FreeGaza Movement bio photo

FreeGaza Movement

Human rights group that sailed 5 times into port of Gaza.

Twitter Newsletter Facebook Youtube Flickr

Paypal Donation


Upon returning home from Gaza, a friend commented, “It must have  been horrifying seeing all the destruction.” And it was. The 22-day  Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip laid waste to an already ravaged  territory.

The landscape is dotted with piles of rubble of bombed out buildings,  the twisted iron and aluminum of destroyed factories, once green fields  reduced to sand and dirt by Israeli tanks, apartments with 2 meter holes  in the walls and toppled minarets of mosques turned to ruins.

But as devastating as bearing witness to the destruction was, it was the  absurdities of the siege, the total blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel  and Egypt, that really affected me. Gaza itself remains frozen in time;  for nearly five months after the ceasefire, aside from a few rare cases in  which cinder blocks have been used to fill gaping holes in the sides of  buildings, no reconstruction whatsoever has begun. The blockade keeps  the necessary building materials out of Gaza.

While traveling throughout Gaza with a delegation of mostly U.S.  citizens organized by CodePink, the absurdities of the siege presented  themselves over and over.

At Al Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza, we saw state of the art isotope  scan and radio therapy machines in the oncology department that cannot  operate because the radioactive material as well as a calibration tool  have been refused entry by Israel. A row of dialysis machines sat  unused, lacking the required fluids.

As medical conditions in Gaza deteriorate due to the siege, many look  for medical care abroad. However, the sealed borders prevent them from  traveling. We met the director of an orphanage who had already lost the  vision in one eye, was losing it in the other, but had been unable to  obtain permission to travel to Egypt for eye care.

Power outages are regular occurrences. The Gaza power plant simply  cannot keep up with the demand due to a lack of fuel, which is blocked  by Israel, as is supplemental electricity produced in Israel. There are  both scheduled blackouts of 8-10 hours, as well as spontaneous outages.

While touring the Al Shifa Hospital, the Minister of Health apologized  for the heat in the room, saying their generator must be reserved for  higher priority uses than air conditioning. Families are forced to carry  their loved ones up the stairs, the elevators shutdown during blackouts.

The centers working to create employment opportunities for Gaza’s  women inevitably fall prey to the siege. Power cuts bring the sewing  machines making dresses and linens to a stand still. Even the  embroidery thread used to make traditional handicrafts must be  smuggled in through the tunnels.

The siege has also taken its toll on the father figure. According to Dr.  Zeyada of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, with well over  50% unemployment due to the siege, children see their fathers as unable  to provide for them. And during the war, they saw that their fathers were  also unable to protect them. Children have started looking to other role  models, and make easy targets for those who, unfortunately, have no  desire for peace.

Education suffers under the siege. At a UN vocational training center in  Khan Younis, the library consists of roughly 12 bookcases, but only two  had any books at all, with half being photocopied manuals. The  textbooks destined for the center have been held up in a storage facility  in Jerusalem; the Israelis simply refused to allow them in. The center is  also unable to get the raw materials for their metal and woodworking  courses.

Sharif, a university student studying business administration in his  second year, is understandably proud of having top marks in his faculty.  His friends have nicknamed him ‘The Genius.’ Sharif has been awarded  a scholarship at Portland University in Oregon starting this fall.  Unfortunately, the irrationality of the siege is likely to prevent him from  being allowed to go. “If I can’t get authorization by August, there goes  my scholarship.”

A professor at Al Aqsa University has been offered a position at the  University of Manchester, however, he has been denied permission to  travel. Professors are also unable to travel to attend international  conferences. And students of the English department have a tough time  finding native speakers with which to practice the language; getting into  Gaza is almost as difficult as getting out!

Numerous projects for which funding has already been approved are  currently suspended for the simple fact that the materials to complete  them are not allowed in. Turkey has donated funds for a new university  library and PalTel, the Palestinian telecommunications company, has  allocated funds for an Information Technology Center. Both projects  remain in limbo, victims of the siege.

An official with the UN Relief and Works Agency remarked that it is  also a problem to get the actual banknotes in. UNRWA, which provides  services to more than 1 million registered refugees in the Gaza Strip, is  often only able to get money in to pay the salaries of their 10,000  employees, while money to fund projects is blocked.

Not only are Palestinians restricted in their movement in and out of  Gaza, but also within. In late May, Israel began dropping thousands of  leaflets near the border areas warning the people of Gaza not to come  within 300 meters of the border or they would be fired upon. Farmers  are forced to risk their lives in order to work their fields that fate has  placed too close to the border. The same restrictions are imposed on  Palestinian fishermen. The sound of shots pierce the silence nightly, as  Israeli gunboats fire on fishing boats that dare to venture far enough  away from the shore in order to catch fish to sell and provide a living for  their families.

These are the absurdities that have become the norm in Gaza. But  perhaps most absurd of all is how anyone can believe that Israel’s  severity in the closures, the destruction of the economy and social fabric  of the Gaza Strip, will serve to convince Palestinians to place their trust  in international law.

What we in the international community must do is to heed the call we  heard repeatedly from the people of Gaza: work to break the siege so  that they can take care of themselves.

Stephanie Westbrook

Stephanie Westbrook is a founding member of U.S. Citizens for Peace  &amp; Justice in Rome, Italy (   <a href=”” target=”_blank”> </a> ) and currently  serves on the group’s coordinating committee.