CNN – 2009-01-13 22:24:17
Aid Worker: Gaza Blockade Lacks all Humanity
Cassandra Nelson is a humanitarian aid worker with Mercy Corps. She spends most of her time deployed in hotspots and hostile areas. She has worked in Iraq, Darfur, Lebanon, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Liberia, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Banda Aceh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Here she describes her experiences trying to provide relief in Gaza.
JERUSALEM (January 8, 2009) — I arrived in Israel yesterday to work with Mercy Corps, an international aid organization, to assist the Gazans who are suffering from the conflict and over 18 months of harsh blockades that have left their cupboards bare and their banks empty of cash.
All of Gaza is on the verge of collapse: Most people have no electricity, no running water and inadequate food supplies. Fuel is running low. And only a fraction of aid needed to sustain Gaza’s 1.5 million residents is getting in.
Getting basic food and medical aid into Gaza from Israel has proved to be extremely frustrating and difficult for aid agencies trying to help the civilians who are literally stranded in a war zone.
The Israeli authorities have refused to allow almost all expatriate aid workers to enter Gaza since November 2008, so we work in Israel, and our national staff who live in Gaza work inside the territory to carry out the projects on the ground. The Israeli authorities have isolated Gaza from the rest of the world — no people, money or goods can legally enter Gaza from Israel without the approval of the Israeli authorities.
In 2007 an average of 500 trucks a day entered Gaza with food and supplies. In comparison, yesterday, just 36 humanitarian trucks were allowed access to Gaza. With almost the entire population of 1.5 million Gazans dependent on humanitarian assistance, it is obvious that the incoming aid is not even remotely adequate.
We have spent the past 11 days working through Israeli red tape and protocols that seemed to change daily, to secure the permission to deliver food aid. We have a truck filled with rice, cooking oil, canned tuna fish and edible dates that will feed 2,000 people for about a week.
Yesterday the delivery was supposed go through but at 2:00 a.m. we received notice from the Israeli authorities that the delivery was being postponed because it contained edible dates as part of the package.
The dates had been on the packing list for days and were never questioned; not until 2:00 a.m. the morning we are supposed to go to the border. This is just one delay of many that we have been confronted with by the Israeli authorities. There are days when we seriously wonder if our aid will ever get in.
Last night, the truck was repacked, after having removed the offending dates from the package. Once again, we have the permission to go to the border — let’s just hope it stays that way. I am off this morning for the Kerem Shalom border checkpoint with the truck. Fingers crossed.
Friday Dawn, January 9
At dawn on Thursday, I fought off my jet lag and drove south to the Gaza border with our Mercy Corps truck filled with desperately needed food aid.
Yesterday the Israeli authorities announced there will be a new daily three-hour cease-fire to allow aid organizations to move throughout Gaza starting today, but we are not very optimistic about it really solving the problems: We’re still dealing with the same bureaucratic and twisted approval process for getting aid across the check point and into Gaza.
The temporary three-hour cease-fire is totally insufficient and only applies to aid delivery issues for items that are already inside Gaza. It does not help us get more aid into the territory in any way. We need to have the whole Israeli approval system improved so we can get trucks into Gaza in less than a week.
When we reached the Kerem Shalom border at 9:00 a.m. there was a line of about 25 trucks waiting at the border for entry. After about an hour’s wait, the Israeli customs officials inspected the delivery and paperwork and asked several questions about where we bought our supplies.
The Mercy Corps vehicle was admitted into the unloading compound with several other aid trucks, all from various U.N. branches. Workers descended on the trucks with forklifts.
After all the items were removed from the truck and placed on the pavement of the compound the security check began. Sniffer dogs were released to check the material. Next an Israeli border worker probed and stabbed every package with a long metal rod to check if anything might be hidden inside.
I am assuming they were looking for stowaways among the rice bags, but I can’t imagine who would really be trying to get into Gaza when most people there would do anything to escape the constant shelling and bombing.
After the checks were completed all the Israeli workers and other observers and monitors were told to exit back to the Israel side of the border. Once the compound was empty of all people, the gates on the Israeli side were slammed shut.
Next, the gates on the Gaza side of the compound were opened, allowing the Palestinians to enter the compound and collect the delivery with their trucks. No trucks were allowed to drive from the Israeli side to the Gaza side. Everything was offloaded from the trucks on the Israel side and then reloaded onto different trucks on the Gaza side.
Israeli guards said that at no point in the process are Israelis and Palestinians from the Gaza side allowed to meet each other. I stood at the gate — on the Israeli side — and peered through the slats to watch the Palestinians load up our delivery.
I was relieved at the end — we had finally made the delivery after so much work and our Gaza staff was receiving the items to distribute. But I had a lingering sadness knowing that the Gazans and the Israelis never come face-to-face at this border check. It makes me wonder how peace can be achieved when all humanity seemed to be absent.
Gaza Hospital Crowded with Civilians, Doctors Say
GAZA (January 6, 2009) — – Far more civilians than Hamas fighters are arriving for treatment of war wounds at Gaza’s main hospital as Israel’s military incursion into the territory continues, two doctors say.
A young Palestinian boy is treated for a wound Monday at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital.
A young Palestinian boy is treated for a wound Monday at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital.
When the Israeli airstrikes began more than a week ago, the first casualties Shifa Hospital saw were fighters in military uniform, a Palestinian doctor said Monday.
“But after that day and until this day, we didn’t receive any men from the resistance or anyone in the military,” he said. “All of them were civilians.”
Eric Fosse, a Norwegian doctor volunteering at Shifa, said he had seen more women and children among the casualties Monday than on any other day since the Israeli offensive began December 27. Most of the wounded men he is seeing are civilians as well, he said. Video Watch hospital staff tend to bloodied civilians »
It is not clear whether Hamas dead and wounded are being taken to a different hospital.
Nearly 600 Palestinians, including at least 100 women and children, have been killed in Gaza since the campaign began, according to Palestinian medical sources. In addition, at least 2,750 Palestinians have been injured, most of them civilians, the sources said.
The Israeli military said Tuesday it has killed 130 Hamas militants since the ground offensive began Saturday evening. The Jewish state says the offensive is designed to stop months of rocket strikes on southern Israel by Hamas militants in Gaza.
Israeli government officials claim Hamas is hiding fighters and weapons at the hospital, but the images from Shifa’s emergency ward show families.
“We were hit with a rocket,” a boy in the hospital said as his brother wandered in a daze, nursing an injury to his ear. Another child cried nearby, moaning for her mother as doctors tried to treat her injured limbs.
A nurse trying to set up an IV in another room said the hospital is treating five people from one family. Another woman wept for her 6-month-old child, who she said died after four days without food or water.
The stench of death hovered around the facility, which is short of medicine, electricity and water. The morgue is overflowing, with two bodies crammed into each drawer.
“Where are our leaders? Can they have mercy on our children?” one woman wailed. “All the dead are just lying around.”
* Gaza doctor: Patients lying everywhere
* Cries from Gaza: ‘Difficult for anybody to imagine …’
* Gaza horrors sow seeds for future violence
* Israel claims to have killed 130 Hamas fighters
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