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City on Fire

January 2009

All morning I have been talking to people in Gaza City while they were helplessly watching the United Nations headquarters and millions of dollars of much needed food and medicine go up in flames.  The UN plays a critical role in Gaza as it is the primary vehicle for feeding more than 80% of Gaza’s 1.5 million people who depend on food aid.  A UN distribution coordinator in Gaza City explained to me that they had allocated scant reserves in three supply warehouses in Gaza City, Karni, and Rafah.  All three have been incapacitated by Israeli attacks.      


One friend, a freelance Palestinian journalist, recently published a piece in which she wrote that she sometimes ventured out onto the roof of her 11 story apartment building to breathe a bit of fresh air and survey the damage after days of seeking shelter in her home with 25 members of her extended family.  Today, however, was different when five missiles hit her building and her family was forced to flee.  The concept of moving to safety is commonplace in times of war, but Gaza’s sealed borders and militarized cantonization that separate it into three disconnected zones makes it nearly impossible for civilians to seek safe haven. Even UN compounds that used to be safe havens are unsafe.  My friend now has no idea whether or not her home still exists but is grateful that her family made it out in time. 


As policymakers go back and forth negotiating the terms of a cease-fire, Gaza continues to burn.  A UN doctor who was well aware of the US role and official US positions asked me for specific support, human to human, in mitigating what he described as an “unbelievable situation”.  He explained that the majority of the war’s survivors were sick and infection was spreading rapidly and urged an all-hands-on-deck approach to taking care of them.  Looking up at the smoke from the burning warehouse he said, “It is a rain of fire.  Do you understand me?  What is your [US] plan to alleviate our suffering?”


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