Sunday, April 12, 2009
Eyeless in Gaza
At the American International School which was destroyed in Israeli bombs: Sharhabeel Al Zaeem the Director
Eyeless in Gaza
Nothing prepares you for the scene of destruction in Gaza. Even when you read before hand that 3500 homes were destroyed and 28,000 damaged. Even when you know all the statistics. 800 industries damaged. 10 schools destroyed, 204 damaged. 14 mosques destroyed, 38 damaged. The list goes on and on. But it makes you word blind.
431 children and 114 women killed. 1400 dead bodies in total. And 5303, including 1606 children and 828 women injured.
Intellectually it may be possible to absorb some of this but it’s only when you are there that the impact of it all hits you. I had to fight back tears a few time. Particularly at the first stop on our schedule. A woman was sitting before an open fire in what was once her house. She was cooking. Girders and huge slabs of concrete formed a cave like structure above and around her. Her husband was dead. She was living on handouts. She used to live in a little village called Izbet Abd Rabo. Now she lives in a cave.
She is not on her own. 80 percent of Gazans are dependent on aid. Gaza is about the size of County Louth. 1.5 million people reside there. They are under siege. There has been little or no regeneration work done since the Israeli assault, because building materials are not allowed in.
500 trucks a day are needed to enter Gaza every day to maintain a sustainable level of economic activity, according to the World Bank and the European Union. Since the end of what the Israeli’s called ‘Operation Cast Lead’ only an average of 84 trucks enter every day.
We were there for two days. We met a huge amount of NGOs, women’s groups, community organisations, bankers, the private sector, all the university heads, other educationalists and all the political parties.
At 'The Wall' at Bethlehem with some local children
I am on my way back now in time for Belfast’s Easter Commemoration. So this blog is just touching base. I intend to return to this issue again. In fact I intend to write up a report for George Mitchell. He is due in Jerusalem on Monday.
I wish him well. But he has his work cut out. Of course George will not bring peace to the Middle East. That, like Ireland, can only be done by the people who live there. We met others on the Israeli side particularly at Sderot, a small town that has been targeted by rockets from Gaza. I was very impressed by the local people, particularly the women in the Resilience Centre. When I met Hamas I told them the rocket attacks should stop.
I also met other Israelis who understand that the people of Palestine and the people of Israel are destined to live side by side. They want to do this with mutual respect and tolerance. And they are right. That is the only way to build peace. Airstrikes are not the answer. Neither are rocket attacks. A peace settlement is needed and possible.
And the international community has a duty to create conditions to make this happen. So far they have behaved in a shameful way. Hopefully that will change. It has to.