Tuesday, 26 October 2010

3 days in Gaza

They have electricity every 6 - 8 hours and clean water every 3 days. Their clothing is largely limited to that which is given.
Every day an Israeli submarine patrols the horizon. Several times a day an Israeli gunship patrols the shore. I have seen this with my own eyes. The fishing rights awarded to Palestinians are 22 nautical miles from shore, but in reality they have only a few hundred yards. If the boats stray out and a gunship is around they will be shot out of the water. This is terror.

Every day Israeli fighter aircraft patrol the skies. They fly low and loud. I hear this every day with my own ears. 1600 people were killed in this way during the last vicious Israeli raids. It is terror.

I met people who had been targeted with unmanned aircraft on the way to the shops. Two boys had their faces blown away. One man is suffering daily as the shrapnel moves further and further towards his brain. "Life in Gaza is scary and dangerous. We struggle to hope." said the handsome Omar who had not left his house for a month before we came. As he walked away from me he clung almost naturally to the walls of buildings. This man was living in fear. I saw it with my own eyes.

I visited an orphanage. Some children laughed and played as we gave them treats to eat. Others did not laugh or play. They did not want sweets. Their hollow eyes told a different story. They had lost their parents in violence. If a Gazan child is orphaned, and they have family on the West Bank, they cannot go to live with them. There is no freedom of movement for even an orphan. Israel shows zero compassion.

I was fortunate to meet Ismail Haniyah, the Prime Minister of Gaza, his Vice President Mahmoud al Zahar, and Minister of Public Works and Housing Yousef al-Mansi.The Hamas PM sadly did not speak English, so I was unable to form a full picture of his personality and political attitudes. What I do know is that everything I have so far heard or read on the subject has been plain wrong. He came across to me as a quiet and thoughtful man who was eager to meet us. He made a special effort to come and speak with the women - who had largely been pushed aside by the men earlier in the day and had therefore been denied a full chance to speak with him. He is pictured here in a simple white robe and cap.

The VP of Hamas is a fluent English speaker. He was generous enough to give the three fiery ladies of New Zealand (Julie) the US (Rahmah) and the UK (me)a private appointment in his state apartment - which was nice enough but not palatial. At that meeting we discovered that two of his sons had been killed by the Israelis. The troubles he suffered and the questions he asked have been virtually the same for the last 62 years:

Before 1948 the nature of Palestine was Palestinian. What right did the British Government have to give Palestinian land away?

What is the nature of the existence of Israel - a replacement population, or occupation. Is it legal?

Why does the West continually call itself the international community when quite clearly it is not. The Chinese have 1.6 Billion people and India 1.1 Bn. Protestants and Catholics number 850M, Muslims 1.85 Bn, and Jews13M (of which only 5M live in Israel). Is it logical to describe your nation as a religion? Islam is a religion, not a nation.

Why are the British and American press obsessed with the return of 1 Israeli prisoner when Israel holds 11,000 people the majority of whom are on a 99 year jail sentence with barely a fair trial between them.

Why is there a concentration of war in the Middle East and who is searching for Israeli nuclear bombs

The killing of the nine members of the freedom flotilla in May earlier this May - was it an act of self defence - or aggression?

Mahmoud al Zahar was clearly a knowledgeable man, well educated and by the nature of his knowledge, anti Jew. It seemed to me that he no longer separated Zionism from the ordinary Jew, but living under siege as he did with warplanes and warships continually threatening his people, killing his children and destroying his homes one could hardly blame him. The view from Gaza is uncompromising. There is great suffering. Those of us who take our freedoms for granted can have no idea what it means to have them withheld from no fault of your own - except to be born in Gaza.

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