Terry Walz: Gaza: A Vast Unimproved Refugee Camp

By Terry Walz

Gaza is reverting to its status as the largest of the Palestinian refugee camps. It is a bleak and hopeless territory twice the size of Washington, DC where 1.5 million inhabitants eke out living on $2 a day and handouts from the UN Relief and Works Agency and the World Food Program. The steady deterioration of Gaza life to camp-like conditions is the result of Israeli and American policies toward Hamas, the dominant political party who took power in Gaza in a violent coup this past summer.

The painful irony of Gaza’s evolution from regular refugee camp to mammoth refugee camp is that it is being painfully ignored in the run-up to the "international peace conference" for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The grandness of the concepts being tossed about – of new tripartite commissions to monitor the implementation of post-Annapolis peace steps, of political horizons, and core issue resolution – monstrously ridicule the facts on the ground.

Karen Koning AbuZayd of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency described the situation on November 7 as grim. Whereas two months ago, there was "zero stock" of 61 medicines, the figure has now reached 91. Farmers lack the money to get their crops picked or send them to market. "That means," AbuZayd explained, "that there are no fruits and vegetables to supplement the basic rations that 80 percent of Gaza’s population receive – flour, oil, sugar, a bit of lentils and powdered milk – either from UNRWA or the U.N. World Food Program."

"It’s not good enough," AbuZayd told a news conference. "UNRWA is only giving 61 percent of the daily nutritional needs."

We too have heard from friends that prices for milk and bread are rising. The medical situation is especially grave. In his latest announcement, Dr. Basem Naim, the acting Health Minister for the Palestinian Authority, warned that hundreds of kidney patients in the Gaza Strip were in danger of death after more than half the dialysis machines were out of order due to the Israeli occupation authority’s refusal to allow spare parts into the Strip.

Two weeks ago, the Israeli Defense Forces at the behest of Ehud Barak, the minister of defense, threatened to stop the supply of power and fuel. The international outcry persuaded the Israelis to not tamper with power, but fuel supply cuts have been implemented. The Israeli High Court admirably requested a suspension of that order, and asked the army to provide reasons why the humanitarian condition of the Gazans would not be harmed. But the IDF often ignores Israeli courts and it remains to be seen what will transpire.

In October, Barak, who had led the Israeli peace team to Washington during the ill-fated Camp David II peace conference, threatened Gaza with a wholesale invasion by the IDF.

He told a meeting of his Labor party activists on November 7, "We are getting closer to a large-scale operation in Gaza and we’re likely to stay there for a long time." He emphasized, however, that before such an operation, all other means to stop Qassam rocket fire should be exhausted.

By this he was referring to the constant incursions of the Israeli army into Gaza since July in response to the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel. During the first week in November, 5 Palestinians were killed, 18 were wounded, including 3 children; during the week ending October 31, 15 were killed, 29 were wounded, including 9 children, 2 women and an old man. The week before that, 7 Palestinians were killed, and 16 were wounded, including 3 children, a woman and a journalist. These gruesome statistics are produced on a weekly basis by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Today’s Israeli newspapers reported several Qassam attacks. Here is the report from one of them:

A Kassam rocket fired from northern Gaza exploded near a kibbutz in the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council on Wednesday afternoon.  No casualties or damages were reported.  Earlier, four mortar shells were fired from central Gaza and landed near the border fence; no one was hurt. In the morning hours, Palestinian terrorists fired at an IDF patrol jeep near northern Gaza, without effect.

On Tuesday, a Kassam rocket hit a residential home in Sderot, sending four residents to the Shock Treatment Center for treatment.  Another rocket hit the city at the same time, without incident.

The peace conference at Annapolis – about which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has devoted so much personal time and energy – is being reviewed skeptically by Israelis and Middle Easterners alike. Even pundits in Washington and other capital cities are now saying nothing will come out of the conference except another go-round of "peace processing."

-CNIF – www.cnionline.org; Nov 13, 2007

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