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Home arrow Blog arrow November 2009 arrow November 24, 2009

November 24, 2009
November 24, 2009: Back to Gaza 

Last week Israel announced a sharp increase in the transfer of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

That announcement coincided with the publication of a statement of concern by the European Union regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza, noting that there has been no improvement since January 2009.
Israel isn't paying for the aid to Gaza. International organizations are paying for the problems Israel's created with millions wasted on logistics to work around those restrictions and also because of Israel's Dec/Jan. attack which drastically increased the need for more aid.
In 2007, aid represented 3% of all imports into the Gaza Strip. In 2009, aid represents 26% of all imports. 95% of Gaza's factories have been shut down. Israel continues to prevent the import of raw materials for industry and the unemployment rate has risen from 30% since the siege on Gaza began to 41.5% today.

I last saw Rev. Bob Tobin at this time last year:

He wrote the following:

My Day in Gaza

As I approached my trip to Gaza last week, I tried to prepare myself for what I knew would be difficult to see and hear.  My preparation was of no avail.  What I saw and heard was far more discouraging and painful than I could have imagined.


I traveled to Gaza with Harry Gunkel, a physician who is working in the West Bank and travels to Gaza to the Al Ahli hospital.  Maurine and I were looking forward to visiting the hospital where our friend, Suhaila Tarazi is the director.   Alas, Maurine was not issued a permit by the Israeli military for what reasons we still don’t know.  Maurine and Suhaila are especially close and to deny them a chance of be with each other is just another example of the arbitrary and irrational use of policy and authority that the Israelis employ.


Gaza, as you already know is a disaster.  The rubble of 20,000 destroyed or damaged homes is more than discouraging.  There are tents outside the rubble where families are living, hoping against hope that there will be some reconstruction before winter.  However, no building supplies are being allowed in so the coming months look bleak for thousands of people.  According to the UN, more than 90% of the water of Gaza is contaminated and raw sewage must be pumped directly into the sea making fishing dangerous.  The tunnels have recently been bombed again, cutting off the only supplies getting in.  I keep asking myself, ‘Where is the international outrage?  How can good people allow their fellow human beings continue to be slowly murdered?  Why does our Congress continue to justify our complicity by ignoring the breach of humanitarian and international law?  More than that, we condemn the Goldstone report that simply seeks the truth so that the world can see.  I wish I could deny what I have seen with my own eyes, but I can’t and I won’t.


The upside of my visit was visiting the Al Ahli hospital.  I was asked to celebrate the Eucharist for the hospital staff in the hospital chapel which still bears the scars of an Israeli bomb that damaged the roof and struck next to the altar.  The dozen or so Christians there were most responsive as several Muslim hospital patients observed through the door.  It was a very moving experience for me as I tried to speak to their situation with some element of hope.  All I could say in the final analysis is that there are many in the U.S. who care and try to work for their release as prisoners of the brutal occupation and blockade that is causing them so much pain.  My words sounded empty.


After the service we talked about what happened during the Israeli invasion and the ministry of the hospital.   Suhaila had prepared a wonderful lunch for us as she usually does when we are there. The hospital pharmacist, with some remaining fear in her voice, told of how she hunkered down while the bombs destroyed the large building next door hoping her shaking walls would not collapse upon her.  Suhaila spoke of her desire to get to the hospital because so many casualties were coming in.  When she finally did get to the hospital she did not go home for weeks.  The hospital itself had no remaining glass in the windows.  They used garbage bags to cover the windows as best they could so the patients would have some warmth.  The windows have recently been repaired with glass that cost four times what it cost before.  Most came through the tunnels.


Although it is not reported in the western press, the bombing continues everyday.  Samira, Suhaila’s assistant, said that in her area north of Gaza City they live with bombs and planes every day.  The talk on the street is that there is another invasion coming.  American and Israeli troops are on maneuvers in the Negev.  This is the first time this has occurred.


There is still a great need for competent hospital care.  Other hospitals were more severely damaged. Al Ahli is at capacity and, in spite of all, is doing some great things for the people they can care for. They have a new psycho-social program to treat children.  Since the invasion, they have treated 660 children on an on going basis using most of the hospital staff.  They have offered psycho-social training in the community.  Forty five or fifty organizations have requested their services.  Since the local mental health hospital was bombed and had to close, the need is even more acute.


 They have opened a Women’s Center with OB-GYN services and free breast cancer screening.  They have already treated more that 550 women.  In January they will expand the program with four new female MDs, five midwives, and one specialist.  A midwife course will be offered to community and other hospital personnel.   They have fed more than 800 elderly women who have little access to the few programs available.  Suhaila said that 35,000 people had been treated by October, 2009.


Much depends on whether medical personnel can get permits to come into Gaza.  Many MDs have been turned away at the border crossing.  Currently, the Birds, a medical couple from Australia are working at the hospital in the psycho social unit and in the surgical unit doing plastic surgery. But they must leave at the end of November.  I can only marvel at the staff’s resilience and commitment.  Suhaila is praying for a new building to incorporate their new work.


The ongoing issue is the refusal of permits by the IDF and the blockade of medicine, basic essentials, and building materials. Malnutrition, unemployment, and homelessness are rampant.  Very rarely can Gazans get out.  And frequently internationals are refused entry.  I was indeed fortunate to get in.  It is better to know than not to know. I know more than I want to know. But I am humbled by the friends we have made, their faith and compassion. We must stand with them.  We cannot stop trying to release them from their captivity.  

Pray for Gaza, pray for Israel, pray for us all, Bob



A Letter from Gaza: To President Obama
By Professor Haidar Eid - Gaza Strip

Dear Mr. President,
You will probably not read this letter due to your busy schedule and the huge number of messages you receive from Presidents, Kings, Princes, Sheiks, and Prime Ministers. Who is a Palestinian academic from Gaza, after all, to have the guts and write an open letter to the President of the United States of America?

What has triggered this letter is a picture of your Excellency sitting with the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. That, of course, happened before 2004.i.e, before you underwent a process of metamorphosis which I personally think is unprecedented in history. Seeing you with Edward Said, I must say, surprised me.  Said, a true public intellectual must have said something to you about the suffering of the Palestinian people. In the picture, you and your wife seem to be listening attentively, and admiringly, to him. But the point remains; did you really understand his eloquent, passionate defence of the rights of the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine? Judging from your recent policy shifts, I very much doubt it. It is precisely the incongruity between the photograph and these policy shifts that has prompted this letter.

Mr. President,

The whole world celebrated your election as the first African-American president of the US. I did not. Neither did the inhabitants of the concentration camp where I live. Your sympathetic visit to Sderot—an Israeli town which was the Palestinian village of Hooj until 1948 when its people were ethnically cleansed-- three years after your first visit to a Kibbutz in northern Israel in support of its residents, and after your pledge to be committed to the security of the Sate of Israel and its "right" to retain unified Jerusalem as the capital city of the Jewish people—to give but few examples—were all clear indications of where your heart lies.

Another reason for the writing of this letter is shock at the indifference and arrogance with which Secretary of State Hilary Clinton dismissed Palestinian concerns about Israel's illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank. Only a few weeks ago you made the admirable statement that all Jewish settlement must halt, and you made it clear that this included expansion of existing settlements as well as the construction of new settlements. However, when Netanyahu let it be known that he had no intention of stopping settlements, you missed an historic opportunity to draw a line: no more billions and no more weapons for Israel unless and until this condition is met. Now Secretary of State Clinton has the Herculean task of pretending that your position on Jewish settlements has not changed, though it is clear you have chosen not to use the very real power at your disposal to bring Israeli policy into line.

About six months after your election, you gave a speech in Cairo, addressed to the Arab and Islamic worlds; which some people found impressive. I found it impressive   in form, but not in substance because your actions have not matched your rhetoric. Why did I not buy the new language of the new American administration? Because while you were giving your speech, we were burying my neighbour, a terminally ill patient, who needed treatment in a hospital abroad, since, thanks to the siege imposed by your own administration and Israel on the Gaza Strip, the facilities that would have saved his life are not available in Gaza. Like more than 400 terminally ill people in Gaza, my neighbour lost his life. In spite of the fine Arabic words of peace, “salaam aleikum,” you made it crystal clear that the point of reference in any negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is Israel's security. By doing that, Mr. President, you  are effectively marginalizing the whole issue of Palestine, and unfortunately setting the stage for renewed Israeli assaults against a starving Gaza, an entity that  has, thanks to your "unbreakable” ties with Israel,  been transformed into the largest concentration camp on Earth.

Your failure to support the Goldstone report, your indifference, not to say your contribution, to Palestinian suffering and the process of “politicide” against the Palestinian people of Gaza is, to say the least, unfathomable, coming from a man  who listened so earnestly to Edward Said. Your advisors must have told you about the cutting off of medicine, food and fuel to the concentration camp where I live. Patients in need of dialysis and other urgent medical treatment are dying every single day. A majority of our children, many the same age as your two beautiful daughters, are badly undernourished. You must have skimmed through the executive summary of the Goldstone report detailing the horror inflicted on 1.5 million civilians for 22 days, horror caused by F16s, Apache helicopters, and phosphorus bombs made in American factories. Hundreds of children were burnt to death by phosphorus bombs; pregnant women were brutally targeted in what Israeli soldiers boasted off on their T-Shirts: "1 bullet, 2 kills." And yet, not a single word of sympathy, Mr. President!

Edward Said had this to say upon his first visit to Gaza: "It’s the most terrifying place I’ve ever been in… it’s a horrifyingly sad place because of the desperation and misery of the way people live. I was unprepared for camps that are much worse than anything I saw in South Africa." This was back in 1993, Mr. President, before conditions dramatically deteriorated. Gaza has now become, as the leading Israeli Human Rights Organization B'tselem describes it, “the largest prison on Earth.”

Mr. Obama,

Unlike your predecessor, you seem to be a smart man. You must have realized that a two-state solution has been rendered impossible by Israeli colonization of the West Bank, by the war on Gaza, by the construction of the apartheid wall,  by the expansion of so-called Greater Jerusalem, and by the increase in the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. You must have realized also that there are 6 million refugees, most of whom live in miserable conditions waiting for courageous, visionary leaders committed to true democracy, human rights and international law to implement UN resolution 194. And yet, you and your State of Secretary, like every U.S. president since 1967, have decided to support Israel in creating conditions that made the two-state solution impossible, impractical and unjust.

Were you a supporter of the Bantustan system in South Africa under the Apartheid system? Are you opposed to equal rights and the transformation of Israel/Palestine into a state for all its citizens? The two-state solution means the Bantustanization of Palestine, a solution you, to our knowledge, never supported for South Africa. Are you, Mr. President, opposed to civic democracy, which is the demand of most Palestinian civil society and grassroots organizations? This is what your role models, Martin Luther King and Steve Biko, died for.  Was Nelson Mandela wrong to spend 27 years of his life in pursuit of justice by demanding equality for the indigenous people of South Africa? Do you realize that what you are supporting in the Middle East is a racist solution par excellence? A solution based on "ethnic nationalism". Your Secretary of State and envoy to the Middle East, unashamedly, stood with beaming smiles next to Avigdor Lieberman, who, not only defends openly the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, but also calls for a new genocide in Gaza! Do you realize, Mr. President, that this Hitlerite fascist might become Israel's next prime minister, thanks to your administration's complacency and support?

Our only immediate demand is that your administration insures that Israel fulfills its obligations in terms of international law. Is that too much to ask?

Mr. President Barak Hussein Obama,
We, the Palestinian people, are fed up!
Professor Haidar Eid
Gaza, Palestine



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