Gaza City in the spotlight: hesitant hope in a city where everyone still wants out

As the UN’s day of solidarity with Palestinians nears, Gazans have restored a hesitant bustle

Miriam Berger, The Guardian, Saturday 25 November 2017

Fishermen off the coast of Gaza City, which is home to a 5,000-year-old port. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
Fishermen off the coast of Gaza City, which is home to a 5,000-year-old port. (David Levene, The Guardian)

Today Medinat Ghazzah, or Gaza City, is running on empty – and yet still going. Gaza City, the Gaza Strip’s principal urban centre, carries various scars of war. Since 2006, Gaza has endured one civil war between Palestinians, three wars between the ruling Hamas militant group and Israel, a decade of Hamas’ repressive rule, and a crushing blockade by neighbouring Israel and Egypt – all of which have crippled the economy and turned the tiny territory into a site of humanitarian crisis.

Gaza City’s dusty buildings and bumpy roads, many still damaged or half-rebuilt from the last war, are at times reminiscent of facades found in Egypt and the Palestinian West Bank. But it is the crushing monotony and suffocating limits of life that define the city for residents who have walked the same streets for a decade without a chance of getting out. Still, the city carries on, with coffee shops, traffic, clothes stores, restaurants and even a new upscale mall offering diversions for those who can afford them.

Palestinians attend Friday noon prayer beneath the fallen minaret during the 2014 war.Palestinians attend Friday noon prayer beneath the fallen minaret during the 2014 war.

The city’s framework, like the rest of Gaza, is innately tied up with politics. Gaza was once part of Britain’s Mandate Palestine. Then came Egyptian occupation in 1948, followed by Israeli in 1967. Now, for the last decade, Hamas, which the European Union has designated as terrorist group, has ruled the tiny territory while Israel controls most borders.

Limited visitors

This month – on 29 November – brings the United Nations international day of solidarity with Palestinians. Gazans, however, don’t see much of the international community these days. That’s in part because Israel strictly limits entry to the Gaza Strip, with mainly journalists (Israelis and Palestinians excluded) and aid and development workers allowed through. Even then, UN bodies and NGOs working in Gaza constrain much of the movement of their foreign staff due to security protocols. Along Gaza City’s highly polluted coast are two expensive hotels that are considered the “safe zone” where aid workers and many journalists stay.

The five-star Arcmed al-Mashta Hotel, built in 2011The five-star Arcmed al-Mashta Hotel, built in 2011

Facing an ineffective and corrupt government, the UN and NGOs have stepped in. Gazans are grateful – but know they can do better and mistrust the politics that dictates where funds are directed. Around much of Gaza are signs thanking Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates for funding reconstruction projects. But the Arab countries have pledged far more for reconstruction than they’ve actually delivered, while many Gazans feel acutely abandoned by the Arab states and international community, and know new buildings still go first to those with Hamas connections.

Gaza City in numbers

40 – rank of Gaza city in 2014 list of most densely populated cities worldwide. At the time, the population of Gaza City and surrounding area was estimated at 750,000.

360 – square kilometers covered by the Gaza Strip, about the size of Detroit.

80 – percentage of families in Gaza who receive some sort of aid.

44 – percentage official unemployment rate in Gaza; for those aged 15-29, the rate rises to 60%.

3 – number of hours of electricity generated by Gaza’s only working electricity plant at a severe low point this summer. For the last few years Gaza has averaged around at most eight hours a day of electricity.

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Children are starving in Yemen

The White House should intervene

A Yemeni woman takes the clothes off her malnourished child. (Yahya Arhab/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock)

Editorial Board, Washington Post, November 20, 2017

IT HAS been two weeks since Saudi Arabia imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Yemen, a country already devastated by two and a half years of Saudi bombing. Before the embargo, Yemen was suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with 7 million people on the brink of famine and another 900,000 stricken by cholera. Those conditions have now grown far worse — and yet the Saudis persist with their siege. It is time for the Trump administration, which has indulged the Saudi leadership for too long, to intervene.

Yemen’s 28 million people depend on imports for up to 90 percent of their basic needs, including food, fuel and medicine. The vast majority of those imports come through the port of Hodeida, in northern Yemen, which along with the capital, Sanaa, is under the control of Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia imposed the blockade after a missile allegedly fired by the Houthis came close to its capital, Riyadh. The Saudis blamed Iran for supplying the weapon, though U.N. monitors in Yemen say they have not seen convincing evidence of that.

U.N. humanitarian officials warned that the shutdown would quickly lead to an emergency. Now their predictions are coming true. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Sanaa, Hodeida and three other crowded cities — with 2.5 million people in all — have lost access to clean drinking water because of a lack of fuel. One million children are at risk from an incipient diphtheria epidemic because vaccines are out of reach on U.N. ships offshore. According to Rasha Muhrez, Save the Children’s director of operations in Yemen, several governates are down to a five-day supply of the fuel needed to operate flour mills, without which the millions dependent on food handouts will starve. “This blockage has cut off the lifeline of Yemen,” Ms. Muhrez told us.

Last week the Saudis began allowing limited humanitarian imports through the southern port of Aden, which is controlled by their Yemeni allies. But that is not adequate access. That’s why three U.N. agencies — the World Health Organization, the World Food Program and UNICEF — issued a joint statement last Thursday saying that the continued shutdown of other ports and airports “is making an already catastrophic situation far worse.” A confidential report by U.N. monitors, seen by Reuters, went further, saying the Saudis were violating a 2015 U.N. Security Council resolution on Yemen by obstructing humanitarian assistance.

The Trump administration, through the State Department, has objected to the ongoing blockade and called for “unimpeded access” for humanitarian supplies. But many in Yemen suspect, with some reason, that the White House is tolerating, if not encouraging, the crime. Shortly before the siege was announced, Jared Kushner paid a visit to Saudi Arabia and reportedly met late into the evening with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince. Even if it was unaware of the subsequent crackdown, the White House has the leverage to put a stop to it. It should act immediately, or it will be complicit in a crime against humanity.

Update: Completed Hebron Playground




Hi everyone,

I went to Hebron yesterday and helped with the installation of the playground. They were supposed to continue today but working on Saturday is a bit risky because of the settlers. See attached some pics. 2 international volunteers were also helping us.

Best,
Samir


Fall fundraising appeal from MRSCP, October 6, 2016
Remembering Rachel Corrie, March 22, 2016

Banksy Customizes A West Bank Hotel, Offering Rooms With A View Of The Wall

Bill Chappell, NPR, March 3, 2017

A doorman stands at the entrance of The Walled Off Hotel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem Friday. Dusan Vranic/AP

There’s no pool, but there is a piano bar that exudes “an air of undeserved authority.” That’s part of the promise at The Walled Off Hotel, the artist Banksy’s vision of a hotel along the wall Israel built in the occupied West Bank.

The project blends Banksy’s trademark style — a trickster’s eye for trompe l’oeil and a political cartoonist’s ear for satire — into more traditional hotel amenities such as food, drinks and well-appointed rooms. The hotel will begin taking reservations on March 11.

Just don’t call it the Waldorf. For a hint of what awaits visitors to the small hotel in Bethlehem, consider this description of the piano bar inside:

The Walled Off Hotel, which offers what it calls the “worst view in the world,” has rooms that look onto an Israeli security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Dusan Vranic/AP

“Guests can peruse a collection of Banksy artworks that include vandalized oil paintings and statues choking on tear gas fumes. Warm scones and freshly brewed tea are served daily on fine bone china and the Walled Off Salad should not be missed.”

That’s from Banksy’s website, which adds that the engagement is open-ended: “We’re aiming to be here for the whole of the centenary year, maybe longer if people come.”

Palestinians protest moving US embassy to Jerusalem

Israeli forces suppress weekly marches in Bilin, Kafr Qaddum

Ma’an News Agency, January 21, 2017

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) – Israeli forces Friday suppressed weekly marches held in the villages of Billin and Kafr Qaddum in the occupied West Bank districts of Ramallah and Qalqiliya.

In Bilin, the weekly march, which occur every Friday to protest the Israeli separation wall and illegal settlements, was launched in solidarity with the Bedouin village of Umm Hiran on Wednesday which was violently raided by Israeli forces on Wednesday, leaving a local teacher and an Israeli police officer killed, before Israeli forces carried out home demolitions in the village.

The demonstration was also centered on protesting President Donald Trump’s support of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Palestinian and international solidarity activists held up Palestinian flags and signs condemning the potential embassy move and threatening an escalation of the resistance if such a decision is made.

As the demonstrators marched through the streets, they called for national unity, resisting the Israeli occupation, and releasing all Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

The popular resistance committee’s spokesperson Ratib Abu Rahma called upon Islamic, Arab, and all nations of the world to stop the new US administration from moving the embassy, while also urging Palestinian factions to unify their efforts to defend Palestine.

When the protestors reached the western part of the village near the separation wall, Israeli forces prevented them from marching on, declaring the area a military post and firing rubber bullets, sound bombs, and plastic bullets at protesters.

Abu Ahmad noted that Israeli forces detained Palestinian activist Ahmad Abu Rahma during the protest, but he was released afterwards.

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