Thursday, February 26

Aftermath of the Gaza Bombardment: A View from Inside the Wall

MCC has been applying to visit partners since just after the War on Gaza ended on January 18th, 2009. We heard various excuses from the Israeli military ranging from "our internet was down," to "we never received them," to "we aren't allowing foreigners in." We waited for almost a month to enter Gaza. Three out of our four applicants received permission to enter: Daryl and Cindy Byler and Ryan Lehman were approved for the February 16, 2009 to February 19, 2009 visit. But, local MCC worker, Bassem Thabet was denied a permit to Gaza. We asked for an explanation and the military said they were not granting any Jerusalem ID holders a permit.

Once we received our permits, Bassem arranged our schedules and even lined up a translator for us since none of us speak fluent Arabic. Bassem’s friend, Hossam, a local Christian in Gaza served as our translator. He was able to do this since he has been virtually unemployed since June of 2007 when Hamas took over and Israel stiffened its blockade on the Gaza Strip. Hossam’s profession is a construction engineer and since Israel will not allow sufficient cement quantities for building, he is without work.

Devastation and Destruction

As we were taken around Gaza by our MCC partners, we were shocked at the level of devastation. It looked as if a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake had hit the Gaza Strip. The cease-fire that commenced on January 18th followed twenty-two days of bombardment by land, air, and sea and left over 1,300 Palestinians dead and over 5,300 injured. Along with the damage to people, approximately 5000 homes were completely destroyed and about 20,000 homes had some form of damage. In addition, extensive destruction was caused to commercial industry and to public infrastructure: according to Palestinian industrialists, 219 factories were destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli military operation. Of the three per cent of industrial capacity that was still operating after the 18-month Israeli blockade, much has now been destroyed.

This became visible to us as we were taken to the North by our partner Al Najd. We met some of the brothers from the family of Abu Eida in Jabalia. This family had established four cement factories all around Gaza and were the primary providers of cement in Gaza. We learned that these factories were targeted in an Israeli airstrike in the final days of the war on Gaza. Not only were the factories producing cement, but it meant sustained jobs for more than 70 workers. Along with losing the business, the Abu Eida family lost all nine homes of the extended family. The one brother pictured, explained that he was educated in San Diego, California and returned to Gaza to establish the business. This business took many years of negotiations with the Israelis to allow him a permit to build the newest factory. If fact, he said it took over 42 months. With little cement being or part being allowed to enter Gaza, we wondered how rebuilding will begin. It took pressure from Senator John Kerry on the Israeli Defense Minister to gain approval for a shipment of pasta into the Gaza Strip last week. According to local media reports it was not allowed since it was not identified as a humanitarian need. How much harder, then, will it be to obtain the items needed to rebuild Gaza?


We were able to meet Subha Abed, a refugee of 1948, who lost her husband who was in their home when it collapsed during an Israeli airstrike. We met her outside her white numbered tent where she now lives along with 750 people from her area who are mostly farmers. She loudly expressed her feelings of frustration over what had happened. "We are civilians. We are humans. No one deserves this. What did we do? What do we have? We are just simple farmers, 'We are not terrorists!' The U.S. government allows Israelis to do this." This lady is a survivor. She has been a refugee all her life, but yet maintains she has to move on in-spite of the circumstances.

We recognized that same spirit, in a taxi driver whose home was destroyed during the bombardment. When asked whether he will move away from his home which lies in a regularly targeted area close to the separation wall, he passionately stated, "If the Israelis destroy my home 100 times, I will rebuilt it 100 times."

Hope for the Future

We met many young adults in Gaza who want the same thing most young adults want anywhere in the world: an education, citizenship, freedom to travel, good paying jobs, and a family. We learned the importance of service through these young adults who volunteer their time to help strengthen their society and unite their communities. We were encouraged by these hopeful youth, the future leaders of Gaza, who currently represent a significant population of Gazans. Approximately 50% of Gaza's population or about 750,000 are under the age of 21.

While these youth would have every reason to complain about their terrible situation, or the fact that their human rights have been violated, or that Israel, America, Hamas and the world are responsible for the massacre, we instead saw youth who pulled together for the common cause of improving the desperate situation in Gaza. During and after the airstrikes, many of the young people courageously delivered relief packages containing food and vital supplies to families in need. Although the youth indicated that they had never witnessed violence on this scale, they have become familiar with a regular level of violence while living under the Occupation, including regular assassinations and shortages of necessities like electricity, fuel and food.

Over and over the people within Gaza thanked us for standing with them during such a difficult period. More than money, our partners appreciated daily contact during the war with MCCs local staffperson, Bassem Thabet. We left Gaza confident in the partners we support and their work to help children, youth and communities cope with the effects of the recent bombardment and on-going violence. We ask that you continue to pray for healing for the people of Gaza and for a just and peaceful solution to the conflict.

Ryan Lehman, MCC Jerusalem Representative

1 comment:

Rebecca Steiner said...

Thanks for sharing pictures. I've been following this blog and I am becoming more educated and aware - thank you. Prayer is important. Blessings.