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Gaza: Hungry and Shell-Shocked

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    It was never easy being a Gaza resident. But now it is a nightmare. From: Fred Bush - fredericbush @ cox.net Home again, still somewhat jet-lagged after
    Message 1 of 1 , May 6, 2006
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      It was never easy being a Gaza resident. But now it is a nightmare.
      From: Fred Bush - fredericbush @ cox.net


      Home again, still somewhat jet-lagged after leading a Pilgrimage to
      the Holy Land for Palm Sunday and Easter. We spent 11 days celebrating
      Holy Week with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the West Bank
      and learning much about the extreme cost of the Israeli occupation to
      their lives and their hopes for a normal existence. After that, I
      spent four days in the Gaza Strip, visiting the small Protestant
      Christian community there, which is led by Dr. Hanna Massad, a former
      student of mine and the Pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church.

      When I stepped out of the taxi at the Erez border crossing to Gaza, I
      was shocked and startled by a loud explosion. I asked the driver,
      "What was that?" And he said, "Oh, it's just the Israeli's shelling
      northern Gaza; it goes on all the time. It's the Israeli response to
      the occasional Kassam rocket fired from the area."

      During the following four days in central Gaza City, which is some 10
      to 12 miles from the northern Gaza area, the sound of the shelling
      from tanks, loud enough to rattle the window panes of whatever
      building we were in, went on almost incessantly. Gazans showed no
      reaction whatsoever; they were quite apparently used to the constant
      whoosh- kerwhump.

      I was a bit un-nerved at first, but after two days I found myself
      paying little attention. But then, checking my email messages, I found
      the following report. On April 10, at 5:30 PM, an Israeli tank shell
      hit the home of Muhammad Ghaban in Beit Lahiya, killing his 8-year old
      daughter Hadeel instantly, and wounding several other siblings and his
      wife.

      And when I arrived at the Tel Aviv airport on my way home last Friday,
      I bought a copy of that day's Ha'aretz and found the article below,
      written by Amira Hass, which put the sounds I was hearing in their
      proper context. (I have edited it somewhat for length; for the full
      article go to: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/707941.html)

      It was all really nothing new, just another example of Israeli
      collective punishment. Except for the Palestinians who live in Bet
      Lahiya and its neighboring villages. There it is a nightmare.

      ===

      Hungry and shell-shocked
      By Amira Hass,
      Ha'aretz
      Friday, April 21 2006
      http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/707941.html [entire article]


      GAZA - Where will the next blow land? That is the question. Not if it
      will come, but rather when, and on whom will it land, and what kind
      will it be?

      Five-year-old L. believes the solution is to sleep every night in his
      parents' bed, and in that way to be protected from the shelling. But
      even there he is not able to fall asleep because he is so worried and
      afraid. In the kindergarten in the yard outside the house, the
      children speak all the time about the "booms" that fill their day.
      Booms from the sea and booms from the land. Day and night. Sometimes
      three per minute, sometimes three per hour. Sometimes simultaneously
      from the land and from the sea. The air quivers, a flock of birds
      takes off in fear, and for a minute the silence of terror reigns. Are
      there casualties? Who, where, how many? If the parents succeed in
      hiding from their children pictures of the other children who have
      been killed or wounded by the shells, the older children fill in the
      gory details from what they saw on TV or read in the papers. They
      strengthen each other's fears.

      In an agricultural neighborhood near the border in the northern Gaza
      Strip, north of Beit Lahiyeh, the fears are made concrete by the
      shrapnel that has fallen countless times on the asbestos roofs. The
      parents have sent the children to relatives in Gaza city, so they may
      go to school far away from the shells. "In our neighborhood, people
      have not yet been killed," Z. says cynically. But the shells have
      taken their toll: two donkeys, a few sheep and a handful of chickens.

      In the northern Gaza Strip, thousands of farming families are due to
      return to work their lands which were destroyed by Israeli army
      bulldozers over the past five years. Immediately after the Israeli
      army pulled out of the Gaza Strip, government and non-government
      bodies joined forces to rehabilitate the scorched earth. They howed
      and they plowed and they distributed seeds and saplings. But the
      farmers are afraid to go out to their lands.

      Z. spent many years in jail, as did his brother. Another brother was a
      wanted man until he was killed in an assassination. Z. says he has
      several times prevented armed groups from firing rockets from their
      area. Because of his family history, he was able to stand in front of
      them and say that they have "had enough of destruction and bloodshed,
      we are not afraid of you. No benefit comes from fighting the
      occupation with the homemade rockets you are firing."

      In places where large and strong families live, such as Beit Hanoun,
      they have succeeded several times in chasing away those who fire the
      rockets. They move to more open spaces or to areas where the families
      are less strong, such as Beit Lahiyeh.

      During a meeting of pupils, angry voices were heard saying, two weeks
      ago: "Let them fire the rockets from where they are, in [the refugee
      neighborhood of] Sheikh Radwan." But people do not vent their anger in
      public against those who fire the rockets. "Anyway, whether there are
      rockets or not, the Israelis fire shells," is the unequivocal
      conclusion in Gaza. Z. says: "There are no rockets in our area now,
      only Israeli shellings. I act as a guard protecting the Israelis,
      preventing rockets from being fired here by armed groups, but
      nevertheless the shells fall in our area."

      "There is a law in Israel that every soldier must fire a shell every
      hour," says B. He lives in a new housing development in the northern
      Gaza Strip, in which mainly Palestinian policemen who returned home
      from abroad reside. Three shells have already fallen on this
      development but by some miracle no one has been killed. One time, a
      shell fell on an iron banister, another time in the yard, and another
      time it did not explode. They are so close to the Erez checkpoint, to
      the border, that they can hear when the shells are fired; they hear
      them whistling above and landing and exploding. This Wednesday morning
      was strange, he said. By nine o'clock there had been no shells.

      B.'s wife gave birth two weeks ago and is staying with her parents in
      Gaza city. But she is due to return home today (Friday). "Where will
      we go? We are like all those who live in Gaza. If there is no shell
      from the sea or land, we will be hit by a missile from a plane or
      drone. In the beginning, the children who fired the rockets from among
      us would move around next to us. As a policeman, I have instructions
      to prevent firing. We chased them away several times. But I too, as a
      policeman, have become a target for the shelling. With or without
      rockets, you shell us. Everyone here is walking around dazed, without
      sleep, because of fear of the booming noises. We sit in our homes,
      waiting to see who will die first."

      The disaster of the shelling near his home has made the disaster of
      the economic situation seem easier for B. As a policeman, he has not
      received a salary, like the other workers in the public and security
      sectors of the Palestinian Administration. Israel does not transfer to
      the Palestinian Authority the money which comes from collecting taxes
      on goods imported via its ports. The United States and Europe have
      cancelled their assistance to the PA. The salaries of 140,000 families
      in the West Bank and Gaza, amounting to some NIS 1,000 - NIS 2,000 per
      month per family, are already three weeks overdue.

      "My situation is good. My wages did not get to the bank but I can buy
      from the shop on credit," says B. "What can the unemployed do? No one
      sells them anything, even on credit."

      L's father is currently unemployed. He is an engineer and was promised
      a new job in one of the infrastructure projects being supported by
      DIASU, an American aid fund. But now the fund has cancelled its
      donations to the projects that were due to be carried out through the
      PA and its government offices. The contractors he knows do not even
      answer the tenders that are published in the newspapers. What is the
      point, one of them says, we can't take on any commitments - we don't
      know when the raw materials will arrive, when Israel will open and
      close the checkpoints. We have no estimate when the work will be
      finished because this depends on the raw materials. I can't make an
      obligation to pay the workers because I don't know when those ordering
      the work will be able to pay me. Even the shopkeepers are unemployed:
      There are no buyers, no goods, there is no point in keeping them or in
      paying for them from an income that does not exist.

      The supermarket in the teachers' neighborhood in Tel el-Hawa in Gaza
      was closed for two days and its workers sent home on forced leave.
      There were no shoppers in the el-Kishawi supermarket in the Rimal
      quarter on Wednesday afternoon and its shelves were half empty.
      Worried parents said: We won't be able to pay registration for the
      universities next month.

      The roads are also empty: The center of Gaza city is no longer blocked
      with traffic as it used to be. The emptiness is particularly felt
      after 2.30 in the afternoon when the school children and clerks go
      home. The roads are empty because people are saving: They do not shop,
      they do not want to pay for transportation, they do not want to pay
      for gas. Although vegetables are very cheap, even the markets are
      empty. The vegetables cannot be marketed in the West Bank and they
      have flooded Gaza and Rafah. A suggestion was even made that they be
      distributed free, through some non-governmental agencies. The roads
      are empty, also, from fear - fear that a shell or missile could
      explode at any moment.

      "I am not surprised that Israel is shelling us like that," says H., a
      Hamas activist. "That is its nature; that is what it has always done.
      I am surprised at those of us who are doing everything to trip up the
      government." In the streets, people do not point an accusatory finger
      at the Palestinian rocket launchers "because everyone is busy with the
      missing salaries, with trying to save money, with being afraid of the
      shells Israel is firing, and with anxiety about the future," says M.
      who is opposed to firing the rockets. S. who is also opposed,
      complains that people are stuck in a mentality of "reaction and
      revenge" and therefore they approve of the firing.

      . . .

      There are two opposing points of view among the population. There are
      those who complain that the Hamas movement should have taken the
      Israeli and international response into account when it ran in
      elections for a parliament with limited authority and when it agreed
      to set up a government that was limited in advance. In other words, it
      should have taken different decisions in accordance with its political
      ability - not to form a government, or to agree to Abu Mazen's terms
      and to have a platform that would not make it possible for the entire
      world to boycott the Palestinian people and impose another economic
      and political sanction. Every day another country announces that it is
      canceling the economic aid that over the past five years has become
      the Palestinian nation's oxygen. The latest one, for the time being,
      was Japan. Israeli banks do not transfer money to Palestinian banks.
      The Arab Bank is not prepared to give the government loans. Even if
      Iran and Qatar send money to the PA, how will it reach them? It has to
      go through Israel's central bank which, of course, will refuse.

      The other school of thought represents people like Z., who does not
      support Hamas. He is convinced that the pressure will have the
      opposite effect: It will merely serve to strengthen the public's
      support for the government.

      ===

      Palestinians recall day of catastrophe
      By Jonathan Cook in Umm al-Zinat, near Haifa
      Thursday 04 May 2006, 0:13 Makka Time, 21:13 GMT
      http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/30B94811-F302-4424-8D62-9F81BD7CAC04.htm


      [Children hold names of razed villages, Photo/Jonathan Cook]
      About 2000 Palestinian demonstrators gathered on the slopes of the
      Carmel mountain near Haifa while most Israelis celebrated their 58th
      Independence Day with open-air barbecues and parties.

      The Palestinian refugee families were joined by 150 Israeli Jews in an
      annual procession to commemorate the mirror event of Israel's
      independence called the Nakba (Catastrophe), that drew the
      overwhelming majority of Palestinians from their homes and out of the
      new Jewish state.

      This year, the families marched to Umm al-Zinat, a Palestinian farming
      village whose 1500 inhabitants were forced out by advancing Israeli
      soldiers on May 15, 1948, a few hours after Israel issued its
      declaration of independence.

      Along with more than 400 other Palestinian villages, Umm al-Zinat was
      demolished by the Israeli army to prevent the refugees from returning.
      Children held aloft coloured placards bearing the names of all the
      destroyed villages, while others waved Palestinian flags, an act of
      defiance that could land them in jail.

      Nakba day

      Millions of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza and in the
      camps in neighbouring Arab states will officially commemorate the
      Nakba on May 15; but the smaller number of refugees inside Israel have
      traditionally staged their own event to coincide with Israel's
      Independence Day, the date of which varies according to the Hebrew
      calendar.

      ...
      http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/30B94811-F302-4424-8D62-9F81BD7CAC04.htm

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