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The Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

Silence From Israel’s Free-Trade Partner – Canada

A humanitarian statement about Gaza, signed by one hundred Canadian health professionals and posted on the Science for Peace website, details information about the dire situation in Gaza that preceded the war: UN agencies and Israeli/Palestinian NGOs document a state of emergency precipitated by the withdrawal of funds after Hamas was democratically elected in January 2006(Canada was the first country to withdraw aid to the Palestinian Authority). A second statement, also posted, describes the humanitarian situation in Gaza and Lebanon as the war continued into August, 2006. Both statements were sent to all Canadian Members of Parliament, and both statements pointed out the paucity of reporting by our media on the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Territories (OT) although much information is readily available on the internet.

What is clear and indisputable at present is that Israel’s victims in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Lebanon, are primarily civilians. It is also clear that the current war is a continuation of previous Israeli actions in Lebanon and in the OT. The 2006 Lebanese invasion led to over one million refugees and 1600 civilian deaths, whereas Israeli civilian deaths number 44. In Gaza, 262 people have been killed, 1200 wounded, of whom 60 had arms or legs amputated. Of the deceased, 64 were children and 26 were women (Dr. Juma al-Saqa, al-Shifa Hospital). What Israeli journalists Amira Hass and Gideon Levy, and Israeli academics Ilan Pappe and Tanya Reinhart, and physicians Mona El-Farra and Nurit Peled-Elhanan and Eyad El-Sarraj write about, over and over, is the under-reported war of attrition against the Palestinian people. This war of attrition includes the impoverishment and terrorizing of the Palestinian people through destruction of their economic and social infrastructure, the daily humiliations and threats in their homes and at checkpoints, the targeted maiming and imprisonment of youth, extra-judicial executions, land confiscation and destruction of homes. Since 1967 over 600,000 Palestinians have spent time in prison and every year, hundreds of Palestinian children are arrested and detained and many are tortured; “almost every family has a male member who has been arrested at some point” (/Stolen Youth/, Defence for Children International/Palestine Section). The release of child and women prisoners in exchange for Cpl. Shalit was the initial negotiating position of the Hamas militia.

Physical assaults: According to the most recent UN Situation Report (August 24th ), only a limited amount of humanitarian aid has reached the Gaza Strip following the complete closure of the main Karni crossing point. At the Erez crossing, no Palestinian workers have been allowed through since 12 March. UNRWA reports that the shortages of food, fuel and construction supplies are jeopardizing every element of their operations in the Gaza Strip. The fishing industry has been paralysed by the complete ban imposed by the IDF on fishing grounds off the Gaza Strip for over 50 days. No developments have been reported for the urgent repairs needed to the Gaza Power Plant. Currently, the remaining electricity available from Israel (approximately 57% of daily supply) is being shared among the 1.4 million people. Data from UNRWA indicate an upward trend in the number of children consultations for diarrhea, a reflection of a possible decline in water quality and food safety. According to the Mayor of As Shoka, the IDF incursion into the area destroyed most of the agricultural land, demolished all the greenhouses and destroyed water and electricity networks. Fifteen percent of all agricultural land in the Gaza Strip was in the As Shoka area. Dr. Abu-Ramadan says the Israelis “have destroyed 70% of our orange groves in order to create security zones.” Per capita income is $700 in Gaza, compared with $20,000 in Israel. Conditions are much worse than in Lebanon where Hezbollah liberally compensates war victims for loss of their houses.

Dr. Al-Saqa of Al-Shifa Hospital talks about the repercussions of the destruction of the power plant on Palestinian children being cared for at the hospital. Particularly compromised is the ability to deliver quality care to emergency room and chronically ill patients. Medicine is not available and referrals to other hospitals outside of the Gaza Strip are impossible. The hospital relies on back-up generators; patients in the intensive care unit, including premature babies, are particularly susceptible to any interruption in electricity. Doctors at Al-Shifa Hospital have also requested investigation of unconventional weapons (now being investigated by Physicians for Human Rights). The Gaza forensic laboratory was bombed the first day of the war.

The Israeli military and economic siege of Gaza has led to a collapse in Palestinian living conditions and many people only survive by looking for scraps of food in rubbish dumps, say international aid agencies. “The pressure and tactics have not resulted in a desire for compromise,” Karen Abuzayd, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency is said to have warned. “But rather they have created mass despair, anger and a sense of hopelessness and abandonment.” “Women in Gaza tell me they are eating only one meal a day, bread with tomatoes or cheap vegetables,” said Kirstie Campbell of the UN’s World Food Programme, which is feeding 235,000 people. She added that in June, since when the crisis has worsened, some 70 per cent of people in Gaza could not meet their family’s food needs. “People are raiding garbage dumps,” she said.

Psychological assaults: Eloquently and prophetically, DCI/PS states that “At a time when international political actors are calling for a return to the logic of `durable solutions’ to stop the current escalation in violence, nations at war remember no injuries as acutely as they remember the death of their children.”

Ha’aretz reporter, Gideon Levy, visited Al-Shifa Hospital and saw “heartrending scenes. Children who lost limbs, on respirators, paralyzed, crippled for the rest of their lives. Families have been killed in their sleep, while riding on donkeys or working in fields. Frightened children, traumatized by what they have seen, huddle in their homes with a horror in their eyes that is difficult to describe in words. A journalist from Spain who spent time in Gaza recently, a veteran of war and disaster zones around the world, said he had never been exposed to scenes as horrific as the ones he saw and documented over the last two months.”

Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan lost her only daughter to a suicide bomber in Jerusalem. With Israeli and Palestinian mothers, she has been a voice for peace. “I have never experienced the suffering Palestinian women undergo every day, every hour, I don’t know the kind of violence that turns a woman’s life into constant hell. This daily physical and mental torture of women who are deprived of their basic human rights and needs of privacy and dignity, women whose homes are broken into at any moment of day and night, who are ordered at a gun-point to strip naked in front of strangers and their own children, whose houses are demolished, who are deprived of their livelihood and of any normal family life. This is not part of my personal ordeal. But I am a victim of violence against women insofar as violence against children is actually violence against mothers.”

Another example of insidious psychological abuse is the nightly sonic booms over the Gaza Strip. Physicians for Human Rights/Israel filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court for a temporary injunction to stop the sonic booms, deeming it a collective punishment of the civilian population that particularly traumatized children. The petition was rejected. Depending on the child’s age, the sonic booms can be psychologically traumatic: when an assault occurs without warning or preparation, it produces panic and terror, not the signal of anxiety which allows a child to protect himself and have some sense of control; also, for a young child, it is terrifying to feel that his parents cannot protect him; and in itself, the physical impact of sonic boom is confusing and overpowering as it is difficult to locate the source of the sensory assault – this is particularly overwhelming for young children who do not yet have a clear sense of body boundaries and of localized sensations.

It is open to interpretation what to call the latest Israeli war: self-defense? Ethnic cleansing coupled with population transfer? Genocide? It is also open to interpretation when to date the beginning of this war: June 25th , 2006 – the capture/kidnap of Cpl. Gilad Shalit? The unending war against Lebanon — the Sabra and Shatila massacres of September 1982, the former Qana massacre in 1996 in which 106 people in a UN compound were massacred, the persistent Israeli violation of Lebanon air space? the 1967 annexation of Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights? 1948 and the Nakba? The 1917 colonialist Balfour Declaration or the late 19th century Zionist objective of exclusive Jewish control over Palestine?

On July 15th, 2005, Uri Davis, Ilan Pappe, and Tamar Yaron issued a prophetic statement: “We feel that it is urgent and necessary to raise the alarm regarding what may come during and after evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip occupied by Israel in 1967 …We believe that one primary, unstated motive for the determination of the government of the State of Israel to get the Jewish settlers … out of the Gaza Strip may be to keep them out of harm’s way should the Israeli government and military launch a massive attack on the approximately 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, of whom about half are 1948 Palestine refugees. The scenario could be similar to what has already happened in the past – a tactic that Ariel Sharon has used many times in his military career – i.e. utilizing provocation in order to launch massive attacks [they predict air strikes under General Dan Halutz] .” It is generally understood that Israel did not withdraw from Gaza in 2005 but, rather, maintains total control over Gaza’s sea, air, and land borders. During this current war Israel continues to extend the Annexation (Separation, Segregation) Wall and occupy East Jerusalem.

Canada drifted from its position of neutrality under former prime minister Paul Martin and it is likely that Canada will continue to vote against or abstain on a number of UN resolutions critical of Israeli policy. Canada continues to have cordial relations with Israel and its free trade agreement with Israel will boost economic ties. Letters about Canada’s collusion with Israel’s extreme human rights abuses can be sent to Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay ( ), and to Israeli Ambassador to Canada Alan Baker (50 O’Connor Street, Ottawa K1P 6L2). Other actions include donations to the Occupied Territories and Lebanon and support of the boycott/divestment/sanctions campaign ( For information on the academic boycott, google Virginia Tilley and Ilan Pappe (both wrote excellent books on Israel/Palestine).

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