British humanitarian health workers
barred entry into Gaza
By Peter Smith and Catherine Thick
Although passage to and from Gaza via Israel’s crossing points is severely restricted by the Israeli military, until now we have been fortunate to be granted entry permits. But, our recent request for entry has been refused – without explanation — despite the Israeli general claim that restrictions are easing.
As osteopaths and acupuncturists we have volunteered in Gaza and the West Bank over the last five years, treating those with limited access to health care. We have made eight trips to Palestine since 2008 , and worked three times in Nablus before concentrating more on Gaza. Our motivation is neither political nor religious, but rather simply to help relieve suffering.
We are, however, strongly opposed to the inhumane treatment of the people of Gaza, and concerned at media under-reporting of the lives of the Palestinian people.
This leaves room for virtually-unanswered parodies about the high life lived by some of Gaza’s rich and privileged – a life which the international media sees and even shares during their visits to the Gaza Strip. These parodies have been devised and promoted by Israeli government officials whose responsibilities include dealing with the media. Pro-Israeli organizations working to influence the media have also produced similar pointed commentaries.
But, the existence of this apparent paradox does not in any way negate the reality facing many of Gaza’s 1.6 million Palestinian residents who are poor and suffering and struggling.
Waiting once at the Erez crossing, we spoke to a foreign journalist who explained that Israel banned all its journalists from working in Gaza after Israel’s “disengagement” in 2005.
While Israelis are now barred from personally witnessing what is going on in Gaza, the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza, meanwhile, have no way to move in or out of Gaza, from which Israel carried out its unilateral “disengagement” of some 8,000 Israeli settlers and the Israeli forces protecting them in September 2005. The “protection” the Israeli forces offered in Gaza, however, was only for the Israelis; the Palestinian population living under Israel’s military occupation suffered from severe clamp-downs on their own internal movement, and the military firing that constituted much of that “protection”.
We witnessed life in Gaza under the sanctions imposed in mid-2007 by the Israeli government and administered by the Israeli military, when Hamas took control in Gaza after its rout of Fatah/Palestinian security services. There have been recurring hostilities ever since, including two large-scale Israeli military operations against Gaza.
The sanctions include denying millions of Palestinians the right to travel to and from Gaza, and are still in effect, although they were “adjusted” after the international outcry following Israel’s May 2010 interception of the Freedom Flotilla and boarding of the large Turkish passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara, during which 9 Turkish men were killed.
These sanctions, however, are collective punishment – which is forbidden under international law.
On one visit, we walked through the Israeli crossing at Erez and out through a long cage in “no-man’s land” inside Gaza, and were waiting for a car to take us to the Hamas border control, when a bomb exploded uncomfortably close. An old man sitting on the ground looked up at us and said “bad”. That pretty much sums up life for many, as we saw it, who are now locked inside Gaza.
During our work in Gaza, we treated a 65 year old man with very painful advanced osteoarthritis of the knees. He was a qualified accountant but could not get a job in his profession and works as a builder’s labourer for 12 hours every day which exacerbated his pain. He was desperate for relief so that he could continue working to support his family. “Those of us who are fortunate to have a job often have to support an extended family which puts us under great pressure”. he said. “Hourly wages are very low so we have to work long hours. We Palestinians are hard-working but we cannot use our skills. We used to manufacture and export furniture to many countries.” But now, he said gloomily, “We can do nothing.”
Another patient drove a truck, delivering and collecting goods at the commercial crossing[s]. “The catastrophe in Gaza is not an earthquake or a flood, it’s man-made,” he said. Shutdowns were frequent and truck drivers are angry about the exorbitant prices exacted by the export companies and Hamas. “They operate like a mafia,” he shouted, “Israel, Egypt, and our government, everybody, are all restricting movement at the crossing and the people of Gaza are paying the price.”