Lifting of the siege the only hope of a quarantined people
By Joe Harbison, Interim National Director, World Vision Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza
[September 21 marks International Peace Day. Recently World Vision’s Director for Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza witnessed ordinary life in Gaza, so far from the ideals of International Peace Day].
Gaza,1.5 million people crammed into an urban island pock marked by bullets and bombs. Where the slow cascade of partially destroyed buildings implode upon themselves after a war that is not allowed to be grieved over or repaired. Gazans, over 50% of whom are under 18, crowd the chaos seemingly oblivious to their poverty, the rubble and the cars that roar along the streets.
A world that celebrates 60 years of the UN Charter of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention (and even longer International Humanitarian Law) ought to wail and howl at its inability to humanely care for and heal a population that has been displaced for a significant amount of time corresponding to the birth of a nation, the birth of a charter, the birth of a tragedy.
Take a walk through Gaza’s dusty potholed streets and you will find a sad maxim reflected in the faces of the adolescents. Those under ten have the amazing ability to smile and play and even fashion toys from scraps found in the rubbish strewn streets. But look again at the children who are post-adolescent. These are among the living dead; their role models are etched in faded posters that line the dismal streets – posters of martyrs, of futile resistance slogans, portraying what they feel to be their hope of a lasting peace and future. The recent war in Gaza has compounded the psychosocial suffering of children caused by ongoing siege and insecurity. The wounds won’t heal on their own. Someone must wipe the tear, bind the wound.
Resilience is a word we like to use for people affected by traumatic change. Like a live wire racquet ball trapped in a small court are the Gazans in their city at night. The streets may be dim but the denizens are out, walking and jostling in the roads, eating shawerma, ice cream and falafel; they seem to be a people in hyper resilience drive.
And no wonder. A more than two-year blockade of Gaza’s borders has collapsed the local economy, rendering a people who should be exporting food to be dependant on food aid. Sadly, they also rely on the precarious underground tunnels from which so many everyday banned goods, like hair conditioner, materialize.
The answer isn’t a safer tunnel network but a lifting of the siege.
Ask anybody, I hear over and over when I ask, ‘What hopes do you have for the future?’ Every time the reply is simply, ‘I hope the borders will open, the siege will end and (for goodness sake) that my kids don’t have to worry about a building falling on them or be hit by a stray bullet when the Israeli Forces decide to come visiting.’
Gazans – a quarantined people, besieged and blockaded. But watch and listen – change is in the air. We don’t know what permutation the change will take. Insha’allah (God willing) it will be peaceful; beautiful. Something worthy of the lofty aspiration of the human spirit.
Yesterday, a man I highly respect, a man of considerable means and reputation and a Gazan to the core told me, “We in Gaza don’t read much.” Really I was not surprised. He continued. “We are too consumed with the survival instinct and we don’t know enough about what’s coming around the corner so why fill our minds with novels and abstractions?” Picasso said that art removes the dust from the soul, so where’s the balance here?
I took a walk along the beach in Gaza today, along the filth-strewn sands and gazed upon the throngs of beachgoers in waters murky with pollution. I asked a bather if he wasn’t frightened to swim in such dirty water. “Oh yes, it is dirty today… the sewers are opened and they drain out into the sea along our coast.” This is largely due to sewage plants operating at over capacity, as a result of the restrictions imposed by the Israeli blockade on Gaza. But he turned and dove in anyway.
Resilience, my friend….
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