Tuesday night when we arrived in Gaza City about 7pm, Medea called a Palestinian family she had met on a previous trip. One of their sons is studying in Boston. During the telephone call, they invited us to stay with them. The Bashirs are a remarkable family who refused to leave their home in 2000 when Israeli soldiers demanded they do so. Their house was next to an Israeli military base which guarded the first Israeli settlement (colony) in Gaza. Mr. Bashir told us that when the German ambassador to Israel inquired to the Israeli government the rationale of demanding that the family leave their ancestral land and home, Israeli Prime Minister Simon Peres told the Ambassador that the Bashir house was now a military base and civilians could not live on a military base!
For five years, until 2005 when Israeli soldiers departed Gaza, the 8 children and two parents lived in one room of the house. Mr. Bashir, the headmaster of a school in Gaza, refused to give his house up to the Israeli military because his ancestors had lived on this land for centuries and it would not he could not consider abandoning his home to the soldiers. The Bashirs were the only family in the area around the Israeli settlement who did not succumb to the pressures of the Israeli military and move away. For their resistance they endured five years of incredible humiliation and unprofessional military conduct, including the shooting of one of their sons who was walking a visiting delegation to the gate of the house. On one occasion the Israeli soldiers beat Mr. Bashier so badly he had to be hospitalized in an Israeli hospital.
On Wednesday, our first full day in Gaza, we visited many organizations involved with caring for the people of Gaza. Shifa hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza, received hundreds of wounded civilians during the 22 day attack, invasion and occupation of Gaza by the Israeli military and ran out of medicines. It has been resupplied by donations from the international community, including several pallets of medicines and medical supplies that had just arrived from Turkey and had not yet been moved to the supply room.
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. Also in the tent 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 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.
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.
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 (http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/W_report/English/2007/weekly2007.html ) as well as their weekly reports on the siege of Gaza from the past two years.
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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 (http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1233304666671&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull ).
Mr. 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 was very concerned about the 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 are refugees and 50% are younger than 16 years. Mr. 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. http://www.gcmhp.net/
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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 Mr. 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.
The organizations we visited today 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.
Let us hope that somehow and despite all odds, the ravages of war will dissipate quickly from the psyche of the people of Gaza.</p>