The siege is much worse than statistics reveal. It is imperative that the international community listen to the voices of the Palestinians themselves who are suffering everything imagineable under the siege.
Every day, in taxis, in stores without electricity or bread, on the street, in accompaniment actions, I meet Palestinians who are truly suffering due to the siege. They are not calling for anything extravagant or impossible. They are not crying, not asking for ‘help’. They are calling for their human rights and dignity to be respected.
I join other international observers in visiting areas which suffer under Israel’s aggressive policies. Two or three times a week, for a few different reasons, we visit farms in the “buffer zone” which suffer from Israel’s shooting attacks and land invasions. One reason is solidarity, to in a small way help to empower them (although they are more stoic and steadfast than we could ever be) to do what is their right (work their land, fish in their seas), and to convey to them that they are not alone, no matter how it seems with our media and politicians.
A more practical aspect is to enable farmers to work the land and, hopefully, be able to harvest what they’ve planted. This backfires somewhat when the Israeli army invades and destroys what has been planted. And these invasions happen regularly. Another aspect of our reasons for accompanying farmers to their land (or fishermen on the seas) is resistance: the farmers/fishermen saying to Israel ‘we will not be driven off of our land, despite your violence’. Finally, the documentation component is critical: for it is always Palestinians’ word against the State of Israel and its propaganda might. Having video and photo footage of the destruction or shooting or whatever kind of attack lends to credibility.
One farmer, in an area east of Khan Younis, lost his entire livelihood in May 2008, when Israeli forces bulldozed hundreds of olive and fruit trees, and destroyed his chicken farm which had housed 3,000 chickens and several hundred pigeons. The Israeli army further destroyed key parts of his farm and house, including water tanks, a water pump, two tractors, and various equipment inside the chicken barn and around.
His is not an isolated case.
Prior to November 18, the Israeli navy abducted fifteen Palestinian fishermen along with 3 international observers from our organization –we had been going out with the fishermen a few days a week to document Israel’s policy of attack on the seas: shooting with machine guns at and around the fishing vessels; using high powered water cannons to destroy fishing boats and equipment (including expensive GPS and radio equipment); and forcing fishermen to jump semi-nude into the water and swim to the Israeli boats where the fishermen were then taken to Ashdod port for interrogation or arrest.
Israel has thus far not been held accountable for its violations of Gaza’s territorial waters, nor for its abductions at gunpoint of the 15 Palestinian fishermen and 3 international observers, most recently.
[truck delivering gas canisters which sell for NIS 390 (~$100) per canister]
“Yesterday, I waited until 10pm for electricity before I could do my University studies. I am studying IT. I need electricity; I can’t do this type of work in a notebook. There’s nothing to encourage us to study here.”
-Gaza university student
“That, ahead and to the left of the Palestinian point before Erez crossing, that is the ‘yellow zone’. It’s a large area. You cannot walk there, or the Israeli snipers in the tower will shoot you. Don’t even think about going there during the night.”
-Gaza resident, speaking of zone between border area between Israel and Gaza and the town of Beit Hanoun.
“You think you have international protection because you have internationals on your boats? Let’s see what these internationals can do for you now.”
–Israeli soldier while arresting one of fifteen Palestinian fishermen taken from Palestinian waters on 18 November, along with their 3 fishing trawlers and 3 international observers on board the boats.
“Our boat is like a company, and the loss of one boat affects over 100 people: those who work on the boat, those working on the docks, in the markets, repairing the boats, repairing the nets…and the fish buyers themselves.”
–Fishing trawler owner, speaking after his boat was impounded by the Israeli navy.
“Even in the worst of the siege so far it’s never reached this crisis level.This is the first time we’ve been completely shut down. Since November 4th, we haven’t received anything.”
–Ziad al Farra, General Manager of Palestinian Mills Company, Khan Younis, 10 November
“Can you believe it? A canister of cooking gas costs NIS 385 (nearly $100) now. Before the siege, it was just NIS 50, we could re-fill the empty canisters. Now we must buy the whole thing, and the prices are inflated.”
“What can I do? I’m stuck here. I only came to visit my ill mother, and now I’m here for 3.5 months. I’ve got a job abroad, a life abroad, but I can’t get out of here. See all these men in the coffee shop? They’re here every day. What can we do, sit in the dark all day, stare at the walls? Most of these men, they’re educated, many highly educated. But there’s no work, nothing.”
–M., Australian Palestinian visiting family in Gaza
“I used to enjoy writing, I wrote often about life here, my thoughts…Now, when I pick up a pen, I can’t write anything. Maybe my name… I wish I could go back to my way of thinking earlier, when I had hope.”
–Osama, university student in Gaza
“Fish mey, fish gaz, fish ekkel, fish ishi” [“no water, no gas, no food, nothing”]
-the majority of Palestinians I have met in Gaza
As of 3 December, Israel has continually kept Gaza’s borders closed since sealing them on 4 November, with very brief openings to allow in insignificant amounts of humanitarian aid and fuel.
This move followed a 4 November invasion in which Israel sent tanks into Gaza, killing six Palestinians, and provoking Palestinian resistance to retaliate by firing rockets at Israel.
On 2 December Israel, under the pretext of security, prevented a Libyan boat carrying 3,000 tons of food aid, powdered milk and blankets from entering Gaza’s waters.
UNRWA, Oxfam, and the ICRC are among organizations condemning Israel’s lockdown and calling for the immediate opening of Gaza’s borders to allow in necessary amounts of food, water, fuel, medicines. An interview published on 25 November quotes the UN’s John Ging as stating: “It was unprecedented that we ran out of food, which we did over 10 days ago. The closures are becoming more and more restrictive; the situation here is getting worse and worse.”
UN figures reveal an average of less than five truckloads a day have been allowed in, compared to 123 in October and 475 in May last year. On 27 November, the UN announced that it had run out of food supplies and essentials in Gaza.
Thus far, nearly 260 medical patients have died due to blocked travel and lack of medications. Another 450 critically ill patients (35% of them children) have been denied permission to cross the border for proper treatment. Thousands more patients are being turned away from Gaza’s hospitals due to the severe shortage of 300 different kinds of medicines, 95 of which (including cancer medicines) are no longer available in Gaza. 220 machines used for dialysis and other serious conditions, including CT scanning, are unserviceable.
Gaza’s power plant does not receive sufficient amounts of fuel to generate power, instead forced to shut down for long periods. Along with the lack of spare and replacement parts, the sporadic starting and shutting down of the plant has affected its ability to function.
The power outages continue to affect civilians in all aspects of their daily lives, ranging from disrupting studies, exams, family life, and work, to the more severe consequence of shutting down hospital operating and emergency rooms, forcing hospitals to rely on over-worked generators which are in turn dependent on non-existent fuel, halting the function of refrigerators and thereby putting in jeopardy medications and thousands of blood units, plasma, and vaccines, and preventing water pumps and treatment facilities from functioning.
Dialysis machines, incubators, and other vital hospital equipment reliant on electricity have been shut down. The fuel for hospital generators has nearly run out and a shortage of basic medical supplies has left al-Shifa with only 20 percent of the oxygen supply it needs.
Compounding this, Israel continues to prevent spare parts from entering Gaza, meaning patients relying on broken machinery and equipment are going without treatment. The health ministry states that 220 machines used for dialysis and other serious conditions, including CT scanning, are unserviceable, and that at least 20 Palestinian kidney patients are at the brink of dying due to non-functioning dialysis machines. “Fifty percent of hospital equipment at al-Shifa has stopped functioning due to the lack of electricity and spare parts since this more than 20-day blockade started,” said Gaza health minister Basem Naim.
Everyday conversations centre around the lack of fuel, lack of cooking gas, lack of electricity.
Current stocks of wheat are sufficient for just less than three days as Israel has not permitted any consignments of flour to enter the Gaza Strip for one week. The scarcity of wheat has shut down 5 of Gaza’s 6 mills. Along with the lack of electricity and gas, many of Gaza’s bakeries have shut down, in turn causing a scarcity of bread, a staple in a diet which has become exorbitantly expensive under siege. Those 1.1 million relying on humanitarian food aid suffer as the UN and other humanitarian organizations wait for shipments of aid supplies.
John Ging, in an interview published on 27 November, said: “I am seeing here first hand, that the innocent civilians, 750,000 children in Gaza, are paying a severe humanitarian price.”
The grain scarcity has meant that over 700,000 chicks have been euthanized, and that some families are resorting to using feed-grade grains as a food source.
Farmers continue to be shot at while working on their land in and near the ‘buffer zone’, a band of land stretching from North to South along the border with Israel and ranging from 150 m to 1000 m, imposed by Israel again under the pretext of security.
In various areas along this buffer zone, Israeli tanks and bulldozers have repeatedly and recently been observed crossing into Gazan territory and sweeping along the buffer zone are in what appears to be preparation for an imminent ground invasion.
Prior to the June 19 ‘truce’, farmers in the buffer zone experienced Israeli invasions in which entire chicken farms (some holding up to 40,000 chickens) were destroyed, along with hundreds of square metres of orchards and farmland, animal dwellings, greenhouses, farm equipment, and house infrastructure, like water tanks.
Seeds, fertilizers, insecticides are on the list of items not available in Gaza. For those farmers who are able to grow flowers and strawberries for European markets, export is impossible, and the local markets flooded, meaning produce goes to waste and incomes are lost.
Fishermen fear breaching Israel’s illegally-imposed 6 mile limit, a downsized limit from the 20 mile Oslo Interim agreement, due to the attacks they face on a daily basis from the Israeli navy, including the use of high speed gunboats, live ammunition, and water cannons. Fishermen are also routinely arrested and interrogated, their boats confiscated, the last incident being November 18, in which 15 fishermen and 3 international observers were arrested, three fishing trawlers confiscated, while legally fishing 7 miles out, in Gaza’s waters. Forcing the fishermen to stay close to Gaza’s shores means that they are overfishing an area which already has a minimal amount of fish, the larger and greater catches being beyond 7 miles out.
Journalists have been barred entry since November 4, meaning that there are only a handful of international journalists now in the Gaza Strip. On 14 November, Israel banned entry to 20 senior European diplomats, including Richard Makepeace, the British Consul-General. On 18 November, seven delegates representing international development organizations were banned entry through Erez Crossing.
The bans on internationals’ entry to Gaza coincide with Israel’s growing threats to invade Gaza, after a siege that has been tightly imposed since June 2007, the overall blockade going back to March 2006.