Thursday, June 25, 2015

Assault on Gaza, One Year Later

"Operation Protective Edge"
 One year ago, on July 8, 2014, Friends were horrified to learn that Israel had launched an all-out assault on Gaza resulting in over 2100 Palestinian dead and 11,000 wounded. The U.N. reports that 1000 wounded children will suffer a life-long disability. At least 142 Palestinian families lost three or more members killed in a single Israeli attack, and nearly 1500 children were orphaned.

Flooded street in Gaza

In addition to the human devastation, “Operation Protective Edge” destroyed homes, schools, municipal buildings, and power, water, and sewer systems – the basic infrastructure so many of us take for granted. Israeli attacks caused widespread damage to Gaza’s already frail and dilapidated electrical grid, run down and in disrepair after nearly 9 years of siege and blockade. In last summer’s attack, Israel intentionally bombed Gaza’s only power plant, knocking it out of commission indefinitely, prompting Amnesty International to condemn the attack as an act of “collective punishment” against the entire population. Without electricity, water treatment plants could not function, leading to the release of raw sewage into open pools, farmland, and the Mediterranean Sea. By last August, 15 tons of solid waste had leaked into the streets of Gaza.

How are the living conditions in Gaza today? In the 11 months since a ceasefire agreement was signed between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has refused to allow in the building materials needed to reconstruct Gaza’s infrastructure. Tens of thousands of Palestinian families continue to live among the rubble of their houses without electricity or running water. Aid agencies report that malnutrition is spreading.

World War II, Montebourg, France
Imagine the ruins of World War II in Europe: cities reduced to rubble, children hungry and homeless, families decimated. Like those Europeans, Palestinians are resilient, creative and ready to work to rebuild. The children of Gaza still have hopes and dreams for their future. Take a look at this sweet little video of Palestinian children against the backdrop of devastation: 

WWII Marshall Plan
Yet unlike post-WWII Europe, where the U.S. launched a massive Marshall Plan to help countries on both sides of the conflict rebuild, Gaza remains under a strict military blockade. Its export sector has virtually disappeared and the manufacturing sector has shrunk by 60%. Even prior to the assault, Gaza’s unemployment rate was 46% -- the highest in the world. 35% of the available agricultural land is now unsafe for Gazans to use. 97% of the water supplied through the municipal networks is still unfit for human consumption.

Fortunately, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) has been delivering aid through it all to Gaza as well as to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – five million in all). Despite incredible challenges, UNRWA is providing schools and teachers, primary health care, emergency food aid, psychological counseling, vocational training and microfinance loans, and is leading the efforts to import vital construction materials. We can support UNRWA online:

Yet the people of Gaza do not want to rely on this critical international aid for the long term.  They’re not even hoping for a Marshall Plan. What will help Gaza the most is our work toward the larger goals: peace and security throughout the region, the resettlement of refugees, an unconstrained economy, the reopening of schools and hospitals, just compensation for confiscated lands and properties, an end to racist assaults and illegal imprisonment – in short, a return to “ordinary life.”  Who would ask for more – or less?