach the Gazan coast by Monday. There were around 600 pro-Palestinian activists on board—including a Nobel laureate, European legislators, and even a Holocaust survivor.

In the middle of the night, the lead ship of the flotilla—the Mavi Marmara, which was flying Turkish flags, was flanked by Israeli naval ships. The ships slowed down about 65 km off the coast of Gaza in order to avoid confrontation, and passengers were asked by organizers to put on life jackets and go below decks.

Afterwards, the Israeli troops descended on the ship from helicopters flying above.

From here, of course, there are two different versions of the story—the Israeli military spokesperson report, and the eye-witness testimonies of pro-Palestinian activists aboard. The Israeli spokesperson says that as soon as the soldiers stormed the ship, activists on board “attacked the soldiers with axes, clubs, and knives.”

In my year and a half living in the West Bank, there have been countless times where the Israeli military has killed innocent Palestinians and afterwards came out with the statement “They attacked the soldiers with axes!” or “They attacked the soldiers with pitchforks!” It’s almost a joke when we hear that excuse here now—so when I heard that that was the Israelis’ excuse for attacking peace activists, I almost had to laugh.

Ok, anyone who knows anything about Israeli soldiers knows enough not to attack them with something like that when the soldiers are carrying Uzis and M-16’s. And most of the time, when these Palestinians (usually teenagers and children who were working on their farmland or shepherding in the fields…) get killed, there are eye-witnesses who have a completely different story—which goes something like this: “The soldiers killed them in cold blood.”

Similarly, the passengers on board the Gaza Flotilla have said that the soldiers opened fire with live ammunition from the minute they descended on the ship—in addition to brutalizing and beating anyone who stood in their way.

Audrey Bomse, a spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement which organized the convoy, said this: “We were not going to pose any violent resistance. The only resistance that there might be would be passive resistance such as physically blocking the steering room, or blocking the engine room downstairs, so that they couldn’t get taken over. But that was just symbolic resistance.”

Anyone who follows the news in the region knows how the Israeli military responds to nonviolent, symbolic resistance. By killing around a dozen nonviolent demonstrators in protests against the Wall in the West Bank (since they began 5 years ago), and injuring countless dozens of others (including me and many of my friends!).

Israel has heightened its security across the country, in an attempt to quell any protests against the attack.

President Abbas has declared a three-day national strike and mourning for those killed on board.

Sweden and Turkey have already summoned their Israeli ambassadors.

The Israeli attack on the Gaza Flotilla could have big implications. The lead ship that was attacked was a Turkish ship flying Turkish flags, and was attacked in international waters. Since Turkey is a member of NATO, and this should constitute an attack on a NATO member state, there might be some kind of response from the rest of the member countries against Israel.

Don’t hold your breath though, this isn’t the first time Israel has broken international laws, killed innocent people, or lied about how it happened—and it probably won’t be the last either.