During a recent visit, a 50-person European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza (ECESG) assessed conditions on the ground firsthand, one year after Operation Cast Lead:
"to collect and document the facts, and then return to our respective countries and the European Parliament to push for actions that will bring immediate humanitarian relief and an end to the siege, as well as peace and justice to the Palestinian people," what they've long been denied under a repressive occupation.
ECESG (www.savegaza.eu) calls itself:
"an umbrella body of non-governmental organizations across Europe that advocates (for) the fundamental right of the Palestinian people in Gaza to live in peace and dignity without being subjected to any form of collective punishment....ECESG supports the restoration of (Gazans') inalienable rights....and lobbies for pressure to be exerted on (Israel) to lift its siege and end the human tragedy there."
Meetings were held with Palestinian Legislative Council members, Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, and UNRWA Director of Operations, John Ging.
Areas toured were most affected, including Izbet Abet Rabu, the Al-Fakhoura School, and the Al-Salam neighborhood. Delegates also met with Al-Samouni family survivors who lost 23 members during the war.
They saw firsthand what human rights and various international organizations documented, including the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Goldstone Commission's damning indictment of Israeli crimes of war and against humanity after its extensive 2009 fact finding mission.
The combination of destructive war, siege, and humanitarian crisis has been well reported. Nonetheless, ECESG's report is important because it's current and by 50 European parliamentarians and ministers, able to reach other high level officials at home, perhaps with enough clout for action - if not now, toward it happening sooner.
Israel's edifice is weakening. It's just a matter of time until it's effectively pierced. The ECESG, Judge Goldstone, the Global BDS movement, and other committed activists will realize it by relentlessly hammering for peace, equality and justice. Nothing less must be accepted or tolerated.
Highlights of ECESG's Report - Destruction of Homes
Many thousands need "complete rebuilding (or) major repairs" - besides the huge backlog of others from previous Israeli-inflicted destruction. As a result, throughout Gaza, houses are half built for lack of materials, many "condemned as unhygienic or unsafe to live in."
Colin Low, UK House of Lords member and president of the European Blind Union said:
"I was immediately struck by the desperate condition of the inhabitants of Izbet Abed Rabu, a small village (in) northeastern Gaza. Some 300 - 400 houses, a factory and farmland had been completely razed to the ground. (What's left) could only be described as a bomb site through which I had to pick my way carefully. We met a family who were obviously (for over a year) living in the most abject of conditions - three or four generations, including an old lady....over 100, living in a tent without washing facilities of any kind and only a make shift fire on the ground for cooking."
Clear evidence also found showed Israeli forces targeted civilian homes with heavy-caliber weapons and shells - attacks unrelated to military necessity, but to target civilians and ease access for IDF troops.
"The use of such unwarranted weapons on civilian buildings....indicates a deliberate breach of" Fourth Geneva, unmentioned in the Goldstone report. It also corroborates Israeli NGOs (including Breaking the Silence) saying commanders ordered troops to intimidate the local population - kill civilians and destroy homes, other property and non-military structures to prevent a return to normalcy post-conflict.
The Al-Samouni family (that lost 23 of its 48 members) was also visited. Earlier, Masouda Al-Samouni told the Palestinians Centre for Human Rights (PCHR):
"I have no hope, no future, I lost everything in the offensive. I was in the corner with my children just watching. I was screaming and crying, I saw everything, the blood and the brains. There was smoke everywhere. I saw my brother-in-law falling down, and my mother-in-law. I realized that my three brothers-in-law and my mother-in-law were dead....I was injured in the chest and couldn't move....I was bleeding and five months pregnant."
Israeli soldiers entered Ateya Al-Samouni's home forcibly. He identified himself as the owner. "The soldiers shot him while he was still holding his ID and an Israeli driving license. The soldiers then opened fire inside the room" where 20 family members were sheltered, killing or wounding many. Other abuse followed, including Mona Al-Samouni witnessing her parents shot to death and Almaza A-Samouni, whose mother and six siblings were killed.
Survivors suffer from depression and nightmares. Like most others throughout Gaza, they live in deep poverty with no source of income and no publicity about their plight.
"It is shocking that such destruction and trauma are still festering more than a year after the invasion."
It's because of Israel's imposed siege, prohibiting vitally needed construction materials from entering, except for a few token truckloads a month for a 1.5 million population needing hundreds on a regular basis to rebuild.
As a result, education is in crisis for lack of facilities, supplies, and traumatized children unable to concentrate on learning. Even before the war, the siege heavily impacted schools. The previous year, 82% of government schools and 88% of UNRWA ones operated on double-shifts of necessity.
Post-conflict, it's much worse. Hundreds of schools were damaged, 18 or more entirely destroyed, and several others used as shelters were targeted to kill civilians, dozens in all.
International law prohibits attacking schools, hospitals, mosques, UN facilities and other non-military structures. Doing so is a war crime. Doing it in densely populated Gaza was gratuitous mass murder, especially since UNRWA head John Ging gave IDF forces exact coordinates of UN facilities, including schools attacked. He also said:
"I can tell you categorically that there was no military activity in (the Al-Fakhoura) school at the time of the tragedy. (Those murdered) were innocent people," sheltering from conflict.
The American International School was also visited, entirely destroyed and not rebuilt one year later. "To date, almost nothing has been rebuilt or repaired as a result of the ban on" construction materials. Gerald Kaufman, British MP said:
"The Minister of Education told us that the exam results at the schools are falling since (the war). Even worse, we were told by psychiatrists that children now routinely ask when they will die." Every day longer the siege continues further damages Gaza's youths.
Living Without Power
Although key lines were restored, 90% of Gazans experience up to 8 hours of stoppage daily, EU nations exacerbating conditions by cutting off pre-siege PEGASE program funding - subsidies for fuel purchases. As a result, over half of all Gazans have reduced or no power because the sole plant can't supply it. Refrigerators, stoves, heaters and other appliances can't be used. Children can't do homework in the dark. Emergency surgeries are disrupted or can't be performed, at times with life-threatening consequences.
Lack of Enough Clean Water
The supply and regular disruptions are a daily fact of life, especially for half the population in high-rise buildings "where water must be carried to upper stories using electric pumps." As a result, bathing, brushing teeth, doing laundry, washing dishes, and preparing meals at times are impossible.
Sanitation infrastructure was also badly damaged and not repaired. Gaza's Coastal Municipalities Water Utility said that since the blockade it's been hampered by few essential spare parts to operate. In addition, "The increased pumping....depleted the aquifer and accelerated the salin(ity) of the water."
Loss of pressure also lets polluted water enter pipes, sent straight to households when distribution resumes. "About 90 percent of the water supplied to Gaza residents is not suitable for drinking, according to" WTO standards because of sea and contaminated water infiltration. As a result, water-related illnesses are widespread, and conditions are worsening and life-threatening.
Easily preventable diarrhea causes 12% of childhood deaths, and of 40,000 "newborn babies this year, at least half are at immediate risk of nitrate poisoning; the incidence of 'blue baby-syndrome (methaemoglobinaemia) is exceptionally high."
Nitrate poisoning is a major problem. In some places, it's 300 times the WTO standard.
Based on availability for those who can afford it, buying water privately trucked in is the only alternative other than begging from neighbors or doing without at great risk.
Waste water treatment facilities suffered "a complete breakdown," according to Ibraheim Radwan of Gaza's Engineering Syndicate. He described the impact of raw sewage flows to the sea and at times streets with contaminants leaching into tap water.
Lack of enough power and fuel are the problems, without which facilities can't operate. As a result, Gaza's three purification plants run sporadically, and 80 million liters of sewage reach the sea daily, more than half the output. Half is partially treated, the remainder raw.
For dependent Gazans, it's like living atop a toxic waste dump containing the most hazardous contaminants, endangering health and human life.
Mohammed Al Aklouk, Chair of Gaza's Public Service Association, "described how the crises in construction, power, water and sanitation affect the vital provision of healthcare" for everyone in need. Facilities are doing what they can "within the constraints imposed by the blockade."
It's not easy because shortages of everything exist, and much was destroyed and not replaced. There's also "a chronic shortage of specialized medical personnel and access to training," besides spare parts, needed equipment, and dozens of unavailable drugs for cancer, heart, kidney and other diseases, and psychiatric disorders. What's available runs out and isn't replaced because of siege restrictions.
Most often, even for emergencies, care outside Gaza is also denied because crossings remain closed. In addition, doctors report an alarming increase in birth defects and other medical problems because of exposure to white phosphorous and other hazardous chemicals - war crimes when used as weapons. Worse ones against civilian men, women and children. Worst of all in densely populated Gaza.
According to Jolanta Szczypinska, Polish MP, "The white phosphorous that was used by the Israeli army in the heavily populated civilian area of Izbet Abed Rabu was still burning a year after the war."
Emotional as Well as Physical Suffering
As a result of the siege and conflict, a plague of psychological trauma afflicts Gazans, especially children, 73% of whom suffer emotional and behavioral disorders according to post-war studies. Most common are nightmares, involuntary urination, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, aggression and bed-wetting.
Save the Children's Osama Damo called Gaza "a traumatized nation." Out of fear, children can't sleep. "Others cry at the sound of loud noises, mistaking them for military jets and tanks coming to bomb their homes." The stress level endangers mental health and future for entire the population.
Gaza's Agriculture in Shambles
Pre-siege and conflict, it provided employment for 13% of Gaza's workforce, and it thrived with a capacity to grow around 400,000 tons of produce a year, a third for export.
It supplied much of Gaza's food needs. No longer after tanks and armored vehicles raised around 17% of arable land, including the same percentage of olive, date and other fruit orchards and over 9% of open fields. Greenhouses, livestock and shelters, irrigation channels, wells and pumps were also bombed or bulldozed, and replacement materials and parts are prohibited.
Further, up to one-third of agricultural land lies in so-called "no-go" areas - Israel's imposed "buffer zone," expanded to anywhere from 300 meters to two kilometers into Gaza. As a result, many farmers lost their livelihoods and nearly half of agricultural land can't be used.
According to UK House of Lords member Baroness Jenny Tonge, children lack basic nutrients "to develop properly. The result: anemia, stunted growth, attention deficit disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc."
Employment or Lack of It
Operation Cast Lead destroyed or severely damaged hundreds of businesses and factories. As a result, an estimated 120,000 private sector jobs were lost. Gaza's tunnel economy compensates but can't replace a normally functioning economy, impossible under siege prohibiting a way to rebuild.
Solutions Not Forthcoming
With Fatah running the West Bank and Hamas (Gaza's legitimate government, bogusly designated a terrorist organization) in charge of Gaza, "most funds are being channeled to the West Bank instead of Gaza and 80 percent of Gaza's population is living under the poverty line."
Commenting, British MP Robert Marshall-Andrews said:
"We find greater-than-apparent significance in the destruction of parliamentary, administrative and police buildings....when we place it in the context of similar actions that have been systematically conducted in the past few years in areas such as Nablus and Ramallah. By destroying civilian infrastructure for both politics and policing, the Israeli forces continue to undermine the argument they make about Palestinians not being able to be a partner for peace that can deliver security."
Maliciously taking away their livelihoods and the argument increases several fold. "The people of Gaza await justice!"
ECESG's Call to Action
Rhetoric aside, EU nations failed to translate words to actions. They and America must take the lead to end the blockade to prevent June 2010 from being its third anniversary. Specifically ECESG calls for:
-- ending the siege;
-- arresting suspected war criminals and holding them accountable;
-- inviting the Palestinian Legislative Council to EU capitals for engagement with European Parliament officials;
-- the international community must respect and support future Palestinian elected officials, whether or not they approve voter choices;
-- violence against civilians must be condemned "from any source and for any reason;" and
-- a unity Fatah-Hamas government is essential, without explaining that Hamas was democratically elected; Fatah usurped West Bank power and holds it illegally.
"Unity" requires letting Hamas serve the people who elected it, not a bogus coup d'etat regime with no legitimacy, working against the interests of its own people by allying with Israel and Washington for its own interests.
According to British MP Clare Short:
"What is clear to me is that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is very dire, and regardless of the politics of the situation, all parties - the EU, US, Egypt, the Arab League and Israel - should take much more vigorous action as a matter of urgency to relieve it. If they do not, a deprived and traumatized generation fueled by hatred and a desire for revenge will become a ticking time-bomb in the explosive cauldron of the Middle East."
Short left out that Washington and Israel generate it - Israel an occupier with imperial aims; America its funder, weapons and technology supplier, and partnered hegemon with global ambitions.
Short of a policy and direction change, Gazan and West Bank Palestinians will continue to suffer until the entire region erupts with unpredictable consequences for all parties involved. So far, nothing is being done to prevent it, leaving an explosive situation unaddressed.
A Final Comment
On April 19, Gaza's Health Ministry warned that an ongoing fuel shortage is exacerbating an already grave humanitarian crisis. The announcement followed the April 9 closure of the Strip's only power plant, causing a total blackout.
Hospitals and clinics turned to emergency generators, but they need fuel, so the problem persists. Health Ministry Director General Medhat Abbas called the situation "devastating" in explaining its importance for refrigeration, labs and blood banks as well as emergency services. He asked the international community for immediate and urgent help, what up to now has been entirely absent short of rhetoric.
As a result, Palestinians continue to suffer and die, out of sight and mind of world leaders who largely don't give a damn. Why else would they tolerate nearly three years of medieval siege that's slowly starving 1.5 million people to death, a holocaust they refuse to acknowledge or prevent.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.