(Feb. 24, 2009) Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans was one of a five strong delegation from the European Parliament sent to report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza following the twenty two days of Israeli bombing. Jill represents the whole of Wales in the European Parliament.
As the new year dawned, like thousands of others, I watched in horror as Israeli bombs rained down on Gaza. Having visited Palestine several times, I knew what death and destruction would be caused in this densely populated area (the size of Wrexham) where a million and a half people live. I had seen at first hand the grinding poverty caused by the Israeli occupation and the two year siege of Gaza. People who were already living in desperate conditions were now under attack with no way to escape and nowhere to hide. Now I was going to see Gaza after twenty two days of bombing.
I expected to see scenes of devastation but the reality was shocking. In parts of Gaza City whole streets had been reduced to rubble and the survivors lived in tents on the site of their former homes. Many people had lost several family members in the attacks, including babies and children. In the Al Hajaj house in Zeitoun I listened to the most distressing story from a young man whose father and sister had been killed before his eyes when a bomb came through the roof. His sister was only fifteen months old and badly burnt. He tried to get help but because it was a combat zone he was not allowed to leave and there were no ambulances. The bodies were left there for fifteen days.
In a rural area outside Gaza City we met a father of young children whose wife and mother in law had been shot by soldiers. Their house was being shelled by tanks and they left waving a white cloth to get to safety but they were fired on. They fell on the road and bled to death. Their relatives were unable to reach them. The house was then used by the soldiers who left terrifying warnings scrawled on the walls for others to see.
This was the reality of what was happening behind the press blackouts in Gaza. This was how fifteen hundred people died. Their terror and pain is unimaginable.
Now they have to try and rebuild their lives and their homes. But even if the bombing is over the siege is not. Gaza is closed to the outside world and the Israelis allow only fifteen items to cross the checkpoints – mostly food, some medicines and mattresses. Anything they think might be used to attack them is banned, including paper, glass and cement. You can’t rebuild a society without the tools.
The same applies to the economy of Gaza. The Israeli bombers had targetted factories, government buildings and schools. In Izbet Abd Rabo I met Dr. Yasser Wadia who took us around the wreckage of what had been his ice cream factory employing over two hundred people. Not only had the factory been destroyed but after the bombing the tanks came in to ensure that nothing was left standing. Every refrigerated van had been burnt. Over six hundred businesses were damaged or destroyed including Gaza’s biggest wheat flour mill.
Today over 90% of the people are totally dependent on United Nations food aid. We saw the four hundred men a day queuing The bombs that fell on the Al Quds Hospital also badly damaged the cultural centre next door. But on the charred and blackened walls hung new, colourful paintings placed there by artists who won’t allow the violence to kill the hope and spirit of the people of Palestine.
up outside a food distribution centre to collect their parcels of flour, sugar, oil, milk and luncheon meat.
No roof was left above the Disney painted walls of the children’s ward of the Al Quds Hospital, now deserted. When the hospital was bombed by an F16 the staff had to evacuate and literally carried the forty five patients down the street to safety, including three in intensive care. Sixteen of their ambulances had been destroyed. The hospital staff had to put out the fire because no fire engines were allowed in.
This was not defending Israel. This was a calculated and deliberate attack to destroy the heart and the economy of Gaza.
But despite everything the Palestinian people could be optimistic. Outside the wreckage of the American International School, we heard from the head teacher that they had rented other premises so they could carry on teaching the two hundred Palestinian students. Over half of the population of Gaza is under 25 years old, and driving through the streets there seemed to be young people everywhere. I was told that this is because so many schools have been bombed that the children go to school in shifts in the ones that are left.
The politicians we met from all parties were committed to forming a “unity” government of Palestinians. Everyone saw the need to come together to work for peace and justice and the European Union had a role to play. When a unity government was formed two years ago, despite having called for it we refused to work with it. This time we have to recognise the government and help ensure that the international community – most importantly the United States – does so too. That is the message we reported back to the President of the European Parliament and that is what I said in my speech to the parliament last week. We have to play our part in ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and see the two states living peacefully side by side.
The bombs that fell on the Al Quds Hospital also badly damaged the cultural centre next door. Artists have started to return and display new, colourful paintings on the charred and blackened walls. They hang there as a reminder that no war can kill the hope and spirit of the people of Palestine.