Published on Friday, September 8, 2006 by the Independent / UK
'Gaza is a jail.
Nobody is allowed to leave. We are all starving now'
A whole society is being
destroyed. There are 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned in the most heavily
populated area in the world. Israel has stopped all trade. It has even
forbidden fishermen to go far from the shore so they wade into the surf to
try vainly to catch fish with hand-thrown nets.
Many people are being
killed by Israeli incursions that occur every day by land and air. A total
of 262 people have been killed and 1,200 wounded, of whom 60 had arms or
legs amputated, since 25 June, says Dr Juma al-Saqa, the director of the al-Shifa
Hospital in Gaza City which is fast running out of medicine. Of these, 64
were children and 26 women. This bloody conflict in Gaza has so far received
only a fraction of the attention given by the international media to the war
It was on 25 June that the
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was taken captive and two other soldiers were
killed by Palestinian militants who used a tunnel to get out of the Gaza
Strip. In the aftermath of this, writes Gideon Levy in the daily Haaretz,
the Israeli army "has been rampaging through Gaza - there's no other word to
describe it - killing and demolishing, bombing and shelling,
indiscriminately". Gaza has essentially been reoccupied since Israeli troops
and tanks come and go at will. In the northern district of Shajhayeh they
took over several houses last week and stayed five days. By the time they
withdrew, 22 Palestinians had been killed, three houses were destroyed and
groves of olive, citrus and almond trees had been bulldozed.
Fuad al-Tuba, the
61-year-old farmer who owned a farm here, said: "They even destroyed 22 of
my bee-hives and killed four sheep." He pointed sadly to a field, its brown
sandy earth churned up by tracks of bulldozers, where the stumps of trees
and broken branches with wilting leaves lay in heaps. Near by a yellow car
was standing on its nose in the middle of a heap of concrete blocks that had
once been a small house.
His son Baher al-Tuba
described how for five days Israeli soldiers confined him and his relatives
to one room in his house where they survived by drinking water from a fish
pond. "Snipers took up positions in the windows and shot at anybody who came
near," he said. "They killed one of my neighbours called Fathi Abu Gumbuz
who was 56 years old and just went out to get water."
Sometimes the Israeli army
gives a warning before a house is destroyed. The sound that Palestinians
most dread is an unknown voice on their cell phone saying they have half an
hour to leave their home before it is hit by bombs or missiles. There is no
But it is not the Israeli
incursions alone that are destroying Gaza and its people. In the understated
prose of a World Bank report published last month, the West Bank and Gaza
face "a year of unprecedented economic recession. Real incomes may contract
by at least a third in 2006 and poverty to affect close to two thirds of the
population." Poverty in this case means a per capita income of under $2
(£1.06) a day.
There are signs of
desperation everywhere. Crime is increasing. People do anything to feed
their families. Israeli troops entered the Gaza industrial zone to search
for tunnels and kicked out the Palestinian police. When the Israelis
withdrew they were replaced not by the police but by looters. On one day
this week there were three donkey carts removing twisted scrap metal from
the remains of factories that once employed thousands.
"It is the worst year for
us since 1948 [when Palestinian refugees first poured into Gaza]," says Dr
Maged Abu-Ramadan, a former ophthalmologist who is mayor of Gaza City. "Gaza
is a jail. Neither people nor goods are allowed to leave it. People are
already starving. They try to live on bread and falafel and a few tomatoes
and cucumbers they grow themselves."
The few ways that Gazans
had of making money have disappeared. Dr Abu-Ramadan says the Israelis "have
destroyed 70 per cent of our orange groves in order to create security
zones." Carnations and strawberries, two of Gaza's main exports, were thrown
away or left to rot. An Israeli air strike destroyed the electric power
station so 55 per cent of power was lost. Electricity supply is now becoming
almost as intermittent as in Baghdad.
The Israeli assault over
the past two months struck a society already hit by the withdrawal of EU
subsidies after the election of Hamas as the Palestinian government in
March. Israel is withholding taxes owed on goods entering Gaza. Under US
pressure, Arab banks abroad will not transfer funds to the government.
Two thirds of people are
unemployed and the remaining third who mostly work for the state are not
being paid. Gaza is now by far the poorest region on the Mediterranean. Per
capita annual income is $700, compared with $20,000 in Israel. Conditions
are much worse than in Lebanon where Hizbollah liberally compensates war
victims for loss of their houses. If Gaza did not have enough troubles this
week there were protest strikes and marches by unpaid soldiers, police and
security men. These were organised by Fatah, the movement of the Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, which lost the election to
Hamas in January. His supporters marched through the streets waving their
Kalashnikovs in the air. "Abu Mazen you are brave," they shouted. "Save us
from this disaster." Sour-looking Hamas gunmen kept a low profile during the
demonstration but the two sides are not far from fighting it out in the
The Israeli siege and the
European boycott are a collective punishment of everybody in Gaza. The
gunmen are unlikely to be deterred. In a bed in Shifa Hospital was a sturdy
young man called Ala Hejairi with wounds to his neck, legs, chest and
stomach. "I was laying an anti-tank mine last week in Shajhayeh when I was
hit by fire from an Israeli drone," he said. "I will return to the
resistance when I am better. Why should I worry? If I die I will die a
martyr and go to paradise."
His father, Adel, said he
was proud of what his son had done adding that three of his nephews were
already martyrs. He supported the Hamas government: "Arab and Western
countries want to destroy this government because it is the government of
As the economy collapses
there will be many more young men in Gaza willing to take Ala Hejairi's
place. Untrained and ill-armed most will be killed. But the destruction of
Gaza, now under way, will ensure that no peace is possible in the Middle
East for generations to come.
The deadly toll
* After the kidnap of Cpl
Gilad Shalit by Palestinians on 25 June, Israel launched a massive offensive
and blockade of Gaza under the operation name Summer Rains.
* The Gaza Strip's 1.3
million inhabitants, 33 per cent of whom live in refugee camps, have been
under attack for 74 days.
* More than 260
Palestinians, including 64 children and 26 women, have been killed since 25
June. One in five is a child. One Israeli soldier has been killed and 26
have been wounded.
* 1,200 Palestinians have
been injured, including up to 60 amputations. A third of victims brought to
hospital are children.
* Israeli warplanes have
launched more than 250 raids on Gaza, hitting the two power stations and the
foreign and Information ministries.
* At least 120 Palestinian
structures including houses, workshops and greenhouses have been destroyed
and 160 damaged by the Israelis.
* The UN has criticised
Israel's bombing, which has caused an estimated $1.8bn in damage to the
electricity grid and leaving more than a million people without regular
access to drinking water.
* The Israeli human rights
group B'Tselem says 76 Palestinians, including 19 children, were killed by
Israeli forces in August alone. Evidence shows at least 53 per cent were not
participating in hostilities.
* In the latest outbreak
of violence, three Palestinians were killed yesterday when Israeli troops
raided a West Bank town in search of a wanted militant. Two of those killed
were unarmed, according to witnesses.