By César Chelala
12/16/07 “ICH” — — -It could, rightfully, be a cause of shame to the world. But the world, besieged by violence and injustice, hardly notices it. The people of Gaza, 1.4 million of them, are slowly and purposely being deprived of basic foods and medicines by the so called civilized countries in the West and there is hardly a protest. And all this happens because the people in Gaza want to be free and independent. Never mind that in the process children and innocent civilians are killed or families dispossessed.
Dr. Mona Elfarra, a Palestinian physician and human rights activist, thus describes a situation in her personal blog, “I don’t know exactly what was going on inside the little heads of the kids who were preparatory school children, of Al Buriege boy’s preparatory school. But the two tiny bodies were shot, with many bullets, as I was told by my colleagues at the emergency room at the Al Aqsa hospital…On November 10, the dreams of two tiny kids has stopped forever.”
As Dr. Elfarra states, both the children as well as the Israeli soldiers who killed them are victims of the occupation, “…the occupation that deprives the soldiers of their humanity, when under the false pretence of Israeli security, daily crimes are committed against my country. And against my people.” This is particularly true in the lack of food and medicines for the people in Gaza.
Most of the basic goods in Gaza are imported. Because of border closures, there is limited delivery of those goods, in particular sugar and wheat flour, which represent 80 percent of the caloric intake of Palestinians. The majority of the population depends on food aid from international organizations.
At the same time, the flow of exports leaving Gaza has practically stopped, while the commercial and humanitarian goods allowed to come in continues to decline. The Gaza Strip is practically sealed off from the outside world. Approximately 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. It is estimated that 70 percent of the potential workforce is out of work or without pay. The Gaza Strip is not receiving tax monies owed to by Israel, which amounts to almost half of its budget.
Also critical is the public health and medical situation of the inhabitants of the Strip. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that the public health system is facing an unprecedented crisis. UNICEF reports that children are living in an environment of extreme violence, insecurity and fear. Shelling and sonic bombs have increased children’s signs of distress and exhaustion.
UN agencies have appealed for Israel to restore full energy supplies to the Gaza Strip, stating their concern over the status of the public health system. “In the last months, the situation has become intolerable, with problems of referral outside of Gaza for patients who need specialized care that cannot be delivered in Gaza,” states Dr. Ambroggio Manenti, head of the WHO office for the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli government General Security Service (Shabak) cites unspecified “security concerns” when denying medical patients exit permits from Gaza, a situation that has been denounced by Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel.) “Israel denial of medical care to those in urgent need amounts to collective punishment against the population, which violates international law,” states Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch Middle East division.
In June, PHR-Israel and Gisha, another Israel-based human rights group, challenged Israel’s restrictions on medical evacuees in Israel’s Supreme Court. One of those denied permission to leave Gaza was a 16-year-old girl with a heart condition. “Israel has legitimate security concerns about militant groups firing rockets from Gaza into civilian areas. But denying medical treatment to a 16-year-old girl with a congenital heart defect doesn’t make Israel any safer,” said Leah Whitson.
Leah Whitson’s words are confirmed by Gideon Levy, the Israeli journalist, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “But we have no right to do what we are doing. Just as no one would conceive of killing the residents of an entire neighborhood, to harass and incarcerate it because of a few criminals living there, there is no justification for abusing an entire people in the name of our security. The question of whether ending the occupation would threaten or strengthen Israel’s security is irrelevant. There are not, and cannot be, any preconditions for restoring justice.”
César Chelala, an international public health consultant, is the foreign correspondent for The Middle East Times (Australia.) He is also a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.