|European MPs and Ministers Assess Gaza Today|
During a recent visit, a 50-person European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza (ECESG) assessed conditions on the ground firsthand, one year after Operation Cast Lead:
"to collect and document the facts, and then return to our respective countries and the European Parliament to push for actions that will bring immediate humanitarian relief and an end to the siege, as well as peace and justice to the Palestinian people," what they've long been denied under a repressive occupation.
ECESG (www.savegaza.eu) calls itself:
"an umbrella body of non-governmental organizations across Europe that advocates (for) the fundamental right of the Palestinian people in Gaza to live in peace and dignity without being subjected to any form of collective punishment....ECESG supports the restoration of (Gazans') inalienable rights....and lobbies for pressure to be exerted on (Israel) to lift its siege and end the human tragedy there."
Meetings were held with Palestinian Legislative Council members, Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, and UNRWA Director of Operations, John Ging.
Areas toured were most affected, including Izbet Abet Rabu, the Al-Fakhoura School, and the Al-Salam neighborhood. Delegates also met with Al-Samouni family survivors who lost 23 members during the war.
They saw firsthand what human rights and various international organizations documented, including the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Goldstone Commission's damning indictment of Israeli crimes of war and against humanity after its extensive 2009 fact finding mission.
The combination of destructive war, siege, and humanitarian crisis has been well reported. Nonetheless, ECESG's report is important because it's current and by 50 European parliamentarians and ministers, able to reach other high level officials at home, perhaps with enough clout for action - if not now, toward it happening sooner.
Israel's edifice is weakening. It's just a matter of time until it's effectively pierced. The ECESG, Judge Goldstone, the Global BDS movement, and other committed activists will realize it by relentlessly hammering for peace, equality and justice. Nothing less must be accepted or tolerated.
Highlights of ECESG's Report - Destruction of Homes
Many thousands need "complete rebuilding (or) major repairs" - besides the huge backlog of others from previous Israeli-inflicted destruction. As a result, throughout Gaza, houses are half built for lack of materials, many "condemned as unhygienic or unsafe to live in."
Colin Low, UK House of Lords member and president of the European Blind Union said:
"I was immediately struck by the desperate condition of the inhabitants of Izbet Abed Rabu, a small village (in) northeastern Gaza. Some 300 - 400 houses, a factory and farmland had been completely razed to the ground. (What's left) could only be described as a bomb site through which I had to pick my way carefully. We met a family who were obviously (for over a year) living in the most abject of conditions - three or four generations, including an old lady....over 100, living in a tent without washing facilities of any kind and only a make shift fire on the ground for cooking."
Clear evidence also found showed Israeli forces targeted civilian homes with heavy-caliber weapons and shells - attacks unrelated to military necessity, but to target civilians and ease access for IDF troops.
"The use of such unwarranted weapons on civilian buildings....indicates a deliberate breach of" Fourth Geneva, unmentioned in the Goldstone report. It also corroborates Israeli NGOs (including Breaking the Silence) saying commanders ordered troops to intimidate the local population - kill civilians and destroy homes, other property and non-military structures to prevent a return to normalcy post-conflict.
The Al-Samouni family (that lost 23 of its 48 members) was also visited. Earlier, Masouda Al-Samouni told the Palestinians Centre for Human Rights (PCHR):
"I have no hope, no future, I lost everything in the offensive. I was in the corner with my children just watching. I was screaming and crying, I saw everything, the blood and the brains. There was smoke everywhere. I saw my brother-in-law falling down, and my mother-in-law. I realized that my three brothers-in-law and my mother-in-law were dead....I was injured in the chest and couldn't move....I was bleeding and five months pregnant."
Israeli soldiers entered Ateya Al-Samouni's home forcibly. He identified himself as the owner. "The soldiers shot him while he was still holding his ID and an Israeli driving license. The soldiers then opened fire inside the room" where 20 family members were sheltered, killing or wounding many. Other abuse followed, including Mona Al-Samouni witnessing her parents shot to death and Almaza A-Samouni, whose mother and six siblings were killed.
Survivors suffer from depression and nightmares. Like most others throughout Gaza, they live in deep poverty with no source of income and no publicity about their plight.
"It is shocking that such destruction and trauma are still festering more than a year after the invasion."
It's because of Israel's imposed siege, prohibiting vitally needed construction materials from entering, except for a few token truckloads a month for a 1.5 million population needing hundreds on a regular basis to rebuild.
As a result, education is in crisis for lack of facilities, supplies, and traumatized children unable to concentrate on learning. Even before the war, the siege heavily impacted schools. The previous year, 82% of government schools and 88% of UNRWA ones operated on double-shifts of necessity.
Post-conflict, it's much worse. Hundreds of schools were damaged, 18 or more entirely destroyed, and several others used as shelters were targeted to kill civilians, dozens in all.
International law prohibits attacking schools, hospitals, mosques, UN facilities and other non-military structures. Doing so is a war crime. Doing it in densely populated Gaza was gratuitous mass murder, especially since UNRWA head John Ging gave IDF forces exact coordinates of UN facilities, including schools attacked. He also said:
"I can tell you categorically that there was no military activity in (the Al-Fakhoura) school at the time of the tragedy. (Those murdered) were innocent people," sheltering from conflict.
The American International School was also visited, entirely destroyed and not rebuilt one year later. "To date, almost nothing has been rebuilt or repaired as a result of the ban on" construction materials. Gerald Kaufman, British MP said:
"The Minister of Education told us that the exam results at the schools are falling since (the war). Even worse, we were told by psychiatrists that children now routinely ask when they will die." Every day longer the siege continues further damages Gaza's youths.
Living Without Power
Although key lines were restored, 90% of Gazans experience up to 8 hours of stoppage daily, EU nations exacerbating conditions by cutting off pre-siege PEGASE program funding - subsidies for fuel purchases. As a result, over half of all Gazans have reduced or no power because the sole plant can't supply it. Refrigerators, stoves, heaters and other appliances can't be used. Children can't do homework in the dark. Emergency surgeries are disrupted or can't be performed, at times with life-threatening consequences.
Lack of Enough Clean Water
The supply and regular disruptions are a daily fact of life, especially for half the population in high-rise buildings "where water must be carried to upper stories using electric pumps." As a result, bathing, brushing teeth, doing laundry, washing dishes, and preparing meals at times are impossible.
Sanitation infrastructure was also badly damaged and not repaired. Gaza's Coastal Municipalities Water Utility said that since the blockade it's been hampered by few essential spare parts to operate. In addition, "The increased pumping....depleted the aquifer and accelerated the salin(ity) of the water."
Loss of pressure also lets polluted water enter pipes, sent straight to households when distribution resumes. "About 90 percent of the water supplied to Gaza residents is not suitable for drinking, according to" WTO standards because of sea and contaminated water infiltration. As a result, water-related illnesses are widespread, and conditions are worsening and life-threatening.
Easily preventable diarrhea causes 12% of childhood deaths, and of 40,000 "newborn babies this year, at least half are at immediate risk of nitrate poisoning; the incidence of 'blue baby-syndrome (methaemoglobinaemia) is exceptionally high."
Nitrate poisoning is a major problem. In some places, it's 300 times the WTO standard.
Based on availability for those who can afford it, buying water privately trucked in is the only alternative other than begging from neighbors or doing without at great risk.
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|Allen L. Jasson|