[News] Gaza is a jail. Nobody is allowed to leave.

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 8 12:10:34 EDT 2006


September 7, 2006

"Gaza is a jail. Nobody is allowed to leave. We are all starving now."

Gaza is Dying



Gaza is dying. The Israeli siege of the Palestinian enclave is so 
tight that its people are on the edge of starvation. Here on the 
shores of the Mediterranean a great tragedy is taking place that is 
being ignored because the world's attention has been diverted by wars 
in Lebanon and Iraq.

A whole society is being destroyed. There are 1.5 million 
Palestinians imprisoned in the most heavily populated area in the 
world. Israel has stopped all trade. It has even forbidden fishermen 
to go far from the shore so they wade into the surf to try vainly to 
catch fish with hand-thrown nets.

Many people are being killed by Israeli incursions that occur every 
day by land and air. A total of 262 people have been killed and 1,200 
wounded, of whom 60 had arms or legs amputated, since 25 June, says 
Dr Juma al-Saqa, the director of the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City 
which is fast running out of medicine. Of these, 64 were children and 
26 women. This bloody conflict in Gaza has so far received only a 
fraction of the attention given by the international media to the war 
in Lebanon.

It was on June 25 that the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was taken 
captive and two other soldiers were killed by Palestinian militants 
who used a tunnel to get out of the Gaza Strip. In the aftermath of 
this, writes Gideon Levy in the daily Haaretz, the Israeli army "has 
been rampaging through Gaza - there's no other word to describe it - 
killing and demolishing, bombing and shelling, indiscriminately". 
Gaza has essentially been reoccupied since Israeli troops and tanks 
come and go at will. In the northern district of Shajhayeh they took 
over several houses last week and stayed five days. By the time they 
withdrew, 22 Palestinians had been killed, three houses were 
destroyed and groves of olive, citrus and almond trees had been bulldozed.

Fuad al-Tuba, the 61-year-old farmer who owned a farm here, said: 
"They even destroyed 22 of my bee-hives and killed four sheep." He 
pointed sadly to a field, its brown sandy earth churned up by tracks 
of bulldozers, where the stumps of trees and broken branches with 
wilting leaves lay in heaps. Near by a yellow car was standing on its 
nose in the middle of a heap of concrete blocks that had once been a 
small house.

His son Baher al-Tuba described how for five days Israeli soldiers 
confined him and his relatives to one room in his house where they 
survived by drinking water from a fish pond. "Snipers took up 
positions in the windows and shot at anybody who came near," he said. 
"They killed one of my neighbors called Fathi Abu Gumbuz who was 56 
years old and just went out to get water."

Sometimes the Israeli army gives a warning before a house is 
destroyed. The sound that Palestinians most dread is an unknown voice 
on their cell phone saying they have half an hour to leave their home 
before it is hit by bombs or missiles. There is no appeal.

But it is not the Israeli incursions alone that are destroying Gaza 
and its people. In the understated prose of a World Bank report 
published last month, the West Bank and Gaza face "a year of 
unprecedented economic recession. Real incomes may contract by at 
least a third in 2006 and poverty to affect close to two thirds of 
the population." Poverty in this case means a per capita income of 
under $2 a day.

There are signs of desperation everywhere. Crime is increasing. 
People do anything to feed their families. Israeli troops entered the 
Gaza industrial zone to search for tunnels and kicked out the 
Palestinian police. When the Israelis withdrew they were replaced not 
by the police but by looters. On one day this week there were three 
donkey carts removing twisted scrap metal from the remains of 
factories that once employed thousands.

"It is the worst year for us since 1948 [when Palestinian refugees 
first poured into Gaza]," says Dr Maged Abu-Ramadan, a former 
ophthalmologist who is mayor of Gaza City. "Gaza is a jail. Neither 
people nor goods are allowed to leave it. People are already 
starving. They try to live on bread and falafel and a few tomatoes 
and cucumbers they grow themselves."

The few ways that Gazans had of making money have disappeared. Dr 
Abu-Ramadan says the Israelis "have destroyed 70 per cent of our 
orange groves in order to create security zones." Carnations and 
strawberries, two of Gaza's main exports, were thrown away or left to 
rot. An Israeli air strike destroyed the electric power station so 55 
per cent of power was lost. Electricity supply is now becoming almost 
as intermittent as in Baghdad.

The Israeli assault over the past two months struck a society already 
hit by the withdrawal of EU subsidies after the election of Hamas as 
the Palestinian government in March. Israel is withholding taxes owed 
on goods entering Gaza. Under US pressure, Arab banks abroad will not 
transfer funds to the government.

Two thirds of people are unemployed and the remaining third who 
mostly work for the state are not being paid. Gaza is now by far the 
poorest region on the Mediterranean. Per capita annual income is 
$700, compared with $20,000 in Israel. Conditions are much worse than 
in Lebanon where Hizbollah liberally compensates war victims for loss 
of their houses. If Gaza did not have enough troubles this week there 
were protest strikes and marches by unpaid soldiers, police and 
security men. These were organized by Fatah, the movement of the 
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, which 
lost the election to Hamas in January. His supporters marched through 
the streets waving their Kalashnikovs in the air. "Abu Mazen you are 
brave," they shouted. "Save us from this disaster." Sour-looking 
Hamas gunmen kept a low profile during the demonstration but the two 
sides are not far from fighting it out in the streets.

The Israeli siege and the European boycott are a collective 
punishment of everybody in Gaza. The gunmen are unlikely to be 
deterred. In a bed in Shifa Hospital was a sturdy young man called 
Ala Hejairi with wounds to his neck, legs, chest and stomach. "I was 
laying an anti-tank mine last week in Shajhayeh when I was hit by 
fire from an Israeli drone," he said. "I will return to the 
resistance when I am better. Why should I worry? If I die I will die 
a martyr and go to paradise."

His father, Adel, said he was proud of what his son had done adding 
that three of his nephews were already martyrs. He supported the 
Hamas government: "Arab and Western countries want to destroy this 
government because it is the government of the resistance."

As the economy collapses there will be many more young men in Gaza 
willing to take Ala Hejairi's place. Untrained and ill-armed most 
will be killed. But the destruction of Gaza, now under way, will 
ensure that no peace is possible in the Middle East for generations to come.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 
Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', to be published 
by Verso in October

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