Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Worsens

Life in the Gaza Strip has never been easy, but now the situation has worsened with a stepped up blockade by Israel which has sparked a huge humanitarian crisis, writes Chris Gelken.

 "The 92nd patient in the last three weeks died today as an outcome of this siege. One of our patients, a child, nine-years-old suffering from cancer, died today while trying to cross the border at the Erez Checkpoint for treatment in the West Bank," said Mona El-Farra, a doctor and human rights advocate, speaking to PressTV's Middle East Today.

The situation is so bad, the New York based Human Rights Watch issued a statement describing Gaza as the  "largest prison on the face of the earth" with Gaza residents being imprisoned and traumatised in their own land.

United Nations agencies operating in the Gaza have warned of a humanitarian crisis and have appealed for a relaxation in the siege to allow desperately needed supplies to be delivered, in particular to hospitals and schools.

The United States, meanwhile, maintained its essentially unreserved and unquestioning support of Israel by vetoing a non-binding United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli siege of Gaza. This brings to more than 60 the number of times the United States has blocked a resolution critical of Israel.

Since 1990, the United States has cast more Security Council vetoes than any other permanent member, many of them favouring Israel, its long-time ally.

PressTV's Middle East Today programme gave viewers a personal glimpse into the life of Gaza residents during an interview with El-Farra whose blog, From Gaza with Love, gives a first-hand and moving account of daily life in the Gaza Strip, declared a  "hostile territory" by Israel.

 "Long live Mr. Bush and Israel for this big blessing of electricity in Gaza," wrote El-Farra on her blog recently. She made her entry during one of the few opportunities allowed because of the chronic fuel shortage in the Gaza Strip, a result of the Israeli siege on the territory.

 "On the other hand," El-Farra told PressTV,  "I was glad that the electricity was back because I don't have regular power in my flat, as don't most of the people of the Gaza Strip, so the problem of electricity is still there. And of course all the petrol stations in Gaza are closed, they don't have enough fuel."

El-Farra was speaking as thousands of Gaza residents were taking advantage of a breach of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt to buy essential supplies.

 "People are still going to the Egyptian border for supplies and necessities," she said,  "The border was open, but the people didn't have enough cash. Non-Governmental and other organisations are working hard to help the people, but it is not enough. And then the Israelis announced they would not allow a fuel shipment into Gaza, adding to the problems of the people. The generators in the hospitals and operating rooms do not have enough fuel. "

So the life in Gaza at the moment is unbearable, El-Farra continued, but we are living here and we have to continue to help our people.

On her blog, El-Farra describes the daily horror of living under what many still describe as Israeli occupation, despite the fact that Israel officially withdrew from the territory three years ago.

 "The (Israeli) settlers are out, but we are still occupied," El-Farra explained,  "It is a new version of occupation where the occupying forces control us from the outside. They control every aspect of our lives; the food we eat, the water we drink, the borders, the education, everything. That leads to an increasing number of children in Gaza who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, not only because of the closure, but because of the continuous Israeli military atrocities against us in Gaza. The number of children who suffer from PTSD is 61 percent, and this is according to the latest study from the Gaza Community Health Program."

El-Farra described a visit to a local school, where conditions are so far removed from the normality that most readers would take for granted, it is almost like being transported back to the Dark Ages.

 "Yesterday I was visiting one of the schools and I could see the children in the classroom with candles. Gaza is a very crowded place, 1.5 million people, and the schools have two shifts. It is winter now and the day is too short and there is no electricity in the schools. So you can imagine the disruption in the education, the effect on health, and the general effect on all aspects of our lives."

El-Farra started her blog almost two years ago, often making entries by candlelight, praying her computer batteries will survive long enough to allow her to finish.

 "I started writing my blog because I felt that it was a window in the sky, it was a way of telling the people what's happening in my country under occupation," she said.

*Appearing on the same edition of Middle East Today with El-Farra was Israeli Professor Alon Ben-Meir, a well known and respected author and Middle East analyst. He said:

 "I am against any kind of occupation, direct or indirect. I have always advocated that occupation in any form, however benevolent, is not sustainable. And it has to end," he said.

While not defending Israel's action, Ben-Meir noted there were always two sides to a story, and if the Kassam rocket attacks on Southern Israel stopped, so would the Israeli retaliations.

But many other analysts believe the largely ineffective rocket attacks are a pretext for the siege, saying the destruction of Hamas politically is the sole intention of Israeli government.

 "Hamas has denied the right of Israel to exist," Ben-Meir told Middle East Today. And so, or goes the conventional wisdom, Israel and the United States have decided that Hamas should cease to exist either as a political entity or as a military threat.

And the 1.5 million Gaza residents are being collectively punished for voting Hamas into power in an election judged generally fair and open by international observers, including former US President Jimmy Carter.

The best way to stop the violence and open the way for a negotiated settlement, said Ben-Meir, is for the United Nations to issue a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire. An end to the rocket attacks and an end to Israeli incursions and retaliations in the Gaza Strip.

 "A resolution with heavy penalties for any side that breaks the ceasefire, including Israel," Ben-Meir said.

Prof. Ben-meir's suggestion was made with profound earnestness, borne out by one of his earlier statements that,  "I am concerned about every Palestinian life, about every human life."

But will the care and concern for human life be enough to get such a resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council?

A third guest on the program, the Chicago based writer and commentator Stephen Lendman, dismissed the proposal, saying the possibility that the United States would allow such a resolution to pass would be,  "between little and none."

And given America's past record, he is probably right.

* The above article is based on interviews conducted in the production of PressTV's news and current affairs programme, Middle East Today, hosted by the author.

* See also, 'Palestinian tragedy ignored by the world', The-Latest, World News section.