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  • Posts Tagged ‘siege’

    To Gaza, With Love

    One of a series of videos created by solidarity activists in NYC in preparation for the June flotilla to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope. A new one featuring Noura Erekat and I is coming soon.

     

    Gaza-the prison camp that is not?

    It’s three years since I’ve been back to Gaza. Much has happened since my last visit. Fatah waged a failed coup and now rules only the West Bank, while Hamas is in charge of Gaza. Israel launched its deadly Cast Lead assault. Fuel shortages. Electricity crises. And so on.

    I needed to regain perspective. So I walked and I talked and I listened. I went to the beach where women – skinny jeans and all – were smoking water pipes, swimming and generally having a good time, irrespective of the purported Hamas ban on women smoking sheesha.

    During the eight hours of electricity we get each day, I logged on to the internet and browsed the English-language papers. It seemed like suddenly everyone was an expert on Gaza, claiming they knew what it’s really like. Naysayers Zionist apologists and their ilk have been providing us with the same “evidence” that Gaza is burgeoning: the markets are full of produce, fancy restaurants abound, there are pools and parks and malls … all is well in the most isolated place on earth – Gaza, the “prison camp” that is not.

    If you take things at face value, and set aside for a moment the bizarre idea that the availability of such amenities precludes the existence of hardship, you’ll be inclined to believe what you read.

    So, is there a humanitarian crisis or not? That seems to be the question of the hour. But it is the wrong one to be asking.

    The message I’ve been hearing over and over again since I returned to Gaza is this: the siege is not a siege on foods; it is a siege on freedoms – freedom to move in and out of Gaza, freedom to fish more than three miles out at to sea, freedom to learn, to work, to farm, to build, to live, to prosper.

    Gaza was never a place with a quantitative food shortage; it is a place where many people lack the means to buy food and other goods because of a closure policy whose tenets are “no development, no prosperity, and no humanitarian crisis“, Gisha, the Legal Centre for the Freedom of Movement, explained in a press release.

    The move from a “white list” of allowable imports to a “black list” might sound in good in theory (ie everything is banned except xyz, to only the following things are banned) but in practice only 40% of Gaza’s supply needs are being met, according to Gisha. The Palestinian Federation of Industries estimates that only a few hundred of Gaza’s 3,900 factories and workshops will be able to start up again under present conditions

    Sure, there are a handful of fancy restaurants in Gaza. And yes, there is a new mall (infinitely smaller and less glamorous than it has been portrayed).

    As for food, it is in good supply, having found its way here either through Israeli crossings or the vast network of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. Of course, this leaves aside the question of who in Gaza’s largely impoverished population (the overwhelming majority of whose income is less than $2 a day, 61% of whom are food insecure) can really afford mangoes at $3 a kilo or grapes at $2 a kilo. A recent trip to the grocery store revealed that meat has risen to $13 a kilo. Fish, once a cheap source of protein, goes for $15 to $35 a kilo.

    Prices are on par with those of a developed country, except we are not in a developed country. We are a de-developed occupied territory.

    All of the above adds up to the erasure of the market economy and its replacement with a system where everyone is turned into some kind of welfare recipient. But people don’t want handouts and uncertainty and despair; they want their dignity and their freedom, employment and prosperity and possibility.

    Perhaps most significantly, they want to be able to move freely – something they still cannot do.

    Let’s take the case of Fadi. His father recently had heart surgery. He wanted to seek followup care abroad, at his own expense, but he doesn’t fall into the specified categories allowed out of Gaza for travel, whether through Egypt or Israel. “He’s not considered a level-one priority,” Fadi explained. “Can you please tell me why I can’t decide when I want to travel and what hospital I can take him to?”

    Even the cream of Gazan high-school students must lobby the Israeli authorities long and hard to be allowed out to complete their studies. They literally have to start a campaign in conjunction with human rights groups to raise enough awareness about their plight, and then look for local individuals to blog about their progress, explained Ibrahim, who was approached by one organisation to “sponsor a student”.

    I have no doubt that if Stephanie Gutmann and Melanie Phillips lived in Gaza their principle worry would not be about “what parts of their bodies they can display”, it would be the fact that they would not be allowed out again. It would be because everything from the kind of food they would have on their plate to when they can turn on the lights to what they can clothe those bodies with and whether or not they can obtain a degree is determined by an occupying power.

    Using the phrase “prison camp” to describe Gaza, as Britain’s prime minister did, is not vile rhetoric. It is an understatement and even a misnomer. Prisoners are guilty of a crime, yet they are guaranteed access to certain things – electricity and water, even education – where Gazans are not. What crime did Gazans commit, except, to quote my late grandmother, “being born Palestinian”?

    Ketchup and cookies may be flowing to Gaza in slightly greater quantities than before. But so bloody what? Goods for export are not flowing out. Nor, for that matter, are people. So while there may be some semblance of civil life and stability in Gaza, there is absolutely no political horizon or true markers of freedom to speak of.

    And as long as freedom of movement is stifled, whether by Israel or Egypt, and export-quality goods, which account for a large portion of Gaza’s manufacturing output, are forbidden from leaving Gaza, all the malls and mangoes in the world won’t make a bit of difference.

    This article was originally published in the Guardian’s Comment is Free.

     

    Gaza at night (and at day)!

    This is what Gaza sounds like when the electricity goes off. Depending on what neighborhood you live in, you will either lose your power in the morning or at night in rotating 8 hour blocks (at 10 am, 2pm and 10pm). The generators have become a fixture of Gaza’s streets now, and power everything from a single computer to an entire 15 story building, depending on their size and horsepower. The countdown to “powering off” is absolutely depressing. Residents now schedule their days around the electricity-opting to visit relatives or friends who are on the “opposite” schedule when their power is off, for example, or working in cafes with large generators instead of their own offices of homes. There have been over 100 generator-related deaths reported according to the UN (carbon monoxide poisoning, accidental fueling explosions, and so on) in addition to an increase in resipiratory illnesses. Blogger Ibrahim Jabour joked on Twitter the other day “can I add to my CV under ‘special skills’ that I am an expert in generator repair and fueling?”

    Gaza suffers from a dire energy crisis (there is a 60% energy deficit, according to a recent report by OXFAM). The root of Gaza’s power crisis stretches back to June 2006 when Israeli airstrikes destroyed all six Gaza Power Plant (GPP) transformers (the power plant resumed operations five months later but at reduced capacity) as retribution for the capture of Gilad Shalit. After Hamas consolidated its power on the Strip in 2007 following the failed Fateh coup, Israel blockaded the territory and began to restrict fuel imports and equipment to Gaza resulting in a a chronic shortfall in the power plant’s production and a mass-dependence on back-up diesel powered generators. Besides earlier attacks, Cast Lead severely damaged the power plant, putting it on the verge of collapse, exacerbated by the destruction of power lines supplying electricity from Israel and Egypt.

    For more, see GISHA’s “Electricity Shortage in Gaza: Who Turned Out the Lights?

    Also see Dissident Voice’s “Gaza’s Electricity Crisis“.

     

    The Music Man of Gaza

    Ibrahim Najjar always manages to make me smile. There’s something about him-maybe its the fact that he’s one of those people who’s been able to actualize his life long dream-in his case, of becoming a music teacher. Maybe its his demeanor-always timidly smiling, always speaking in a soft comforting tone, even in the darkest of times.

    I’ve known Abu Anas, as he is known here, for over 13 years, when I enrolled in his then nascent music institute to learn how to play the 3oud (sadly, I was not as successful in realizing this dream as Abu Anas, namely because I am tone deaf and he is not :) ).

    I think back fondly to those days: we were an eclectic group, including a gifted 5 year old boy and a determined 71 year old woman who had always wanted to learn to play the piano. We sat in a crowded, unventilated room, ill-equipped for music learning, let alone recording, and dutifully followed Abu Anas’s instructions as he enthusiastically asked us to tap or clap out a combination of rhythms after him. The result was a cacophonous and hilarious combination of sounds and hysterical laughter.

    Abu Anas received his degree in music in Cairo (but not before initially enrolling in medicine and “fainting after seeing my first cadaver”) and after that, a scholarship to complete his studies and ultimately teach music in Kuwait. He excels in 17 instruments. In the 90s, when Gaza opened up for “visiting” Palestinians,and a limited number of ID cards were granted to Palestinians in exile, he took the opportunity to return to his estranged home to fulfill his life long dream of establishing a music school

    I periodically visit Abu Anas. The last time was almost 4 years ago, when I wrote an article for Aljazeera about his school (which I now cannot find). He was worried about the safety of his students after Palestinian infighting paralyzed the city.

    Yesterday i arranged to visit Abu Anas again, this time to enroll Yousuf in his institute. I was shocked to learn that the institute (which had since moved from the temporary location to a more permanent one housed in the al-Quds hospital Red Crescent complex) was bombed multiple times and ultimately burned completely to the ground by Israeli forces during their assault on Gaza. Abu Anas told me that no instruments were spared.

    I sense sadness in his eyes when he speaks about his old instruments. But he smiles-as always, when he shows me the new instruments, now in the new and improved Gaza School of Music, down the road. The School was funded largely by the Palestinian philanthropic organization the Qattan Foundation, which is also responsible for the incredible Qattan Center for the Child in Gaza City. Instruments were transported with the assistance of ANERA and a French foundation.

    Abu Anas says they have received nothing but support, and the domestic political environment has not affected them. “Our people are fond of music. It is a part of our culture and rich history.”

    Recently, one of his students won the Marcel Khalife National Music Competition-the highest musical honor in Palestine, with the Qanoon.

    “We have so many prodigies here, the spirit of the human soul here, the resilience of our people and children never ceases to amaze me” says Abu Anas.

    Here’s to the music man of Gaza! For more on his school, see Eva Bartlett’s article for Inter Press Service.