Sunday, 16 August 2015

Besieged Gaza Strip - An Open Prison

Besieged Gaza Strip: An Open Prison

Dr. Mozammel Haque

This July marks the first anniversary of the Israeli attack on Gaza named, Operation Protective Edge. We are also remembering the attack on London’s transport system on 7 July 10 years ago and, also the Srebrenica Genocide, 20 years ago. Since Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, two parliamentary delegations visited Palestine; discussions and debates took place and some reports on the human rights situation in Gaza were also published. First a vivid picture of the situation in Gaza was given by no less than the member of the House of Lords of the British Parliament, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Baroness Blackstone and Lord Judd.

Baroness  Jenny Tonge
Baroness Tonge Independent Liberal Democrat tabled a debate on Gaza in the House of Lords in July where she said, “Gaza is a tiny strip of land of 139 square miles—the size of Boston in Lincolnshire. It has 1.8 million people. Hamas has ruled in Gaza since it fought and deleted Fatah there in 2007, following Hamas’s victory in the European Union-monitored election for the Palestinian Authority in 2006, when it was not allowed to form a Government. Our Government backed the view that the wrong side had won. That is our version of democracy. Indeed, we took a similar view when we backed the coup that deposed President Morsi of Egypt. Israel has blockaded Gaza ever since then and launched three attacks on the hapless people there since 2008.”

Baroness Tonge also mentioned, “Operation Protective Edge was the most vicious attack so far on these people, who live in an open prison and have no means of escape. During the operation, 2,251 people were killed, 551 of them children. Thousands more have to live the rest of their lives with terrible injuries. Half a million were displaced from their homes and it is to be remembered that the Israelis claim to have warned people of the impending attacks on their homes with the so-called knock on the roof, but when there is no safe place to escape to because you live in such crowded conditions, some preferred to stay put. Such cynicism on behalf of the IDF.”

Baroness Blackstone
Participating in that debate, Baroness Blackstone, Labour Peer, said, “It is now a year since the horrific war in Gaza in which over 2,000 Palestinians were killed, of whom 65% were civilians and over 500 were children, and 73 Israelis were killed, of whom six were civilians. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, has said, much of the infrastructure in Gaza was destroyed—schools, hospitals, power and water plants, roads, residential accommodation—displacing 100,000 people, very few of whom have been rehoused. Along with the blockade of Gaza, this wanton destruction has crippled the Gazan economy, leaving it with one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world, at 43%, and a poverty rate of 39%, according to the World Bank. By the end of 2014, youth unemployment had soared to 60%.”

Baroness Blackstone also mentioned, “Last year’s war did not just result in many civilian deaths; it also left over 11,000 Palestinians injured, including 3,500 children, some of whom suffered permanent physical disability. As has already been mentioned, many more children have been traumatised, fearing to go to school, bedwetting, clinging to parents and with high levels of aggression. This is all well documented in a recent report by the Save the Children Fund. The damage done to so many children and young people does not augur well for the future of Gaza and its political system. There is a danger that some of them will grow up alienated, disturbed and easy prey for militant extremism, which the high rate of unemployment is likely to exacerbate. More aid is needed to provide psychological help to these children, as well as better conditions to give them some hope for the future.”

Lord Judd
In that debate, Lord Judd (Labour) said, “We lament the effect of the blockade: the suffering of the children and families, the adverse impact on health services, and the fact that a UN official in exasperation can say that at the present rate it will take 30 years to rebuild Gaza. All these things impress us, but of course the most important thing is to enable the economy of Gaza to function. When I was last in Gaza, I was talking to a senior UN official who said, “These people are immensely entrepreneurial, full of imagination and dynamism; given half a chance they could become incredibly successful economically”. But that chance is not there. The materials that they need to develop their industries are not coming into the country. Access to the markets of Israel, and the world beyond, are just not there because of the crossings—and the control at the crossings.”

Two Parliamentary Delegation
Visited Palestine
On the Ground in Palestine
As I mentioned earlier, since last year’s Israeli assault on Gaza, two parliamentary delegations went to Palestine, one in December 2014 and the second one went in January 2015. CAABU organised a meeting titled “On the Ground in Palestine” held at Thatcher Room, Portcullis House, House of Parliament on Wednesday, 4th of March 2015. In that meeting, Baroness Warsi, Baroness Morris and Gavin Shuker, MP spoke and discussed Palestinian situation.

Mr. Chris Doyle Director of CAABU spoke about the two delegations went to Palestine one in December 2014 and the second one went in January 2015. They had First-hand look on the Palestine – check-points, expansion of settlement ad visited excellent projects carried out by the Palestinians.

Chair of the meeting gave an introduction to the meeting by saying, “Six months assault from the Israel on Gaza; according to recent report, the humanitarian situation is really bleak; Reconstruct has slowed dramatically; the real concern is the conditions there. For the West Bank there is over 500,000 settlers; 27 is really closed areas; demolition continues apace; over a 1000 people displaced in the last year and 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. So that, in brief, we have 3 speakers; they will comment on.

In that meeting, as mentioned earlier, there were three speakers, Baroness Warsi, Baroness Morris and Mr. Gavin Shuker. Baroness Warsi and Baroness Morris visited the West Bank on a CAABU Medical Aid for Palestinians Delegation in December 2014. Baroness Morris was also on an official to Gaza in December 2014 in her capacity as the Prime Minister's Trade Envoy to the Palestinian Territories. Following the visit, in an interview with the Independent, Baroness Warsi said the UK must recognise Palestine as a state now.

Gavin Shuker MP visited the West Bank on a CAABU Medical Aid for Palestinians delegation in January 2014, together with Liam Byne MP. Gavin recorded a video whilst visiting farming communities in the Jordan Valley, where they saw the impact of home demolitions and of water security. In his role as Shadow International Development Minister he also asked the Secretary of State for International Development about the lack of reconstruction efforts in Gaza.

On the Ground in Palestine
In the meeting, Mr. Gavin Shuker, MP. said, “I had the opportunity to visit and understand the issue that are at play in the region. I am acutely aware of the fact that we find ourselves in a very interesting time, not there only but in the UK also. We are talking about elections. There will be elections going on in Israel and in Britain – before there will be change of government.”

Talking about his reflections, Mr. Shuker said, “I have struck by that all sides of conflict – The offensive in Gaza and what the other people are going to speak and particularly what happened after that. Commons vote to recognise Palestine.”

He also mentioned, “In that context I was strongly struck by our days in West Bank and east Jerusalem seeing the rising activity; there is a real question mark about what is going to be delivered; for the alternatives might be; reflections to bring. Later to support is to keeping that two-state solution is viable. “

Baroness Trish Morris
Baroness Trish Morris has been a life Peer from 2004 and has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the UNICEF and Ministers. Chair of the Conservative Party Middle East Council.

Baroness Morris said, “I went there early in December; I actually tried to get into Gaza in May of last year. I waited for three and half hours while the administration was healing over my last piece of paper. I was denied entry and ranged everybody. They were wonderful natured; afterwards they said welcome to our part of world.”

She also mentioned, “I was shocked; I have not been in Gaza; I was pretty shocked in 2011 with all the bombed out building. Hardly any cars because of young Gazan he own a prize for eye-trodden said to one of his Jordanian people is it like this everyday; she said there is no electricity all day every day. People are driving around with donkeys and cars.”

Baroness Morris also mentioned, “100000 people in badly damaged home. Three shifts in the schools – 400,000 children psycho – There are maps – We have a small groups of  – plastic limbs  at a time every week to help those save the limbs who caught up in a – So far they have seen 100  patients they carried out 50 operations as well as helping to train local staff providing medical equipment and helping to increase and these are some of the reasons why we need more people get into Gaza; They cut off the world bombed out buildings, people living in shafts.”

Baroness Morris also said, “The world is rightly horrified by the bombs and rightly death-tolls and baby Salma who died in early in Gaza daily dying in the occupied territories does not get the headlines; it was day to day struggle for the Bedouin communities. Outside the Jerusalem the Jordon valleys they said they were threatened with move away from their home and to build his does not get headlines. We visited two Bedouin valleys – They were being threatened with being moved away from their homes, lands and to building just going to be called just town shift but with no rooms for their animals. You have settlers going into villages and the Bedouins have no redress. There was no one to call, no one to come and help; and they were isolated.” speak out and we will not give up. We never give up;

Gaza – Life in an occupied and besieged strip
Another event titled “Gaza: Life in an occupied and besieged Strip” was organised by Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK on 10 March 2015 in the Committee Room of the House of Commons which was chaired by David Ward MP and Baroness Jenny Tonge discussed the political Context and A report on Gaza: Life in an Occupied and Besieged Strip was launched.

In this meeting it is mentioned that 
*26 Schools completely destroyed, 122 damaged of which 27 were UNRWA.
*11 Universities and colleges damaged by (14 of 15 damaged, with 6 directly hit)
*Increasing isolation of Palestinian universities under the blockade 2008-2009
*Separation policy towards West Bank and Gaza
*Denial of entry to vicinity of interested in teaching in the occupied territories
*Brian-drain especially at the post-graduate level – as these students who are financially able
*Science building destroyed in Cascade – 2.7 million – damaged
*Palestinian Technical College

A Report: Gaza – Life in an Occupied and Besieged Strip
Gaza – Life in an occupied and besieged Strip – A Report published and launched By Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK in March 2015

Position of Gaza
The Report titled “Gaza – Life in an occupied and besieged Strip” described the location and position of the Gaza Strip: “The Gaza Strip is located in the southwest of Palestine on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The Strip, 46 kilometres long by 6-14 kilometres wide with a total area of 365m2, is home to 1.76 million Palestinians, of whom 855033 live in Gaza City. Gaza comprises five governorates; North Gaza, Gaza City, Deir Al-Balah, Khan Yunis and Rafah. The Strip, which makes up 1,36% of the total area of historical Palestine, is located in the south and shares a 12.6km border with Egypt. It is an indivisible part of the 210km international borders between Egypt and Palestine as demarcated by the 1906 Turco-British agreement.

“Entry into Gaza by land is through seven crossing points. Nothing and no one can enter or exit the Strip except through these points of which six are under Israeli control. The only border crossing not formally under Israeli control is through Rafah. Each of the crossings has a Hebrew and Arabic name.”

Historical background
The Report described the historical background of the Gaza Strip. It says, “The Gaza Strip was part of Mandate Palestine until 1948 when it fell under Egyptian control under which it remained until the Tripartite Aggression of 1956, which saw Israel occupy Gaza for a five-month interval before Egypt regained control of the Strip. In 1967, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and Sinai, effectively ending Egyptian control over the area. The lack of border controls between Egyptian-controlled Rafah and Palestinian Rafah fostered good relationships including those of marriage, between the residents of the two areas. Al-Arish became a focal point for Palestinians wishing to travel from Gaza to Cairo, but only those with special needs (the sick, students etc.) were allowed to cross over on to the Suez Canal with the help of the International Red Cross. The Camp David Accords signed between Egypt and Israel in September 1978 led to the creation of two border crossings Karm Abu Salem for travellers and Al-Ouga for commercial during the summer months when Palestinians would flood from abroad to visit relatives.”

Hamas in control of Gaza Strip
According to the Report, “In January 2007 Hamas seized full control of the Gaza Strip prompting Palestine Authority (PA) forces and European monitors to relinquish control over the Rafah border crossing to Hamas. A harsh blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by the Egyptian and Israeli sides aggravated poverty and levels of unemployment in Gaza and made it increasingly difficult for residents to travel outside Gaza, including students, the sick and those with special needs. This prompted activists from around the world to organize a flotilla of three passengers and three cargo ships carrying activists and aid. Israeli forces raided the flotilla on the 31st May 2012 and killed nine activists and wounded scores of others. “

Israel launched three major assaults on Gaza Strip
During the blockade on Gaza, Israel launched major assaults on the Strip: Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), Pillar of Defence (November 2012), and Operation Protective Edge (July 2014) killing and wounding thousands of Gazans. The attacks destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, levelled many public and private buildings, and inflicted massive losses on the Palestinian economy. On the 3rd of June 2013, a military coup in Egypt ousted the country’s first democratically elected leader, President Mohammed Morsi. The Rafat crossing was immediately closed and the process of destroying underground tunnels, intensified.

Operation Cast Lead 2008-2009
The Report mentioned, “In addition to the blockade imposed on Gaza, Israel launched a devastating bombing campaign on Gaza on 27 December 2008. The 22-day bombing resulted in the death of more than 1417 Palestinians, including 412 children and 111 women. More than 4336 women, children and old people were injured in addition to the destruction of thousands of homes, public buildings, schools, clubs, mosques and even UN buildings.”

It is mentioned in another report, “At the end of 2008 Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in the Gaza Strip named operation Cast Lead. The 22-day long invasion, which began on 27th December, relied upon the use of overwhelming air power, before a ground invasion was launched on 3rd January. Israel claimed that the targets were Hamas’ military installations, but the conflict was characterised by widespread attacks on the civilian infrastructure of the territory. Hospitals, schools, mosques, civilian homes and a United Nations compound were severely damaged or destroyed. Operation Cast Lead represented the most brutal and sustained attack on Gaza since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967. By its conclusion, over 1,300 Palestinians had been killed, the majority of them civilians, and 352 of them children. Over 5,000 more were wounded.”

“UNRWA reports that 3,540 houses were destroyed during the conflict, whilst a further 2,866 sustained major damage and 52,900 minor damage. The town of Rafah in southern Gaza was hit particularly hard due to the location of smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt, whilst areas near to the border with Israel were also particularly badly affected. A number of schools were even hit during the conflict. The American International School in northern Gaza was completely destroyed. Two United Nations Schools in Beit Lahyia and Gaza City were also partially destroyed, whilst the Department of Agriculture in Gaza University was completely devastated in a bombing raid. In the wake of the conflict Israel refused to allow any construction materials into Gaza, much needed to repair the shattered infrastructure,” mentioned by this report.

According to the Report “Gaza – Life in an occupied and besieged Strip” On 14 November 2012, Israel waged a 7-day attack killing 155 people including 27 children and 14 women. Compared to its predecessors, the bombing was less bloody due to the pressures exerted by the Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi who threatened Israel saying “Gaza is not alone”. He also sent his Prime Minister Hisham Qandeel to Gaza during the bombing. Egypt also opened the Rafah crossing to allow Arab and foreign delegations, as well as medical supplies to cross into Gaza. The injured were also evacuated for treatment.

Operation Protective Edge
According to the Report “Gaza – Life in an occupied and besieged Strip”; “This was one of the bloodiest and most brutal Israeli attacks on Gaza. The bombing started on the 7th of July 2014 and ended 51 days later on the 28th of August 2014. More than 2133 Palestinians were killed including 500 children, 300 women and 64 disabled.  More than 10,000 people were injured including 3374 children, 2088 women and 410 elderly. According to some estimates, more than 1000 children have suffered a permanent disability and another 1500 will need constant care. Approximately 500,000 people (28% of the population) were displaced and had to seek shelter in UNRWA buildings. More than 108000 will remain displaced after their homes were completely destroyed or severely damaged.

The Report also mentioned, “Israel bombed Gaza from the air, land and sea with 2108 missiles, 73615 rockets, and 73615 shells which destroyed the infrastructure and many public and private buildings. The losses were estimated to have been around $3billion.”

“Four days into the Israeli attacks, the Egyptian government announced it was reopening the Rafah crossing on the 10th of July 2014 following a request to do so from the UN Secretary-General to evacuate the injured and send in much-needed aid. The reality on the ground was different. Egypt continued to keep the Rafah crossing closed in the face of the injured and only a few were allowed to leave. The Egyptian Minister of health announced that only 216 injured Palestinians crossed into Egypt from a total of 10,000 injured in the Israeli bombing,” the Report mentioned.

The Economic and Humanitarian impact of the blockade
According to the Report “Gaza – Life in an occupied and besieged Strip” “The blockade has aggravated poverty and levels of unemployment in Gaza. By the end of 2014, the collapse of the Gazan economy following the ruthless bombing of the Strip led to an increase in the number of those living below the poverty line. Unemployment rates stood at 55% as the number of those without a job reached a staggering 230,000 people. According to recent estimates, nearly 65% of the population of Gaza lives below the poverty line. The number of those receiving aid from UNRWA and other international organizations is around one million – 60% of the population. Food insecurity levels are estimated to be around 57%.”

The Report also mentioned, “According to the Palestinian ministry of National Economy, Israeli occupation forces completely or partially destroyed more than 1050 building and facility during its 2014 onslaught on Gaza (450 were  completely destroyed, and 600 partially destroyed). The bombing wiped out what remained of the Gazan economy following two previous wars during which Gaza incurred $8 billion losses. Scores of the sick and injured died due to lack of medical supplies and being denied passage out of Gaza.”

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