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What I saw in Gaza

Haaretz February 4, 2016

Israelis Ignore the Gaza Ghetto Until the War Drums Are Heard

Two million human beings, some of whom worked here for years, some of them even have friends here, live in abject poverty and petrifying despair, mainly because of Israel’s blockade.

Gideon Levy |

Most Israelis cannot imagine the daily lives of Gazans.Credit: AFP

The latest news from the ghetto comes, as usual, from the outside. The addiction to fear and the eternal wallowing in terror in Israel suddenly reminded one of the existence of the neighboring ghetto. Only thus are we here reminded of Gaza. When it shoots, or at least digs. Residents of the communities surrounding Gaza hear sounds, perhaps the sounds of digging, and the ghetto is no longer abandoned. We recall its existence. Iran dropped off the agenda. Sweden isn’t scary enough. Hezbollah is busy. So we return to Gaza.

If the Ayelet Zurer affair loses steam heaven forbid, or the Moshe Ivgy affair doesn’t take off – the things that are really interesting – because then some bored commentators and editors and politicians and bloodthirsty generals are liable to drag Israel into another “war” in Gaza. And “war” in Gaza is always another controlled massacre, whose achievements are measured in the number of corpses and amount of destroyed buildings that it leaves behind. Isaac Herzog has already promised as much.

But the real news from Gaza doesn’t reach Israelis. Who here heard that jets of the most moral air force in the world poisoned in recent weeks the fields of a “buffer zone,” which Israel declared unilaterally, at a distance of 300 meters from the fence? Farmers in Gaza report that the dusters spread the poison up to 500 meters, and that 1,187 dunams (293 acres) were damaged in the last poisoning in December. The pilots, convinced that they are doing a good thing, reported hitting their targets accurately.

Pay attention to the sterile wording of the IDF spokesman: “Aerial spraying of herbicidal germination preventing material next to the security fence was carried out in order to allow optimal implementation of ongoing security missions in the area,” he stated.

Fishermen are forbidden from venturing more than six nautical miles out from shore. Sometimes they catch a fisherman or shoot him. Farmers are forbidden from going within 300 meters. Everything is done to serve Israel’s security, and its security alone – and the occupation of the Gaza Strip ended a long time ago

Just an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, there is a ghetto. Even without supplying “germination preventing materials,” almost nothing grows in it. Up-to-date data from Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement indicate 43 percent unemployment, 70 percent in need of humanitarian assistance and 57 percent suffering from nutrition insecurity.

And then there is the spine-chilling report that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency issued in August under the headline “Gaza 2020: A livable place?” By then the damage to the water infrastructure will be irreversible. The water today is already not potable. The GDP per capita, $1,273, is less than it was 25 years ago, perhaps the only one that declined. Another 1,000 doctors and 2,000 nurses will be needed in the besieged, collapsing health system. From where will they come, out the faculty of medicine in Nuseirat or from the students who left to study medicine at Harvard? Egypt tightened its grasp, the world shirked its commitments and Israel exploits this to continue the blockade.

They get three hours of electricity, sometimes six, in the cold and rain. After that, there is no electricity for 12 hours, and then again for three or six hours, day in, day out. There are about two million people, a million of them refugees and their families, made refugees directly or indirectly by Israel. About a million of them are children. No Israeli can imagine it. Few Israelis feel guilty about it. There are few Israelis who care at all. Hamas, you know.

When the next catastrophe in the world hits, be it an earthquake or flood, we’ll be there with a delegation from the Israel Defense Forces, the same IDF in the same fatigues in which they spray the fields in Gaza. We are always the first.

And meanwhile in the ghetto, two million human beings, some of whom worked here for years, some of them even have friends here, live in abject poverty and petrifying despair, mainly because of Israel’s blockade.

The “We left Gaza” operation is complete. Now we only need to wait for the tunnels to start bombing again. $m.stack.teaserArticleAuthorImage.content.a11yDescription.value

Gideon Levy

Haaretz Correspondent

November 7 2014

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What I saw in Gaza

Throughout my career at the World Bank, and at the UN, I have come across many war zones but none compare to this.

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The humanitarian tragedy in Gaza has made the Palestinian economy worse, writes Andersen [AFP]

Last week, I visited the Palestinian territories. I wanted to hear firsthand from the people of Gaza and understand the scope and magnitude of the recent conflict.

I am now back from Gaza with a prevailing feeling of disbelief and sadness. Throughout my career at the World Bank, and at the United Nations or even before, I have come across many war zones but none compare to what I have just seen in Gaza: no scene of destruction, desolation and despair I have witnessed is equal to the tragic stage of Gaza.

Today, I feel obliged to add my voice for the voiceless and to plead that none of us forget the Palestinian people. It is our collective and historic responsibility to step up support and mobilise a response commensurate to the needs of the Palestinian people.

As development professionals, we deplore the level of violence and destruction and urge all sides to make determined efforts to find a permanent end to these recurrent hostilities, whether incursions, missile attacks or bombings. This will require access to imports and freedom of movement in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as mutual assurance of security in both Palestinian territories and Israel. Our response needs to address both the urgency of now – the humanitarian imperative – and to pave the way for a sustainable development of the Palestinian economy – the development imperative.

Humanitarian tragedy

The conflict and humanitarian tragedy in Gaza has made an already struggling Palestinian economy worse and put further stress on the fiscal situation of the Palestinian Authority. Recession hit the Palestinian territories in the first quarter of 2014, with levels of consumption and donor assistance declining significantly. Donors’ assistance in the first half of 2014 has fallen by more than $200m compared to 2013.

The economic decline has resulted in growing unemployment: one in six in the West Bank, and nearly every second person in Gaza. Poverty has reached 26 percent and is twice as high in Gaza than in the West Bank.

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Palestinians struggle amid the rubble of Gaza

Growth increases when restrictions ease. As documented in last year’s World Bank report: Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy, political uncertainty and restrictions on movement and access are the main reasons why the Palestinian economy is unable to take off.

The Bank estimates that $3bn is lost annually due to restrictions imposed on 60 percent of the West Bank (the so-called Area C).

Even before the conflict, these constraints were more binding in Gaza, where the economy suffered from recurring violence as well as blockades on exports and imports and where two-thirds of the population was receiving food assistance.

Because growth increases when restrictions ease, and inversely, growth slows when restrictions are greater, the ongoing negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians on the new mechanism allowing construction materials to go into Gaza is a step in the right direction. But it is only an inch in a journey of miles.

I am convinced that the World Bank Group can play a transformational role in the Palestinian territories, as it should in most fragile and conflict affected settings. As a development institution, it is both a mandate and a responsibility.

Since the Oslo Accords, the World Bank Group has provided nearly $1bn and has leveraged four times more. Our Board of Directors recently approved additional support, and we will be front-loading a $62m emergency package consisting of budget support and investment projects in such key sectors as water, electricity and municipal services. These are areas where the needs are immense and where the Bank Group has a competitive edge.

Gaza isn’t just a physical wreck

Gaza’s isolation and powerlessness continue to compound and reinforce every symptom. So, too, does an experience of unprecedented Israeli aggression

    • By James S. Gordon
    • Published: 20:00 November 6, 2014
    • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: AP
  • FILE – In this Aug. 26, 2014 file photo, Palestinians inspect the damage to the Italian Complex following several late night Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City. A leading human rights group has accused Israel of committing war crimes during this summer’s war in Gaza. Amnesty International says Israel displayed “callous indifference” in attacks on family homes in the densely populated coastal strip that in some cases amounted to war crimes. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

It feels,” says Musallam Al Najaar, the retired customs official who is walking me through this small village in southern Gaza, “like the Day of Judgement.”

It looks like it, too. Houses are as squashed and scattered as paper cups. A water tower is torn up close to the ground like a stalk of corn. Mosques, schools and factories are blasted, useless shells. Olive trees that were almost ready to yield their fruit are reduced to kindling. It goes on, block after block in Khuzaa, as well as in Beit-Hanoun in the north, Shejaia to the east of Gaza City and Rafah in the south. Altogether 20,000 homes are destroyed and uninhabitable, 39,000 people are still living in United Nations shelters and perhaps 100,000 more are homeless, crowded in with relatives. Building materials promised by the United Nations and international donors are stalled or unavailable.

However, the catastrophe there is not just physical. Upheaval has wrecked lives, severed families and upended routines. “The psychological damage is even greater,” says Al Najaar, who is leading some local reconstruction efforts. “And it will take much longer and be far harder to repair.” It is a tragically common refrain there — from political leaders, homeless women, university officials and my own team of trauma counsellors from the Center for Mind-Body Medicine. I have worked for 20 years with psychological trauma — during and after the war in Kosovo, after the earthquake in Haiti, with US troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and during this summer’s Israeli war on Gaza. And since 2002, I have worked in long-beleaguered, isolated Gaza, leading workshops, training local clinicians and leaders and setting up a programme of self-care and group support to deal with the population-wide psychological trauma.

In all these decades, I have never seen psychological devastation this intense. Almost all the hands I shake, seven weeks after the fighting has stopped, are cold with a “fight or flight” response that will not quit even though the situation no longer demands it. When I ask children and adults in the half-dozen Mind Body Skills Groups that our Gaza team leads whether they have trouble sleeping, all hands go up. Just about everyone has regular nightmares of bombs falling, tanks roaring towards them, body parts lying in the street, children buried under rubble, screaming for help that never comes.

In a resiliency-building workshop I lead, ambulance drivers from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society share the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that afflict them: The sudden rages, flashbacks of the dead and dying, the long withdrawn silences. These guys — as courageous, tough and funny as the New York City firefighters they resemble — now say they cannot think straight or remember the simplest things. Their wives say they thrash their arms and legs and scream in their sleep.

Gaza’s long-enforced isolation and powerlessness continue to compound and reinforce every symptom. So, too, does an experience of Israeli aggression that everyone I speak with feels to be unprecedented. For Gazans there was, during this war, no safe place and no way out. People who were told by Israeli soldiers to leave homes that were about to be bombed said they rushed for safety to the next street, where they found more soldiers blocking their way, telling them to go back. When they returned to their own houses, bombs greeted them. “Something inside us broke,” says a man in Shejaiah whose two sons — the sole survivors of 26 family members — cling to him. “We didn’t think the Israelis would do this.”

In the school in Rafah where 3,500 homeless Gazans sleep on thin blankets spread over concrete floors, uncertainty about the future is crushing. Mothers fear the next round of Israeli bombs will kill children on their long way to still-standing schools. Parents are sure they will never be able to rebuild their homes or pay for their children’s university education. I have seen this level of distress, unaddressed, lead to fixed destructive biological, psychological and social patterns: Agitated children and adults focus and function poorly; impatience explodes in domestic abuse; and free-floating fear and anger push desperate people towards individual and collective violence.

Our Gaza team tries to restore some small measure of control and even hope. Children doing slow “soft belly” breathing discover it is possible to loosen knotted shoulders and quiet fearful thoughts. They sleep better and their nightmares are less overwhelming. Adults who express their fear, anger and frustration in our groups feel, at least for a while, that their thirst for revenge is slaked. And those who help others, as well as themselves — in or out of our programme — can still summon considerable energy. Exhausted school principals and teachers, as well as neighbours, find comfort and inspiration in helping other people’s children. They, like Al Najaar, the ambulance drivers, and my own team, move resolutely forward. “We want to rebuild. Of course, we must rebuild,” concludes a principal sitting in one of our mind-body groups. “We need help to do it, help from Israel and the world. But it is not enough.” The Quran, he assures me, “tells us before we change the outside, we have to change the inside — the mind and the heart.”

— Washington Post

James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist, is the founder and director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine and author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression.

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