by Julie Webb-Pullman
Three families who had their lives turned upside down by Israeli missiles strikes on their homes and bodies are adamant they will not give up now – they have lost too much.
Far from frightening the Gazan people into submission, the cruel carnage unleashed on the civilian population by the Israeli military machine has only served to strengthen their resolve to resist, at whatever cost. When you hear their stories you may understand why.
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MP Jamal Al-Khudari, the head of the Popular Committee Against the Siege, said on Wednesday that the poverty and unemployment rates in Gaza had surpassed 50% due to the Israeli blockade that has entered its 8th consecutive year.
Khudari added that more than one million citizens in Gaza Strip depend on aid relief to survive, and the per capita income does not exceed two dollars a day.
He stressed that the humanitarian situation in Gaza has reached horrrific proportions, and is affecting all aspects of life.
The harsh economic and humanitarian conditions due to the Israeli blockade have been exacerbated by the Egyptian closure of all border tunnels, which used to provide the beleaguered Strip with a portion of its needs.
The MP called on the international community to immediately apply pressure for the lifting the siege on Gaza, to avoid further deterioration of the already-critical humanitarian conditions.
What does a mother in Gaza do on Mothers’ Day?
She wakes to pitch blackness, because there is no electricity to light the room.
She fumbles her way by torch or candlelight (if there is not too much wind to blow it out) to the bathroom.
Is she in luck this-morning? Did the electricity come on during the night and power the pump so that there is water in the roof-top tank to wash with? Even if it is so icy-cold and salty that it stings her eyes almost as much as the teargas that her sisters in the West Bank and Jerusalem must bear?
Is there any water left in the drinking container, to make a cup of coffee, or will she have to stumble into the yard and borrow some from her neighbour’s bucket? Is there even any coffee now that UNRWA has cut her food aid? Will her neighbour have any water left in her bucket this morning?
Will she have time to fetch and make and drink it before the second-youngest child awakes, Nuha, who fell into a fitful fevered sleep it seems like only minutes ago? The child who needs medicine that the hospital does not have, because the Palestinian Authority has not sent it, like the other 79.99% of necessary medicines and disposables?
Will Nuha meet the same fate as her older brother Ahmed, who died at Rafah Crossing waiting to go to Egypt for medical treatment unavailable in Gaza?
Who will say the Salat al-Janazah, with her father stuck two years in an Israeli jail, without charge…
Yes, there is some water, Alhamdulillah – enough for a cup of tea. She lights the gas. It burns a moment, sputters, and dies. The gas has given up the ghost.
She sighs. She prays. She crawls back into the bed she shares with her children, a mattress on the floor of the room they now call home. A room in the already-overcrowded house of a relative, where five families inhabit each of the five bedrooms that once housed but one child – yet still better than the rubbled remains of their own houses, struck by Israeli rockets, made unlivable by floodwaters, and for which repairs are impossible because of the lack of building materials.
At least she is not alone, she thinks as she dozes off, wrapping her surviving children in the warmth of her love, the only thing she has to give them.
Who will help her, this mother of Gaza, on this Mothers’ Day – or any other day?
Norway, Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand have already done it. The United Kingdom, Germany, Greece and Italy are about to.
Activists all around the planet are today presenting Egyptian embassies and consulates with the demands of more than 12,000 people worldwide to permanently open the Rafah crossing, leave the tunnels alone, and allow travel and trade for Gazans trapped by the Israeli siege.
First off the mark was Norway, where Lene Oline Sedolfsen presented the petition to the Egyptian diplomats. Next was Ottowa, where Tyler Levitan and Hassan Husseini made the delivery. Then Washington DC, where Pam Bailey accompanied Medea Benjamin and Gael Murphy to the Egyptian consulate presented the demands to Dr. Yasser Elwy. In Sydney James Godfrey and Michael Coleman from Free Gaza Australia handed it over to consular official Ahmed Morsy, while in New Zealand Egyptian embassy official Mahmoud Zayed received it from Julie Webb-Pullman in Wellington.
The petition, an initiative of the #OpenRafahBorder International Campaign, a grassroots organisation of students and activists from Gaza who deceided to do something about the suffering caused by the Rafah border closures, was accepted by all of the diplomats with courtesy and respect, and promises to forward them to their superiors in Cairo.
The activists reported the diplomats also made the same points:
• While Egypt is concerned about the situation in Gaza, it is primarily an issue for Israel as the occupying power. Thus, for example, Egypt does not want to formalize or legalize the tunnels — which would let Israel off the hook, while also jeopardizing Egypt’s security.
• Egypt has a right to deal with security issues in the Sinai Peninsular. There is no policy calling for, or a desire to impose, collective punishment. Its restrictions on traffic in and out of Rafah come only when there is terrorist activity in the Sinai. Egypt must also worry about its population there, so there is an inevitable, unavoidable trade-off.
• Egypt is working to end the occupation by supporting John Kerry’s so-called “peace process.”
• Egypt feels a strong bond with the Palestinians, and always will.
While it is not surprising to hear them all singing from the same songbook, they may find themselves surprised by the increasingly loud chorus from the international community unsatisfied with their libretto.
Nothing any of the Egyptian diplomats said justifies the role of Egypt in the continued closure of Gaza, and the ongoing suffering of 1.7 million people.
“Ultimately, Rafah must be expanded to allow security without closure, as well as the movement of goods, in addition to people,” said Pam Bailey after the meeting in Washington DC.
Is this a realistic prospect?
It certainly is. Earlier this month Israel rejected a donated high-tech container scanner at the Kerem Shalom crossing that Dutch officials consider would provide a solution to Israel’s security concerns about Gazan exports.
If the Egyptians are serious about their bond with Palestinians, avoiding collective punishment, and dealing with security issues, they and the Netherlands could negotiate the scanner’s relocation to Rafah – and open the border forthwith.
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said that large regions of the Gaza Strip are a “disaster area” and called on the world community to lift the Israeli blockade in order to allow recovery efforts to proceed, in a statement sent to Ma’an.
“Large swathes of northern Gaza are a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see. Areas around Jabalia have become a massive lake with two meter high waters engulfing homes and stranding thousands,” the statement read.
“Four thousand UNRWA workers are battling the floods and have evacuated hundreds of families to UNRWA facilities. Our sanitation, manintenance workers, social workers and medical staff have been working through the night and round the clock to assist the most vulnerable, the old, the sick, children and women,” the statement continued.
“We have distributed five thousand of litres of fuel to local pumping stations, but the situation is dire and with the flood waters rising, the risk of water borne disease can only increase. This is a terrible situation which can only get worse before it gets better,” it added, referring to major fuel shortages across the Gaza Strip that have dramatically worsened in the last few months.
Gunness also highlighted the need for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to allow the region recover from the current crisis.
“When all this is over, the world community needs to bring effective pressure to end the blockade of Gaza,” he said.
“Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster. But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this,” the statement continued.
“And of course it is the most vulnerable, the women and children, the elderly who wil pay the highest price of failure to end the blockade.”
The Gaza Strip is currently under a state of emergency due to severe weather conditions caused by a historic storm front moving south across the Levant.
Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt since early November, as power plants and water pumps are forced to shut down, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.
The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of November, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.
The plant itself was only reopened last year after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip’s electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.
Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.
In the last year, however, the situation had greatly improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.
Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Gaza Strip authorities to afford.