Stranded Palestinians on Hunger Strike

EL-ARISH, Egypt — Protesting the closure of their only gateway to homeland, scores of stranded Palestinians staged Friday, July 6, an open-ended hunger strike to demand the reopening of the Rafah crossing as a new report showed that the Israeli closures have left most Gazans live on aid with the economy teetering on the verge of collapse.

"Today, we refused the food and started a hunger strike," Mohamed, a spokesman for the striking Palestinians, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). "It will go on until death or until we are authorized to go home."

The strikers include many women, children and some Palestinians who have been overseas for medical treatment.

"We have gone on hunger strike to get the Rafah terminal opened and to protest against the makeshift nature of our accommodation," said Mohamed.

The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, the only gate for Gazans to the outside world and into their home, has been shut since Hamas took over Gaza three weeks ago, leaving hundreds of Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side.

"This makes 20 days that we have been piled up in a miniscule room at El-Arish airport (near Rafah) where we are sleeping on the ground," Mohammed said, adding that they had been only provided with one meal each day.

"We have no more money and have to beg people who pass to get enough to be able to call our relatives in Gaza. What humiliation."

The stranded Palestinian opened salvos at the Egyptian authorities for refusing to give a date to open the Rafah crossing.

He said officials had told the Palestinians they could not cross the frontier because they might be shot by Israeli troops or Hamas fighters who mistook them for smugglers.

"So, if they shoot us and we die, it would still be better than this dog’s life," said Mohamed.

Vital Aid

The trapped Gazans are no better off than their fellow ones inside the impoverished strip with a new report warning that the Israeli closures have now left 85 per cent of Gazans live on aid and sent the Gaza economy on the verge of collapse, reported The Independent on Friday.

"In reality, a policy of collective punishment is being imposed upon 1.4 million people, in violation of international humanitarian law and contradictory to Israel’s interest," said Sari Bashi, the director of the Israeli human rights group Gisha.

The Israeli report, "Commercial Paralysis: Deleting Gaza’s Economy from the Map", said that the closure of the Karni cargo crossing has caused 75 per cent of Gaza factories to stop functioning.

As a result, prices of raw materials for household and industrial consumption have hiked between 15-34 per cent, said the report.

Production inside the besieged strip are also running down with some 30,000 factory workers are at risk of losing their jobs, it warned.

"Israel is attempting to achieve political objectives by exerting pressure on 1.4 million women, men and children, whose suffering is supposed to bring about the change it wants – toppling Hamas control in Gaza," said Bashi.

Ali Al-Hayak, Director of the Palestinian Federation of Industry, said that Israel was pursuing a collective punishment policy against the Palestinians. "Israel is not punishing the government; instead it is punishing the people," he said.

"…Israel must understand that we have basic needs that must be met. There are a lot of people that have been hurt by this closure, lost their jobs, and their livelihood."

( + News Agencies – July 7, 2007)

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