Two weeks ago, while Beit Zatoun hosted “A Child’s View from Gaza,” a series of drawings made by Palestinian school children in Gaza, I spoke to a small audience about the lives of Palestinians, particularly children, in occupied Palestine, occupied Gaza under siege.
Anyone who knows of Gaza under the Israeli-led siege and closures since 2006 (or as Amira Hass argues, a steadily worsening closure since the ’90s) knows that Palestinians in Gaza have been rendered destitute, 80% of whom are food aid-dependent.
In brief, the various factors contributing to this manufactured poverty are:
–“Israel’s” closing of Palestinian borders to exports (formerly Gaza’s Palestinians exported fruits to European markets, clothes, furniture and edible goods to occupied West Bank, “Israeli” and neighbouring Arab countries’ markets, to name some of the exports now halted)
–“Israel’s” closing of Palestinian borders to workers who formerly worked in Israel doing construction, agricultural labour and other menial jobs (“Israel” now imports Thai and other Asian workers to do these tasks). When I interviewed the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, a representative made it clear that in the ’80s and ’90s, “Israeli” authorities had encouraged and given permits to Palestinians from Gaza to work in “Israel” as labourers, rendering a significant portion of Gaza’s Palestinians dependent on this outside work.
–“Israel’s” repeated bombing of Gaza’s infrastructure, including the destruction of hundreds of businesses, farms, factories
–“Israel’s” long-time ban on importing parts and goods needed to repair or replace said bombed businesses, factories, farms. Israeli authorities even ban the import of fertilizers, livestock and most goods needed by farmers, fishers and factory owners. (see Amira Hass’ article from 2009)
–the daily “Israeli” army attacks (shooting, shelling, murdering, injuring, and abducting) of Palestinian fishers, farmers, labourers and residents on and near the sea and in border regions even up to and over 2km from the Green Line border between Gaza and “Israel”. Not allowing Palestinian farmers and fishers to work as they have for generations obviously impacts on their ability to produce vegetables and grains for consumption or sale, or catch fish for consumption or sale. This obviously impacts on the farmers’ and fishers’ destitution themselves and that of greater Gaza, the 80% or more who cannot afford to buy imported foods and meats. (see the Guardian’s interview with Palestinian fishers and see Defence for Children International’s report on IOF attacks on Gaza children working in border areas http://www.dci-palestine.org/sites/default/files/ua_4_10_children_of_the_gravel_update_17_jan__2012.pdf ).
–“Israel’s” abduction of fishers, workers, even medics near Green Line borders. Without bread-winners, families fall into further destitution.
These are just some of the factors that contribute to the gross manufactured, preventable poverty existing in Gaza.
These are not merely my observations but facts backed by reports from the UN, from numerous international NGOs, from respected observers like Richard Falk, from people with hands-on experience like Dr. Mads Gilbert who was present in Gaza during the 2008-2009 Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip. He noted in April 2012: “I’m sad to say from my visit to Gaza earlier this year, the situation is now more dire than ever. The Israeli siege effectively prohibits the rebuilding of Gaza — the import of concrete, of window panes, the availability of travel for medical care for the population.” And in a June 2012 interview, Dr. Gilbert said:
“As a result of the Israeli siege, there has been widespread development of anemia among children and women due to malnutrition as a result of siege and poverty. Stunting, where a child is more than two standard deviations shorter than what it should be, is sharply on the rise. In 2006, around 13.5 percent of children were stunted. In 2009, 31.4 percent under age two were stunted.
In other words, every third child is less developed than he or she should be. And stunting does not only affect growth. It also affects brain development and the ability to learn. This is a direct consequence of malnutrition. Remember, this is not caused by drought or natural disasters, but a deliberate, man-made lack of food and water, imposed, planned, and executed in the most detailed way by the Israeli government. They even calculate how many calories to let in to Gaza to avoid outright starvation but to “just” cause malnutrition since that goes under the radar of human rights abuses.”
Save the Children, in June 2012, noted: “Innocent children are living in inhumane conditions after five years under a blockade. They are now forced to drink dirty and dangerous water that will make them weak and sick. Diarrhoea which is easily treated here in the UK can be a killer in these conditions. Gaza children are living in prison-like conditions, trapped and unable to dream of a better future. We must end the blockade and ramp up immediate projects to provide clean, safe drinking water and sanitation.”
In the same June report, Medical Aid for Palestine noted: “Since the blockade started, the number of children under three being treated for watery diarrhoea has doubled. High levels of nitrate – found in faeces and fertiliser – is also linked to some cancers and is a massive risk to pregnant women.
Gaza’s sewage system is also completely broken, much of it destroyed during Operation Cast Lead and treatment plants are overloaded or lack fuel. Open cesspits sit right next to family homes and in just the first two months of this year, three children drowned in open sewers.”
The UN in June 2012 reported: “The blockade of Gaza, now entering its sixth year, has had a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of the 1.6 million Palestinians who reside there. More than 80 per cent of families are dependent on humanitarian aid, and Gaza remains subject to severe restrictions on imports, exports and the movement of people, by land, air and sea.
This amounts to a collective punishment of all those living in Gaza and is a denial of basic human rights in contravention of international law.
While some steps have been taken to ease its impact, it is vital that the blockade be lifted immediately, so that essential services and infrastructure can be maintained. The opportunity to develop a sustainable economy would also reduce dependence on humanitarian assistance.”
Yet, a Zionist antagonist who attended my presentation chose, not surprisingly, to not only twist the facts and ignore reality, but also to slander myself and anyone who spoke out on Palestine at the event, not only slandering our words but also belittling our appearances.
While the latter means absolutely nothing to me –and I would not stoop to articulate his own appearance –it just goes to show that, as so often happens with Zionists who try to detract from what a pro-justice speaker or writer says, they have nothing to cling to except dirty tricks, tabloidesque comments, and bigotry.
The Zionist spectator inferred that the Palestinian tendency towards large families was the cause of the manufactured destitution in Gaza, overlooking the historical truth that large families fared just fine before being occupied, expelled, brutalized, murdered, maimed and oppressed by the Zionists. Under a fair and functioning economy, the large families actually pitched in and contributed to the livelihood of the family, brothers living under one roof and helping one another out. In Gaza today, while the family unit continues to be tight and supportive, the lack of work is the real factor in the manufactured poverty.
Author and senior Harvard research scholar Sara Roy wrote:
Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of aid-dependent paupers.
Gaza’s subjection began long before Israel’s recent war against it. The Israeli occupation — now largely forgotten or denied by the international community — has devastated Gaza’s economy and people, especially since 2006. Although economic restrictions actually increased before Hamas’ electoral victory in January 2006, the deepened sanction regime and siege subsequently imposed by Israel and the international community, and later intensified in June 2007 when Hamas seized control of Gaza, has all but destroyed the local economy.
In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. Eighty percent of Gaza’s agricultural crops were destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the well-fenced and patrolled border. Most productive activity has been extinguished.
In contrast to his attempt to portray Palestinians as hating Jews more than loving children, what I talked about was the great love Palestinians have for their children, foreigners, and life, and the surprising lack of hatred towards Jews despite all that Palestinians have been put through at the hands of Zionist oppressors.
It is interesting that he did not broach the subject of the 2008-2009 massacre of Gaza, of which there is ample evidence of “Israeli” war crimes (see, for example, the Guardian’s documentary on “Israeli” attacks on medical workers and rescuers). Again, when confronted with undeniable facts, Zionists tend to avoid these facts and hit below the belt.
He referred to Palestinian rockets as many Zionists will, not actually addressing the near lull in rocket fire from Gaza (see Ben White’s January 2012 article), nor the root cause of such home-made rocket fire, nor the continuous “Israeli” bombings of Gaza which before and since the 2008-2009 massacre of Gaza have continued to kill Palestinian civilians including children. (see: UN: Israeli Forces Killed 2,300 in Gaza Under Blockade and 16 Palestinians, Including 4 Children, Killed In One Week)
He accused me of promoting violent resistance, when in fact I stated that Palestinians have the right to armed resistance against the occupation, under international law. On a side note, it is interesting how some will criticize armed resistance (Palestinian or Lebanese) against Zionist oppressors, but applaud Western-backed and funded “resistance” against the Syrian regime. Contradictions in standards, hypocrisy. (see Michel Chossudovsky’s online interactive I-Book Reader, SYRIA: NATO’s Next “Humanitarian” War?)
Nor did he speak of the children who had drawn the drawings exhibited and their very real traumas from the many “Israeli” attacks on Gaza, drone warfare, and sonic booms. (see Samouni Street, an animated video produced largely by the very children attacked and whose drawings are on display). He did not dispute the issues of gross malnutrition and stunting in Gaza’s children, a result of years of manufactured poverty, nor the catastrophic demise of the water and sanitation system in Gaza, also products of “Israeli” bombings and the siege which bans parts and materials needed for repair and maintenance of the infrastructure.
An Electronic Intifada report, nearly one year after the winter 2008-2009 massacre of Gaza, laid out the various causes of trauma in Gaza, including before the massacre from other “Israeli” army assaults and violence:
Dr. Evan Kanter, a UW School of Medicine professor and the current president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, delivered a somber talk describing the mental health situation among Gaza’s population. The numbers he cited described a staggering level of psychological trauma.
Dr. Kanter described studies that revealed 62 percent of Gaza’s inhabitants reported having a family member injured or killed, 67 percent saw injured or dead strangers and 83 percent had witnessed shootings.
According to Dr. Kanter, in a study of high school-aged children from southern refugee camps in Rafah and Khan Younis, 69 percent of the children showed symptoms of PTSD, 40 percent showed signs of moderate or severe depression, and a staggering 95 percent exhibited severe anxiety. Meanwhile, 75 percent showed limited or no ability to cope with their trauma. All of this was before the last Israeli invasion.
Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, and whom Dr. Kanter described as a “medical hero” working under seemingly impossible conditions, has produced “some of the best research in the world on the impact of war on civilian populations.” In a 2002 interview he said that 54 percent of children in Gaza had symptoms of PTSD, along with 30 percent of adults. The hardest hit were young ones who had their homes bulldozed or who lost loved ones like their mothers, he said. Again, these figures were obtained well before conditions dramatically deteriorated.
Gaza’s population is overwhelmingly young. About 45 percent of the population are 14 years old or younger and roughly 60 percent are 19 years and younger. The long-term effects of constant violence and PTSD on such a young population are incalculable.
A recent study by international researchers and the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme entitled “War on Gaza survey study” reveals more worrying figures. Of a representative sample of children in Gaza, more than 95 percent experienced artillery shelling in their area or sonic booms of low-flying jets. Moreover, 94 percent recalled seeing mutilated corpses on TV and 93 percent witnessed the effects of aerial bombardments on the ground. More than 70 percent of children in Gaza said they lacked water, food and electricity during the most recent attacks, and a similar percentage said they had to flee to safety during the recent attacks.
In addition, 98.7 percent of the traumatized children reported that they did not feel safe in their homes. More than 95 percent of the children felt that they were unable to protect themselves or their family members, causing a feeling of utter powerlessness that is compounded by a sense of loss over unfulfilled lives.
The outlook for children in Gaza suffering from these symptoms is not optimistic. Whereas soldiers who experience traumatic events in a war zone can return home to relative calm and seek treatment, the people of Gaza continue to be held in what one Israeli human rights group labeled the “largest prison on Earth”— a methodically “de-developed” island isolated from the rest of the world.
His comments and name really bear little mention, and likely get little readership, but because he does outright lie about Palestinian reality, I’m addressing it. As always, I say: Go to Palestine and witness for yourself; draw your own conclusions on what you see in occupied Palestine, not what you read in Zionist tabloid media.