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Gaza's suffering ignored
The hidden occupation

October 6, 2006 | Page 5

GAZA IS sinking deeper into misery and crisis--but its suffering is all but hidden from the outside world.

The Israeli siege of Gaza re-intensified at the end of June, when the Israeli government used the excuse of the capture of one of its soldiers to launch a new round of military strikes. During the last three months, 267 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, including 52 children; almost 1,000 civilians have been injured.

According to a report by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, the bombing of Gaza's new power plant in late June has cut electricity for most of Gaza's 1.4 million people to a few hours a day. One result is that the sewerage system has all but collapsed, leaving the threat of epidemics of infectious disease.

The onslaught has exposed the lie that Gaza was freed following Israel's unilateral withdrawal plan carried out last summer. In reality, Israel's occupation continues with a different face, imposed through a strict blockade of border checkpoints and increasingly frequent military action.

What else to read

Dr. Mona El-Farra's blog "From Gaza, with Love" powerfully documents the deteriorating situation in Gaza. The Electronic Intifada Web site posts updates on the current situation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Several articles in the current issue of the International Socialist Review--by Phil Gasper, Toufic Haddad and Sharon Smith--are devoted to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. For a collection of essays on the history of Israel's occupation and Palestinian resistance, see The Struggle for Palestine, edited by Lance Selfa.

 

Compounding this is the brutal economic sanctions imposed after the election victory of militant Hamas party in elections earlier this year. In retaliation for Palestinian voters picking the wrong option in a democratic election, Israel and the U.S. cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) worth at least $100 million, and the Israeli government is withholding tax revenues that belong to the PA.

Workers for the PA--who bear a disproportionate burden of providing for family and friends because unemployment is so high in the Occupied Territories--are months behind in receiving salaries.

This is the backdrop to the escalating conflict between Hamas, which holds a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, and the former ruling Fatah Party, once led by Yasser Arafat. That conflict reached a new pitch with gun battles on October 1 that left eight people dead and more than 50 injured.

Media reports immediately blamed the violence on Hamas militias for "breaking up" a demonstration of police and civil servants over unpaid wages. In fact, Fatah--which continues to dominate the PA's swollen security apparatus--is seen as manipulating the strike and protests by PA workers in order to undermine Hamas.

Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, has kept up pressure on Hamas to make concessions and agree to a "national unity" government. Israel and its U.S. backers have played an active role in stoking the conflict, promoting the idea that any improvement in conditions for Palestinians will come from Abbas and Fatah, not Hamas.

All the while, the situation for the mass of Palestinians in Gaza grows more desperate.

MONA EL-FARRA is a doctor and human rights activist who lives in Gaza. Since the latest Israeli assault on Gaza began at the end of June, she has written an Internet blog)--when the flow of electricity permits--called "From Gaza, with Love."

Here, Dr. El-Farra talks to Socialist Worker's ALAN MAASS about the worsening conditions.

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SINCE THE end of the Israeli-U.S. war on Lebanon, the siege of Gaza has virtually disappeared from the news. What are conditions like?

I AGREE with you that the media doesn't cover what's going on in Gaza. But it's not only the U.S. media. It's worldwide. We're not covered in the news despite the fact that, every day, at least three to four people are killed by assassination, by incursions into Gaza, by other means.

This happens every day. For example, today [September 29], in the Jabaliya refugee camp, two youths, aged 14 and 16, were attacked by one of the Israeli aircraft and were killed while just riding their bicycles.

Another thing that's not covered by the media that we're going through here in Gaza is the humanitarian crisis.

The crisis is getting worse. The poverty level is increasing--there is now about two-thirds of the population living under the poverty line. You can imagine how difficult life is for all of us.

The pressure has intensified due to the sanctions since the election of the Hamas government, which were imposed by the Israeli, U.S. and European governments. This increased the poverty. You're talking about 160,000 government workers for the Palestinian Authority who don't get their salaries, and at least half of them are in Gaza.

One of my deep concerns about the situation, which is an outcome of poverty, is anemia among children. The level of anemia among children who are under the age five has increased to 42 percent. This is an alarming indicator about the whole situation--political, social, economic.

Another thing that is alarming is that the number of Palestinian men and women and children suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome is increasing now. The Gaza Community Mental Health Program has recorded increasing cases of post-traumatic stress, and also violence within the families. The whole population is getting more impatient.

We are not enjoying a normal life in any way. We are not allowed to move freely inside our own country, or outside the country. There are no checkpoints in Gaza now, but with the continuous military actions, we are afraid, so we restrict our movements. We aren't obliged to, but the situation isn't normal, so you naturally restrict your own movements. It sounds minor, but you have to experience this day after day, day after day.

Plus, we are without electricity for much of the day and without decent water. A lot of families, especially in rural areas, have to buy water, because there is no tap water.

And because there is no electricity, we now need to spend more money on higher gas prices to run generators for buildings. This is another pressure on hospitals. Hospitals don't get a steady supply of electricity, so it is extra expensive to keep power going. You can imagine how this is affecting the situation.

Then there are clashes between factions of Fatah people and Hamas people. There are a lot of arms inside Gaza, and a lot of friction. Lives are lost from that, too. We're hoping for a national unity government, but the negotiations toward this government are going very sluggishly.

Nothing helps you to dream or to plan or to think properly. After all, we are under occupation, and the occupation is controlling our lives. At the moment, we are not free people.

The American people don't know this. They don't know that Gaza and the West Bank are still under Israeli occupation. The media were all talking about the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, and saying that now Gaza is a free piece of land. This is not the truth. That's something I would like to stress for people--that Israel is physically out of Gaza, but they are controlling Gaza, and they are in and out of Gaza all the time.

POLITICIANS IN the U.S. say that Palestinians are responsible for the current vioohave "turned against" the negotiations that began with the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, and are therefore responsible for the current violence. How would you respond to that?

TO START with, the Oslo Accords were not a just solution for the Palestinian people. Despite that, they were accepted by the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The leadership went ahead, but at every point, Israel was making it difficult.

The negotiations were very sluggish, and I think Israel was dragging out the process until they could put facts on the ground. The accord didn't succeed because the Israelis were making obstacles for the peace process.

Israel was founded on a Zionist ideology that is very much like the colonial ideal of controlling over people--it was a new face of colonialism. That's why Oslo could not succeed.

WHAT CAN people in the U.S. do to support the Palestinian struggle?

JUST SPEAKING the truth is important. Print what's going on in Gaza, talk about what's going on, try to find the truth about the Palestinian conflict.

We are still living under occupation, and it is not only us who suffer from this. The whole area will suffer because any solution that does not guarantee fairness and justice for Palestinians will not work. It will collapse. There will be eruptions of fighting as long as there is no just solution for the refugees--the people who were forced to leave their country in 1948.

So if we are talking about peace--a comprehensive peace and stability and prosperity in the area--this should be built on justice.

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