Under siege again, but Gaza will not die
Shifa hospital received hundreds of bodies of those killed and thousands of those wounded during the December 27, 2008 - January 18, 2009 22-day attack, invasion and occupation of Gaza by the Israeli military.
Now in front of Shifa hospital was a tent filled with military armaments -- rocket parts, ammunition, etc. from Israeli missile and bombs. Several were American made -- a 120 mm artillery shell, a TOW missile. During the past eight years under the Bush administration, Israel has received over $21 billion in U.S. "security assistance", including $19 billion in direct military aid. The majority of Israel's military equipment is funded under U.S. assistance programs. The United States has given Israel 226 U.S. F-16 fighter and attack jets, more than 700 M-60 tanks, 6,000 armored personnel carriers, and dozens of transport planes, attack helicopters, utility and training aircraft, bombs, and tactical missiles. The U.S. Arms Export Control Act specifies that US weapons purchased by other countries can be used only for defensive purposes. The attacks on Gaza by the Israeli military are in violation of that act.
Also in the tent outside of Shifa hospital were photos of wounded and dead Palestinian women, men and children. Many photos had phrases written on them: "Gaza will not die," "Despite the pain, Gazans Will Remain," "Targeting all the Palestinians," "We will Take Them (Israeli government officials) to the Tribunal." Outside the tent were the remains of several ambulances that had been attacked and destroyed by Israeli aircraft as they were carrying wounded to the hospital.
Medea Benjamin, Tighe Berry and I were allowed by the Egyptian government to cross the border into Gaza last week, but for only 48 hours. At the end of the 48 hours, the Egyptians, under pressure from the Israeli and American governments, sealed off their border with Gaza putting Gaza again in an economic and political vice, as it has been for the past 16 months. The brief opening of the border allowed minimal amounts of humanitarian goods for the people of Gaza and the evacuation of some of the most injured Gazans in Israeli attacks on Gaza.
During our short visit we talked with persons with many organizations involved in caring for the people of Gaza.
At Shifa hospital, we spoke with members of a 10 person Indonesian Red Crescent medical team who was ending their 2-week mission. The previous day we passed through the Rafah border crossing with a 16-person Moroccan medical team that would spend only two days in Gaza having to leave with us 48 hours later due to the closing of the border by the Egyptian government. Later, we met a large Malaysian medical team that had been in Gaza for ten days. We also met doctors from the United Kingdom who had been in Gaza for almost two weeks. The greatest numbers of medical personnel coming to provide aide to the Palestinians were from Muslim and Arab countries.
The next day at the Rafah, Gaza border crossing, we met 6 British doctors who had just completed two weeks volunteering at various hospitals in Gaza. One doctor told of treating wounds that had been made by the DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive) bomb which is designed to produce an intense explosion in a small space. The bombs are packed with tungsten powder, which has the effect of shrapnel but often dissolves in human tissue, making it difficult to discover the cause of injuries. One doctor said it looked like their legs had been sliced off. Another UK doctor told of treating a person who had been wounded by white phosphorous and then having the wound begin smoking from remaining particles of the phosphorus in the wound.
At the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, deputy director Jabr Wishab told us that he believed the purpose of the Israeli attack on Gaza was to administer collective punishment on the people of Gaza for electing Hamas into power in Gaza in 2006 and to deter support for Hamas for the next election. He said that the attack on Gaza "will make the people of Gaza count to one hundred before voting for Hamas -- to make them remember what happened in 2009 so they will not support the resistance and the launching of rockets into Israel." The PCHR has extensively documented the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Their reports on the invasion and occupation of Gaza are available online as well as their weekly reports on the siege of Gaza from the past two years.
Wishbah said the Israeli military targeted and destroyed virtually every Hamas building, police station and home of senior Hamas officials. When one plots the bombing and expands by 200 meters the range of the effects of the explosions on nearby buildings, the amount of territory covered by the bombings was extremely large. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were forced out of their homes into even more densely populated areas in the center of the country.
Wishbad said that teams of international lawyers will be assisting in preparing criminal charges against Israeli government officials and military officers for violations of international law in the attacks, invasion and occupation of Gaza. Cases will be filed in other countries under universal jurisdiction to prevent Israeli officials from travelling outside of Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post, on January 31, an Israeli Defense Force Colonel had to return to Israel from London due to public protests against his speaking there and his fear of arrest.
Wishab asked for assistance from the international community to investigate the effects of specific weapons, including long term effects of shells made from depleted uranium, and eye and respiratory problems from the Israeli Defense Force's (IDF's) use of white phosphorus in populated areas. Additionally, he said that Flechette weapons with 4,600 nails in each exploding shell were used by the IDF, as well as a warhead with small square metal pieces that penetrated clothing, boots and flesh. He said he was very concerned about the reports of the use in Gaza of DIME bombs (Dense Inert Material Explosive) that contains tungsten particles spray that is so concentrated that arms and legs are sliced off the body by the force.
Dr. Aed Yaghi of the Palestine Medical Relief Association told us that his organization provided blankets, beds, mattresses and clothes for thousands of Gazans who were forced from their homes. Their mobile clinic teams are back in operation travelling, as well as teams providing psycho-social support for communities. They are going into the most devastated parts of Gaza to provide medical services for those whose houses have been destroyed and who have no way of getting to medical facilities.
We also visited the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP) that provides comprehensive community mental health services, therapy, training and research, to the people of Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Two thirds of the population of Gaza is refugees and 50% are younger than 16 years. Husam L. Nounou, the media officer for GCMHP, told us that since citizens in Gaza have been a part of extreme forms of violence and suffering due to Israeli occupation and military operations, mental health problems in the Gaza have grown to unprecedented levels.
Nounou said that his organization has 6 community crisis intervention teams for schools and homes. They train teachers how to identify students under stress and how to assist the student. They have a special program of women affected by war. He also said that during times of conflict domestic violence increases and does violence in general. People are less tolerant, less forgiving and less sensitive as they cope with the effects of war.
Nounou said the word peace has a different connotation for many in Gaza. Peace according to some in Gaza is obeying Israeli orders, in effect surrendering to Israeli rule. He said that he believes that many in the Israeli military believe that peace is dangerous. But Nounou also said that some of the best partners for peace are Israelis who are fed up with their government resorting to attacks on Gaza.
As the siege on Gaza continues, the organizations we visited are deeply involved in treating the entire population in Gaza, all of whom have been traumatized by the attacks, invasion and occupation of their homes and land and by the prison conditions in which they live with no freedom to travel outside the small land called Gaza.
Despite all that has happened to the people of Gaza, as the sign on the photo said -- "Gaza will not Die."
By Ann Wright