By Steve Sosebee
As an American working for 20 years in the Gaza Strip, I feel overwhelming pain and sadness at the destruction being wrought on friends who have suffered so much there for so long. While all parties in this conflict — including our government — share responsibility for allowing this crisis to escalate, resulting in hundreds of innocent civilians injured and killed, those who have the task of healing the wounds of war in Gaza must focus on rebuilding once this bloodletting subsides.
What has been underreported here is the fact that before the start of the Hamas’ rockets and the Israeli assault late last month, many international humanitarian organizations were prevented from providing aid in Gaza. For months, we’ve faced insurmountable obstacles in reaching civilians in Gaza. In my own experience, injured and sick children who had medical care arranged abroad were prevented from traveling by both the Israelis and the Egyptians, while volunteer doctors were denied access into Gaza to treat injured children.
No one can excuse the immoral actions of the militants indiscriminately firing missiles into Israel. Neither is there justification for denying medical care for injured or sick children abroad, or preventing foreign volunteer doctors from obtaining permits to provide care there.
One must ask what Israel’s true intentions are in Gaza if humanitarian aid workers are prevented from doing our work. What does preventing medical care for innocent children have to do with ”security”? Whatever security concerns the Israelis have, preventing humanitarian aid to sick and injured children is not part of it.
Last October, we arranged for three babies from Gaza to have open-heart surgery in East Jerusalem by British surgeons sent by our charity. Despite intervention by the British Consulate and Amnesty International on behalf of 14-month-old Hamzah AbuHabel, 5-month-old Nour Al Jaruo and 17-month-old Ahmed Mohsein, they were denied permits to leave by the Israeli army.
These babies, if still alive, are casualties that do not show up in the daily, growing death toll in Gaza.
In November, we sent a pediatric cardiologist from San Francisco to screen children with heart disease, but he was denied a permit to enter Gaza by the Israeli forces, despite over 100 sick babies waiting in clinics.
In the weeks before the invasion, a team of Swiss plastic surgeons was denied permits to enter Gaza to provide surgery on burned children. None of these children or volunteer foreign doctors posed a ”security risk” to anyone. These are only a few of many examples in which international humanitarian relief work in Gaza has been hampered for unjustifiable reasons.
Aid groups like ours have nothing to do with Hamas, and we are focused only on serving some of the most oppressed people in the world directly. Once this round of bloodletting subsides, it will be up to international relief groups to address the urgent humanitarian needs of those who have lost their homes, health and livelihood in Gaza.
Whatever the terms of the cease-fire, without enabling free access of aid groups to provide nonpolitical support to civilians in the Gaza Strip, the anger that fuels much of the conflict will remain in place.
– Steve Sosebee is the president and chief executive officer of the Ohio-based Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, at www.pcrf.net. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (Original published in Ohio.com)