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Even Though Gaza Lies in Ruins, the Siege Goes on

Richard Boegner


February 02, 2009

For reasons no one has yet been able to discover, a water purification system that France donated to the people of Gaza lies stranded on the Israeli-Gaza border, lacking the necessary authorization to enter the strip. « There were a very great number of steps taken at all levels to try to get the water purification station into Gaza », French Foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier told Reuters.

Yet, the Israeli authorities refused to allow the equipment to enter.

As a result, « we have decided to repatriate it», the spokesman added…

A few days earlier, Israeli soldiers had fired warning shots at a diplomatic convoy leaving Gaza. French and European diplomats were held for six hours at the Erez border point, according to AFP. The diplomats were on a fact-finding mission in Gaza, assessing the needs of the population and the progress of French aid projects on the ground. Israel´s ambassador in Paris was promptly summoned to the French Foreign ministry, and asked for an official explanation…

Though Israel´s military operation appears to be over and a tenuous truce still holds, Gaza´s borders remain tense and sealed.

Last week, one Israeli soldier was killed and several wounded when their patrol car hit a remote-controlled road-side bomb. A radical offshoot of Hamas, Global Jihad, said to be linked to Al Qaeda, is suspected of being behind the deed, according to Haaretz. The Israeli Defense Forces swiftly retaliated…

On Sunday however, Gaza militants launched two rockets and one mortar shell into Israel…There were no casualties, but the Israeli air force responded by bombing a Gaza police station, and the tunnel network near the border with Egypt…

As a result, Israelis have only authorized some humanitarian aid to enter.

The ordinary people here in Gaza are not getting enough help and are not getting it quickly enough » declared John Ging head of UNWRA (the UN Relief and Works Agency) in Gaza. « There are thousands of tons of assistance generously donated sitting in Egypt, Jordan and also in the ports of Israel. That aid should be here, right now, helping the people who need it », he told AP.

Egypt has also been admitting only medical supplies, and has insisted on sending all other forms of aid to Israel first, who will then, in theory, allow it to enter Gaza.. And yet, most of its shipments do not meet stringent Israeli packaging and security requirements, according to Michael Slackman of the NYT. All goods must first be screened before they are transferred to Israeli trucks for the journey to Gaza.

As a result, many shipments are refused and sent back to Egypt…

The borders have been sealed ever since Hamas won the 2006 legislative elections, defeating the incumbents, the corrupt and feckless Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Abbas, supported by the US, Israel, Egypt and the West…

The noose tightened when, a year later, Hamas routed Fatah forces, after the latter´s failed coup attempt, and expelled them from the Gaza strip.

To punish Hamas, only humanitarian essentials have been allowed to trickle in.

Dov Weisglass, an adviser to the Israeli Prime minister, described Israeli´s Gaza policy thus, according to The Guardian, UK: « the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger »…

Egypt has refused to open its borders because it considers Gaza to be an Israeli problem, not an Egyptian one. In addition, it has always supported Fatah, and loathes Hamas´ brand of Islamic militancy, which could spill into Egypt and create unrest there…

Israel will only consent to reopen the borders once a definite truce has been signed, one that prevents the rearming of Hamas, that is internationally guaranteed, and that secures the release of one of its soldiers captured by Hamas in 2006, Gilad Shalit.

Gazans have had to rely on the two to four hundred tunnels linking the strip with Egypt for other essential goods that Israel refused to allow in the territory.

Hamas´ military wing has also used the tunnels to smuggle weapons inside Gaza.

The Israeli defense Forces managed to destroy about half of them during its three-week offensive, according to Spiegel Online.

Gaza´s needs however, are enormous.

During the three week military onslaught, 21,000 houses were destroyed (an average of one thousand a day), 45,000 others were damaged: 100,000 Gazans are now homeless. Fifty schools, 23 mosques were damaged, 230 factories, manufacturing everything from paint to soft drinks were obliterated, according to TIME. « What hadn´t been destroyed by the siege was finished off by bombs and tanks » Amr Hamad, of the Palestinian Federation of Industries, told AP.

The Al Ameer factory, which reportedly produced the finest ice cream in Gaza was blown up.« I can´t figure out why the Israelis thought that Hamas had anything to do with ice cream », the owner Yaser Alwadeya told TIME magazine.

Anywhere from 35% to 60% of Gaza´s agricultural sector was also devastated, according to World Food Program and Palestinian officials, quoted by The Observer, UK, accentuating the territory´s dependence on foreign sources of food.

Even the American International School, Gaza´s best, offering an American curriculum, was leveled by Israeli rockets…

According to the UN, rebuilding Gaza will cost some $1.5 billion

From the public health point of view, Gaza´s predicament is even more worrisome.

The same bureaucratic and political impediments preventing supplies from coming in have also inhibited Palestinian children from receiving medical treatment abroad.

Though some managed to be sent to Egypt and elsewhere immediately after the violence ended, the Palestinian Health ministry, based in Ramallah in the West Bank, and which is under the control of Palestinian Authority President Abbas, no longer allows wounded children to leave Gaza. A diplomatic source told Jonathan Cook, of The National, UAE, « the PA wants to show it is exercising authority in Gaza, too. It is using its control over the international medical aid reaching Gaza as a way to show it is in charge and making things happen »…

Yet, the Palestinian health network, already debilitated by years of blockade, was further battered by the Israeli offensive.

The health facilities lack modern equipment and the trained staff to operate it efficiently, and enough psychologists to help tend to the needs of a population traumatized by violence.

The Gaza Community Mental Health Program employs thirty psychiatrists and is Gaza´s largest mental health center. Not only children, but adults, and particularly adult males have been significantly perturbed by the military offensive.

The director of the clinic, Dr Eyad Sarraj, told Al Jazeera´s Zeina Awad that « adults are the symbol of protection, providing and power for the children. Adults have already been lost as providers because of the economic siege. During this war, they were lost as protectors. Children were looking up to them, ´where is a safe place? How can you protect me?´ Some felt defeated as men, defeated in the struggle because they could not defend their children ».

Israel´s military offensive killed some 1,300 Palestinians, and wounded around 5,000, nearly half of them women and children…

In addition, an outbreak of cholera is far from impossible.

Dr Haddad, an Israeli-Arab doctor from the Carmiel Medical Centre told Jonathan Cook, « although most of the bodies have been recovered from the rubble, you can see and smell that there are dead animals- sheep, goats, dogs and cats-everywhere ».

Only an end to the siege can allow Gaza to recover and its citizens to lead decent, productive lives.

Yet, without a political agreement involving Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the borders will remain essentially closed.

Hamas, however, does not recognize Israel; Israel will do nothing to legitimize Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization, as do the US and the West, and is in the midst of an election campaign; and Hamas no longer recognizes President Abbas, whose mandate expired early January, and who initially sided with Israel at the outbreak of the latest violence, on December 27...

The Egyptians thus have a vital role to play as intermediary, since Hamas and Israel will not negotiate directly, and Hamas and the PA are barely on speaking terms…

The new US envoy George Mitchell has just concluded his first meetings with the main protagonists, except for the leaders of Hamas, and is thus not yet in a position to be much of a factor..

Meanwhile, the Gazans wait, endure and the siege continues…

This isn´t about keeping the people of Gaza alive on a drip of medicine and subsistence aid », John Ging told TIME. « That allows extremism to ferment in Gaza ».

And that fermentation process cannot possibly be in anyone´s interest…

:: Article nr. 51454 sent on 02-feb-2008 17:42 ECT


Link: www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/89772

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