The Gaza Strip doesn’t make the news much these days despite being in the throws of a humanitarian crisis. Following the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier on June 25th, Israel began a military « recovery mission » in Gaza that has had devastating consequences for the people and basic physical infrastructure of Gaza.
Over 250 Palestinians have been killed, including 44 children and thousands of Gaza’s 1.4 million people have fled their homes because of Israeli incursions and intensive shelling. In addition to the destruction of roads, bridges, homes, agricultural fields and greenhouses, the Israeli military has destroyed Gaza’s only power plant. According to UN reports, since June 28, all households in Gaza have been affected by intermittent electricity, with most households only receiving between 6-8 hours of electricity per day and 2-3 hours of running water in the urban areas.
As fuel, food and basic supplies run out, the population of Gaza faces a humanitarian disaster, exacerbated by an ongoing collapse of law and order, overcrowded living conditions and frozen tax revenue and international aid.
For some, having to watch all of this unfold from the outside, is possibly even worse than living through it. I wanted to share this article written by Dr. Eyad El Sarraj from the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, one of Grassroots International’s partners. Dr. Sarraj has been stuck in Cairo for over three months now, unable to return to his home in Gaza.
Tears in Cairo
By: Dr. Eyad El Sarraj
21 September 2006
Over the last three months in Cairo I found myself part of a small group of Palestinians, all waiting to go home to Gaza. Jad Tayeh was the youngest and most energetic. He had a rare sense of humor, a keen political analysis and he was a warm company. We would meet over lunch and would spend the evenings discussing politics.
Jad was restless and anxious. He went on a few short trips to different capitals. Then last week he was told that he could go back to Gaza across the Jordan River bridge, and then through the Eretz check point. As the second man in the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence service, Jad got the kind of treatment reserved for high Palestinian officials.
So he left Cairo for Amman and then on to Gaza. Three days later he was killed. He was in his car in with three friends and his driver when suddenly bullets were shot at them from a car speeding towards them, and then from a second car. Jad fell in a pool of blood. The assassins approached and shot him in the head. Then they killed his four companions.
I heard the news on Aljazeera and could not believe it. Our group soon gathered, all but Jad. We were all in tears. There was a shared feeling of disbelief. We thought Jad would somehow show up. It is so painful to realize that he will not.
My exile from Gaza began when, my friend Arnon Hadar urged me not to let him down. « We have to be together and so many people are waiting, » he pleaded. I could not say no to Arnon, an Israeli mathematician with a great mind and a great heart. He wants to see justice, peace, and freedom in the holy land and everywhere.
In four days we whizzed through Paris, Budapest, Brussels, and Geneva. As representatives of the Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, we delivered our message to many people: end the occupation to make peace possible.
We had just set off on our short trip when an Israeli soldier was captured by Hamas. Israel immediately sealed off the Gaza Strip from the world, and imposed a program of terror and collective punishment on its people. The war on Lebanon began and finished, but the destruction of Gaza continues. The Israeli military has killed at least 250 people, destroyed the only power station, destroyed homes and deprived the people of food, clean water, medicine and basic supplies. It has also arrested ministers and members of the Palestinian parliament.
Our small group, trapped in Cairo, has watched this destruction from afar with a sense of dread. Ahmad, a business man, calls home every day to talk to his three-year-old daughter. He tells me she fills his life with joy. He says that every morning he used to spend at least one hour feeding and playing with her, even changing nappies. Now when he calls she says ‘dad, come home,’ and he cries.
Mustafa managed to bring his family to Cairo when Israel allowed the border to open for a few hours. Hassan, another business man, tells me that he agonizes for his Gaza workers who now have no work and no money. I was sitting with him when he received a call from Gaza. His face went pale and tears dropped from his eyes. His caller was a friend dying of cancer, who wanted to say good bye.
Nadia is a young woman whose husband was sent to Cairo for medical treatment for his heart. He has finished the treatment and both are waiting to go back to their small family in Gaza. Nadia talked to someone who offered to smuggle them through a tunnel if they paid ten thousand dollars. She does not have that money and she cries and prays every day.
Glued to the television screen, watching a replay of the horrors of 9/11 on Aljazeera, Nirmeen was silently tearful. Adam, her six-year-old son, asked her why she was crying. She said it was because of the tragedy of people being burnt and killed. Startled, the boy exclaimed: « But they are Americans! » She answered that they were innocent people at work. « And we are innocent people too. Did you not see what they did in Lebanon and Gaza? » was his response. « But those were Israelis, » she explained. Then Adam asked, « Isn’t Israel the capital of America? »