One year ago today, the 51-day campaign of bombing, tank fire and all-out destruction by the Israeli military on Gaza finally ended. The 51 days of darkness euphemistically dubbed « Operation Protective Edge » were the third and most deadly round in a series of violent assaults on Gaza.
It is truly difficult, perhaps impossible, to imagine life in Gaza then and now for the 1.8 million people who live there. First of all, there is the trauma.
« This is not about people who were killed, it is about us who were waiting for death every minute, » said Dr. Mona El-Farra to Grassroots International supporter and author Alice Rothchild during her recent visit to Gaza. Dr. El-Farra is the director of the Red Crescent Memorial Hospital that was bombed during the attacks.
On August 4, 2014 I received an email from Nida’a Abu Al-Atta. Nida’a works with the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees in Gaza, a longtime Grassroots International partner. She is always a pleasure to work with. This message, though, was not about grants, not about projects; this was a description of terror:
« 16 days ago, I fled my home with my family and about 185,000 people from where we used to live in Al-Shejayea neighborhood. The night of the 19th of July was like a hell. Israeli artillery shelled mercilessly and randomly everywhere. We were strong enough to stay the whole night on the ground with our three kids (my niece and two nephews, all under three years old), my parents, sisters, and their husbands. The artillery shelling intensified every moment, the sound of broken windows, trees, and smashed bricks flying everywhere over our heads was horrifying. We were hearing hits and bombarding everywhere and we thought that we would be next. »
Nida’a survived the massive devastation of the 51-day assault, but 2,215 Palestinians were killed, and of those 556 were children. Some children were killed on playgrounds, three were gunned down while flying kites on the beach, and others died while taking shelter in UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) schools.
Numbers from the 51-day assault are stunning (and these are just a few):
- 10,850 Palestinians injured or maimed
- 2,215 killed
- 65 medical institutions bombed
- 9 water treatment facilities damaged or destroyed
- 18 power plants hit
- 23,669 homes partially or completely damaged
Living in the Rubble
There is no way to sugarcoat the reality of life in Gaza today. The inhabitants of the tiny area are living through a burgeoning humanitarian catastrophe.
The UN estimates that there will be no potable water in one year. Bombed water and sewer treatment facilities have left raw sewage pouring into the sea in Gaza, heightening a sanitation crisis that was already entrenched when the bombing started last July.
In Gaza residents have little access to electricity and fuel. Agricultural output has shrunk in Gaza by 31% compared to 2013 leaving increasing numbers of Gazans insecure about where their next meal will come from. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights estimates the damage to the agricultural sector to be valued at $136, 575,776 and to livestock $51, 686, 350. Much of the fertile agricultural land is now contaminated from the shelling, farmers in the “buffer zone” up to 1.5 km into Gaza are shot at with live fire regularly by the Israeli military, and the UN Nations estimates that there are still 7,000 unexploded remnants of war scattered throughout Gaza creating constant danger for farmers and for everyone.
Meanwhile, aid to Gaza has been very little compared to promises. At a conference sponsored by Egypt and Norway for international donors in Cairo in October of 2014, donors pledged 3.5 billion dollars, but only 26.8 percent of that has been disbursed a year later. There have been no major rebuilding projects of any kind. All this is exacerbated, of course, by the strangle hold siege of Gaza now entering its eighth year which radically curtails the movement of supplies and people in and out of Gaza.
Real Impact of Emergency Funds
In the midst of this chilling picture the one positive thing I can say is that the compassionate gifts made to support Gazans last summer through Grassroots International’s emergency fund all reached our partners and allies in Gaza and offered very real support. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) used the support to provide food and blankets throughout the assault to families whose homes were destroyed. Emergency funds enabled the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) to supply families with water tanks after the bombing stopped. These tanks mean that families can collect and store water for use during the long periods when no water is available to them.
During the assault, Nida’a from PARC was given a seat in an ambulance by staff at the Palestinian Medical Relief Society so that she could deliver emergency relief, food, water, and blankets, while PMRS staff attended to the injured. The Palestinian Medical Relief Society cared for more patients because of the money donors sent and the Gaza Community Mental Health Program staff, who suffer from the same trauma as everyone else in Gaza, continue to provide space for children to heal through art therapy.
Finally, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights used the emergency grants as well as their regular grant to continue to document and press charges against Israel for human rights abuses. During the assault, human rights monitors were living with the same terror as everyone else but the PCHR managed to unite with other human rights organizations, divide the area into zones so that staff and volunteers could stay near their homes (if their homes were still there) to continuously document the on-going destruction. Somehow during all of this, the PCHR even managed to train a new cadre of volunteers.
The best news is that in December of 2014 the State of Palestine ratified and joined the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which could mean that new avenues will open to hold Israel accountable for at least some of its violations. A report by the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry in the 2014 conflict found evidence of possible war crimes by both sides during 2014’s assault. This could at least be an indication that there is some willingness to hold Israel, as well as Hamas, to account for war crimes. « The extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come, » said New York Judge Mary McGowan Davis, the chair of the commission.
« We have no right to give up,« Raji Sourani the Director of PCHR told us again recently. The courage he shows, the steadfastness, is hard to fathom – and earned him and PCHR the Rights Livelihood Award in 2013.
We are proud of the donors and supporters who stood with Gazans during and after the brutal assault last summer and grateful for the growing grassroots mobilization worldwide to end the Israeli occupation, the siege on Gaza, and the climate of impunity in which Israel operates. As Raji so succinctly stated, we have no right to give up.
Photos by Alice Rothchild. Drawings are photographed at the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, featuring drawings by children at the program.