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Going to Gaza, Again

Submitted by on 13 Sep 2011 – 14:49

Ayman AbuawwadAyman Abuawwad, Information Officer at the Council for European Palestinian Relations

In the months leading up to the Palestinian bid for United Nations membership in September, one organisation has been particularly active in raising awareness about the issues surrounding the long Palestinian quest for statehood.

The Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) has organised numerous delegations of European and UK parliamentarians to visit Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Jerusalem, and most recently the Gaza Strip again.

A majority of the 13 parliamentarians that went to Gaza between July 22-27, 2011 were from different political parties in the United Kingdom, including Scotland, and one delegate from Lithuania.

The CEPR delegation entered Gaza via Egypt at the Rafah Crossing on Sunday, July 24, and met with UN agencies, women’s groups, local and international NGOs, students, small businesses, refugees, prisoners’ families, and different politicians.

The Gaza Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, greeted the delegation with remarks on the political situation. Haniyeh expressed his support for a two-state solution along the 1967 borders and endorsed President Abbas’ attempts to make Palestinian statehood a reality at the UN.

Baroness Falkner, a UK Liberal Democrat on the delegation claimed that “we decided it was important to meet Mr. Haniyeh given that there has been a reconciliation agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah that has been broadly welcomed internationally.”

The pragmatic perspective of a leading Hamas politician was encouraging, as were other equally important meetings with the Fatah leadership in Gaza and Ashraf Jumaa – a Fatah member of the Gaza Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) – plus an independent politician, Jamal al-Khoudary.

Ashraf Jumaa explained that national reconciliation between Palestinian factions needs to be respected by the international community. However, he stressed that Western powers want to maintain Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister, even though he is categorically rejected by Hamas.

Hamas nonetheless endorses creating a national unity government, sharing political position and security issues with the other Palestinian factions, as well as restructuring the PLO and setting elections for July 2012.

This kind of frank and open exchange of views between Europeans and Palestinians was mirrored in meetings with UN agencies. UNRWA Deputy-Director of Field Operations in Gaza, Sébastien Trieves, for example, described the ongoing man-made humanitarian crisis in the quarantined 360-square- kilometers of Gaza.

Raymond Dolphin from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also explained the buffer zones in Gaza with Israel, the sea limits imposed by Israel, and how the thriving tunnel business had created an effective black market and was directly favouring the hard-liners.

“My initial thoughts are that Israel is making a rod for its own back by imposing the blockade which continues to provoke anger, resentment and backlash from the Palestinians,” said Lorely Burt, Liberal Democrat Member of the British Parliament.

Baron Norman Warner, Labour Party member of the House of Lords, said that “the cruel Israeli blockade has brought Gaza’s healthcare system to its knees, resulting in the unnecessary deaths and suffering of children and older people in particular.” This point of view was substantiated by a visit with the Minister of Health at al-Shifa Hospitial in Gaza City.

This visit with Health Minister, Bassem Naem, revealed a tremendous lack of funding, lack of training due to lack of travel options, a lack of spare parts to fix machines, a lack of medication, and a lack of specialists to carry out more difficult operations.

The lack of energy for example leads to an interruption of electricity which shuts down kidney dialysis machines – before rebooting each time they have to be unplugged from patients and cleaned. The lack of medication is also due to the Israeli prohibition on imports to Gaza.

500 people have died over the past 3 years due to this lack of medication – children and cancer patients are most at risk. Israel’s refusal to allow potential ‘dual-use’ material that could be used for civilian or military purposes bans radio-therapy drugs for cancer patients for example.

Other figures depicting the dire situation in Gaza emanate from the decrease in small-and-medium size businesses: prior to the devastating 2008-09 Israeli War on Gaza, there were 135.000 SME workers, now there are only a meager 15.000.

Parliamentary Labour Party Chair, Tony Lloyd, concluded that “the whole world should join the minority of Israelis who think the time has come to end the siege.” Meanwhile, as Palestine’s UN membership bid is being battled over on the international arena, the CEPR is preparing another delegation of parliamentarians to the West Bank and Jerusalem this October.