The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

The people of Gaza suffer

Palestinians warm themselves by a fire inside a house, which witnesses said was damaged in an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip last week.

Joyce F. Guinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 27, 2012

On Nov. 5, along with 20 members of an Interfaith Peace-Builders Delegation, I entered the Palestinian Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip. We were received with great enthusiasm. We met with political representatives, farmers, families of prisoners, fishermen, water utility specialists, United Nations agencies, womens groups, union representatives and families in refugee camps.

We visited schools, centers for childrens activities, libraries, a music school, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a fish farm, the Gaza port, the destroyed airport and the parents of a 13-year-old boy killed during our visit while playing soccer in front of his house.

We learned that 80% of Gazans are refugees; that fishermen are not allowed to go beyond 3 miles to fish; that farmers are attacked if they approach their fields near the Israeli imposed 200- to 300-meter “buffer zone” on Palestinian land; that crops, greenhouses and animals are routinely attacked; that water is limited and unsafe; that electricity is limited to eight hours per day; that prisoners are held in Israeli prisons for years; that torture and isolation are routine; that children are traumatized; and that schools are running on two shifts because of destroyed schools.

We saw amazing signs of hope and steadfastness exhibited in buildings restored with materials carried through tunnels, a literacy rate of over 80%, continuation of normal activities under abnormal conditions, developing the talents of women and creative programs for children.

We heard their pleas for justice for ending the United States unquestioning support for Israel, for stopping the military aid to Israel, for recognizing that theirs is not a humanitarian problem but a political problem, for encouraging Palestinian unity instead of working against it, for respecting international law and human rights, for following our own laws for export of military aid and for accepting moral responsibility for our part in the ongoing occupation.

And then came the bombs. They fell during the night. They shook our hotel. They warned of worse things to come.

And the worst happened. The bombing continued. The rockets responded. The issue is not which side precipitated the violence. The issue is the occupation and blockade that has, since 1948, systematically destroyed Gazas economy and collectively punished its people.

In addition to armed groups, Israel targeted or damaged agricultural areas, homes and apartment buildings, press offices, a stadium, electrical power stations, water supply systems, roads, schools and hospitals, to name a few “non-military targets.”

In reaction to this ongoing siege and occupation of Palestine, 15 leaders of major U.S. Christian denominations have asked members of Congress to withhold U.S. aid to Israel because of widespread Israeli human rights violations. The statement calls for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limits the use of U.S. weapons to internal security or legitimate self-defense. The U.S. response: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Israel, but not the Palestinians. They have no rights.

We must take responsibility for the key role played by the American government in enabling the brutal occupation and siege of Gaza. We must demand that our government follow the laws enacted by Congress with respect to providing aid to a foreign country. We must demand an end to our complicity in the denial of basic human rights of the Palestinian people.

Joyce F. Guinn lives in Germantown.