Life in Gaza: eyewitness account through a humanitarian mission

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Marjan Asi

Rabi' al-Awwal 15, 1431 2010-11-01

News & Analysis

by Marjan Asi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 9, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1431)

“…We were made aware of the orphans, the slums they live in; you witness the Israeli settlements that withdrew from [Gaza]; you witness the old Israeli checkpoints.

“It’s an atrocity what is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza. It’s a crime… I think it is an abomination that this continues to go on.” Coming from former US President Jimmy Carter, who brokered the Camp David Accords (1978) wherein Egypt recognized and established diplomatic relations with Israel (while today Egypt is complicit in the “atrocity” called the siege of Gaza), is quite ironic. The fact that Carter is now speaking for the rights of the Palestinian people and calling Israeli policy in Gaza apartheid is alarming the Zionists. If a person like Carter feels so concerned about Israeli behavior, how bad the facts on the ground must be?

Rahmah Zarrincalaki, a 23-year-old Muslim and one of three Americans on the Viva Palestina humanitarian aid convoy, described her stay in Gaza in an interview with us.

“…We were made aware of the orphans, the slums they live in; you witness the Israeli settlements that withdrew from [Gaza]; you witness the old Israeli checkpoints. I saw checkpoint towers where you can see the ocean in the distance. When the Israelis were occupying Gaza directly, people couldn’t go to the beach unless they went through the intrusive checkpoint and that was a huge ordeal for them. So you see the mark of Israeli occupation there,” she said.

Other consequences of both the siege and attacks on Gaza are reflected in some pertinent statistics: 90–95% of drinking water is contaminated; electricity is cut off for at least eight hours per day on a regular basis including in hospitals, and malnutrition has risen and “reached levels that are of concern”, according to a 2010 World Health Organization report. As one of the most densely populated areas of the world, the impact of the siege is even more devastating. Carter accurately spoke when he said, “1.5 million Palestinians are held in a cage or prison while their human rights are taken away.” Similar sentiments were expressed by British Prime Minister David Cameron during a recent Middle East trip calling Gaza a “vast open air prison.”

Zarrincalaki described the consequences of Israeli brutality in Gaza. “The detrimental effect of the Israeli occupation is greater than the effect of the 2008–2009 attack. There were a lot of murders and injuries and poverty caused by the [attacks] but I think the effect that’s greater is the occupation as a whole. It has paralyzed society to a certain extent because of the extreme poverty it has put everyone in and the siege prolongs that poverty and prevents any advancement economically or socially. That’s pretty much what you’re dealing with,” said Zarrincalaki.

How does the Zionist state justify such mind-boggling cruelty? When one observes the level of support given to Israel by its principal financier, the US, it is not difficult to see how it can get away with its heinous crimes. Just this past month one US politician, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor swore fealty to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the leader of his own country, President Barack Obama telling him, “I’m with you, not my president.” Not wanting to be outdone in treasonous loyalty by their political counterparts, Democrats have called on Obama to grant clemency to the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. In a letter signed by 39 Democratic representatives, Obama was asked to grant clemency to Pollard who has served 25 years in prison. The letter from democrats deemed it “sufficient time” for a man who leaked to Israel extremely sensitive classified information regarding the US nuclear program. The Zionists then sold this information to the USSR as well as to China making a quick buck, and sacrificing US front organizations and intelligence operatives in the Soviet Union. It must be borne in mind that all this happened at the height of the Cold War. It was treason of the highest order.

With such blind allegiance to Israel, it is not surprising that these atrocities are being committed against the Palestinian people with US complicity and approval. While it does not care about the humanity of the Palestinian people, Israel must still find an excuse, however flimsy, to justify its actions to the international community. Israel peddles Hamas’s clear victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections of 2006 as a threat. There is no doubt about the authenticity of Hamas’ victory — the turnout at the polls was a massive 78% — in what was the only truly democratic election in the entire Middle East, neither Israel nor the US recognized its legitimacy. Further, Israel imposed economic sanctions on Palestine and when it failed to break Palestinian resilience, the Zionists imposed a siege on Gaza in June 2007, punishing the people for voting for and supporting Hamas. The siege remains in place to this day making life unbearably harsh for the Palestinian people.

But people of conscience worldwide are beginning to see the atrocities being perpetrated by the Zionists and are speaking out against the human rights violations and war crimes being committed in Gaza. The Viva Palestina convoys launched by the former British Member of Parliament, George Galloway, one of many organizations that deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged people of Gaza, has caught the imagination of people worldwide. Last May, the Turkish aid flotilla, Mavi Marmara, was attacked in international waters by the Zionists killing nine Turkish aid workers. There were aid boats from a number of other countries that joined the Turkish aid flotilla. Currently an Asian aid boat is setting out from Southeast Asia and will make its way through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey before heading out to Gaza.

Although Viva Palestina has organized five convoys in less than three years and successfully provided $5 million worth of medical and educational aid, on the most recent convoy this past September, Zarrincalaki emphasized the need for infrastructure aid. “We brought in medical aid and educational aid but I felt that was insignificant especially when I spoke with the minister of reconstruction in Gaza. He explained how they have everything ready to reconstruct — plans and funding to a large extent — but they cannot bring the equipment and material in because of the siege. If the border was fully open they could bring material in that would help a great deal in relieving pressure on the people because their housing structures could be rebuilt.”

With 80% of the population living below the poverty line, many are desperately searching for a way to climb out. “A lot of them were saying they want to get better jobs, get better opportunities and leave so they can find a better life. What do you say to them? You can’t tell them ‘you can do it’ because I don’t know what their reality is. I don’t know if it is feasible to let them believe,” said Zarrincalaki. Indeed with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world — more than 40% — work is one of the many basic rights that has been denied to the people of Gaza.

Though conditions were altogether abysmal for most Gazans, Zarrincalaki sees a ray of hope. “Tears welled up in the eyes of a man when I was talking nonchalantly about my view on the cause and global politics in reference to the Palestinian issue… he was so overwhelmed when he heard of the support people give and he was in tears because it was such a relief to him to know they are not alone in their struggle and that the world is aware and supporting them. And that was enough for him, the relief he felt. That’s what you felt with a lot of people.”

This relief that many Palestinians feel at others being aware of their existence is the consequence of the Israeli-imposed siege to cut them off from the rest of the world and cause a psychology of despair. But countering this helplessness and hopelessness is the Islamic spirit throughout government and society, particularly in Gaza. “There is a conscious presence of Islam, totally, in their government and officials, everyone,” said Zarrincalaki giving the example that, “Ismail Haniya led the Friday prayer there.”

Zarrincalaki also spoke about some restrictions in Gaza based on Islamic law and compared these with the Islamic Republic of Iran. “In Iran after the revolution there were a lot more strict societal rules for women relating to hijab, covering and just interaction [in public]. But after stability was established in society and the government… you can see the restrictions diminishing considerably. In Gaza today, there is little or no stability. My perspective is that the restrictions they have in society are to aid stability. It stabilizes a portion of society where there is a lack of safety, the economy is in distress and political life is not normal. My understanding is that once stability is achieved there, it would allow for societal restrictions to diminish.”

Zarrincalaki’s comprehensive analysis of her experience as part of the Viva Palestina convoy led her to conclude: “More needs to be done and more frequently… To push the limits to help end the siege more effectively is to next time take van loads of construction equipment only and if this is blocked at the border you push to say if this is an open border then this should be allowed in. It’s something that’s needed there and should legally be allowed in. That’s what the next convoy should do… you need to push the limits to force a level of liberation. Otherwise it is not going to be accomplished by just doing what they want you to do.”

She continued, “…We need to test that limit to see how much farther you can get and if there’s reaction from the Egyptian officials [denying aid] it is worth it in the global arena because you’ll have a more negative opinion of them and more support for the resistance.”

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