Gaza: Abandoned in the Middle of Nowhere

, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, June 28, 2016

During a brief pause to hostilities in July 2014, families returned to eastern Gaza, which saw some of the heaviest bombings. Photo Credit: Oxfam / Flickr

Palestinians in Gaza are largely forgotten. They are an invisible people inhabiting a world without rights and possibilities. Over Israel’s near 50-year occupation, Gaza and the West Bank were reduced from a lower middle-income economy to a dysfunctional economy disproportionately dependent on foreign assistance. Gaza is under immense pressure from a continued blockade, now in its tenth year. Egyptian restrictions on the movement of people through Rafah, “which has remained largely closed… since October 2014, including for humanitarian assistance”[1] increased internal discord and hindered intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

There are stunningly high levels of unemployment and poverty. According to the World Bank, unemployment currently stands at 43 percent and in excess of 60 percent for Gazan youth. Yet, while Gaza’s economic demise is well documented, the blockade’s societal impact is often neglected. The blockade created a series of long-term, chronic conditions in Palestinian society,[2] including the destruction of civilian space, changes to social structure and health status, widespread trauma, a dramatic change in popular attitudes, and finally, a widening generational divide.

As United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Spokesman Chris Gunness notes: “The juxtaposition of hopelessness and despair, contrasted with the transformational potential of Gazan society, has never been so palpable.”[3]According to the World Bank, the Israeli blockade alone—which has severed almost all of the territory’s ties to the outside world, virtually terminating Gaza’s critically needed export trade—decreased Gaza’s GDP by at least 50 percent since 2007.[4] Egypt’s near total termination of Gaza’s tunnel trade—a vital, albeit underground economic lifeline—dealt an additional and extremely damaging blow. On top of this, the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, or Operation Protective Edge (OPE), worsened an already bleak situation by reducing Gaza’s economy by an additional $460 million.

This set in motion what one local analyst called a “dynamic of disintegration” that produced a range of unprecedented socioeconomic changes. Combined with the ruinous impact of the blockade, OPE was resulted in extensive damage to or destruction of homes, schools, health facilities, factories, businesses, sewage and water treatment infrastructure, and agriculture — effectively resulting in the destruction of civilian space. At least 100,000 people found themselves homeless, resulting in an estimated 75,000 being displaced, 11,200 being injured, at least 1,000 becoming permanently disabled, and 1,500 children becoming orphaned.[5]

Gaza’s society was radically leveled, particularly with the virtual destruction of its middle class and the emergence of an unprecedentedly new class of “poor.” Perhaps emblematic of the damage done to society, particularly since the imposition of the blockade, is Gaza’s rising infant mortality rate (IMR). IMR not only measures the health status of children, but also of the whole population. For the first time in more than 50 years, the IMR in Gaza increased from 20.2 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 22.4 in 2013. Neonatal mortality rates, or the number of children who die within four weeks of birth, experienced a dramatic increase from 12.0 in 2008 to 20.3 in 2013, an uptick of nearly 70 percent. In Gaza, there is also a documented rise in domestic violence and child labor, as well as considerable anecdotal evidence for an increase in prostitution. No doubt the blockade, coupled with the last three wars in Gaza, is a contributing factor.

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Gaza’s plight matters to the world

Elizabeth Kucinich in Gaza
Elizabeth Kucinich in Gaza (UNRWA USA)

Elizabeth Kucinich, The Hill, June 23, 2016

This month, U.S. congressmen, including Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), were refused entry into the Gaza Strip at the Erez crossing while on a fact-finding mission in Israel-Palestine. Israeli authorities, without elaboration, claimed that their application had not met the criteria necessary to enter. Apparently elected U.S. congressmen inspecting American taxpayer-funded projects and reviewing U.S. aid to Palestinians in Gaza is not worthy criteria.

Bernie Sanders’ representatives to the Democratic platform committee have brought the plight of the Palestinians into the national political debate. This could become a breakthrough moment, presaging policies that address the security of both Israelis and Palestinians as being mutually inclusive.

Some have suggested that the members of Congress may have been turned away from Gaza by Israel through the influence of the U.S. State Department, attempting to prevent Democratic members from elevating the issue of Israel-Palestine. Whatever the motivation, in that moment of rejection, those Congressmen experienced a small taste of the restrictions on freedom of movement that Palestinians live daily. For the Palestinians in Gaza, living under a blockade that just entered its 10th year, virtually all movement in and out is prohibited.

As I watched the Israeli military assault on Gaza in 2014, I was desperate to help. I looked to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, mandated with providing essential services for Palestine refugees, and joined the board of its nonprofit arm, UNRWA USA. Last spring, I traveled with UNWRA USA staff to the occupied Palestinian territory — the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip — to visit our projects, ascertain living conditions and witness for myself the political and economic situation. The trip was my first to Gaza. Had the other members of Congress been permitted to enter Gaza, they may have seen for themselves what I witnessed firsthand.

At Erez, the Israeli-controlled crossing into Gaza, I passed through chutes that resembled the herding bays that lead cattle into an abattoir — a standard feature of Israeli checkpoints throughout the occupied Palestinian territory. As we waited for our entry to be approved, young Israeli guards paraded around with automatic weapons.

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Palestinians in Gaza are still waiting for the siege to end

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 10 September 2014

Destruction everywhere

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

A new United Nations assessment published this week lays out the massive scope of the needs facing the nearly 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza following the “unprecedented” destruction wreaked by 51 days of Israeli bombing in July and August.

Israel’s assault – which it dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” – left at least 2,133 Palestinians dead and more than eleven thousand injured. More than 100,000 are permanently homeless as some 13 percent of Gaza’s housing stock – 44,300 housing units – was affected by the attack, with five percent rendered completely uninhabitable.

The UN report “Gaza Initial Rapid Assessment,” published by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), was conducted through August with the assistance of dozens of Palestinian and international aid agencies, organizations and experts.

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One Jewish Woman’s Fight for Palestine

One Jewish Woman’s Fight for PalestineYasmin Mogahed, Nov 19, 2012

For Jennifer Loewenstein, April 19, 2002 was a “waking nightmare”. She stood silent at the edge of the camp, in disbelief–and horror.

Listening to the sound of wailing, she watched as medical workers lay out the bodies of the dead. The corpses, wrapped in white, were loaded onto the back of a pick-up truck.

“I will never forget this time,” Loewenstein recalls. “I stayed in the camp for two days, picking through the ruins and debris of people’s former lives–watching children and families look for their belongings–anything they could salvage from the wreckage.”

Loewenstein was in Jenin.

She had spent much of the previous two years working as an editor and freelance journalist at the Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza. During that time she traveled frequently to the Rafah refugee camp to visit friends. It was in that way that she came to know Rafah so well and later started the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project in December of 2002.

But Loewenstein’s decision to take on the plight of the Palestinian people was not an easy one. She has since been shunned by her community and accused of being a “terrorist sympathizer” and “self-hating Jew”–a term she considers as ludicrous as calling her a “self-hating human” for opposing human rights abuse.

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VOICES OF CONSCIENCE: DELEGATION to THE GAZA STRIP

Interfaith Peace-Builders, November 5, 2012

November 5, 2012 – Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) is pleased to announce that our 21 member delegation to the Gaza Strip passed safely through the Rafah Crossing Monday morning and is now safely in the Gaza Strip.

Interfaith Peace-Builders has sent more than 44 delegations to Palestine/Israel since 2001. This is the first IFPB delegation to enter the Gaza Strip since 2003. Like other IFPB delegations, its purpose is to educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts.

On the eve of the Presidential Election in the United States, the US-brokered peace process continues to show few results and US military aid to the region continues to flow unabated.

This delegation focuses on the realities of Palestinian life in the Gaza Strip. Participants have the unique opportunity to hear directly from Palestinians throughout the territory regarding their hopes for peace and the role of the United States, the US government, and other international actors, in promoting a resolution to the conflict.

The Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation to the Gaza Strip is led by Michael Brown and Cindy Corrie. Michael Brown worked off and on in the Gaza Strip between 1993 and 2000 for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. A former IFPB board member, Michael continues to work today on the media and Palestine. Michael led an IFPB delegation in 2008. Cindy Corrie is the mother of human rights activist and observer Rachel Corrie who on March 16, 2003, was killed by an Israeli military Caterpillar bulldozer in the Gaza Strip.  Motivated by her daughter’s work and sacrifice, Cindy Corrie has dedicated herself to the pursuit of justice and peace in the Middle East and has visited Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza on numerous occasions. She is also president of the board of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, inspired by her daughter.

del44gaza
a photo of the delegation in Gaza City

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Summit’s Goal: Perpetuate Repression of Palestinians

Barb Olson and Amal Othman, The Capital Times, December 07, 2007

“After meeting their own low expectations for the Annapolis conference amid intense skepticism, Bush administration officials crowed with delight,” said an Associated Press story.

And well they might. It was more symbolism than substance, but President Bush looked almost presidential.

But all Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert really agreed on was to negotiate — Bush called it “hard bargaining.”

“Hard bargaining” with Olmert and Abbas (and Bush too) at record low levels of support domestically?

“Hard bargaining” with the overwhelming power of the United States and Israel on one side and the divided and bloodied Palestinians on the other?

The United States is not an honest broker here. Congress just gave Israel another $30 billion for military aid over the next 10 years. That’s on top of the $3 billion to $5 billion annually it already gets.

Since 2004, Bush has officially committed the United States to help Israel keep Palestinian land stolen for Jewish settlements. This policy of using “facts on the ground” to gobble up Palestinian land, water and commerce has already sparked two Palestinian uprisings and is destroying the viability of any independent Palestinian state.

Was this policy reversed at Annapolis? No. Instead Bush asked Israel to pretty-please remove a few trailer park “outposts” and to stop expanding the settlements. (Wink, wink.)

Bush instructed the Palestinians not to focus on the “borders” of a state. No wonder — Israel has already set the borders by constructing the annexation wall deep inside Palestinian territory, leaving the Palestinians imprisoned in a handful of poverty-stricken ghettos on a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of their original homeland.

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