In Gaza it is all about control as citizens suffer


In the first of two articles looking at life for Palestinians, MICHAEL JANSENreports from Gaza

THE ISRAELI immigration officer stamps my passport and hands it back along with my press card, my pass to Gaza. “Have a good day,” he says.

The journey begins with two barred gates and a brisk hike through a covered walkway enclosed in mesh. At the Gaza end, a white taxi whisks me 200 meters to the Palestinian checkpoint, where a policeman asks for my entry permit.

“What permit?”

Foreigners need a permit, he replies.

I ring Salah, a friend who works for an aid agency, and two members of a leading family.

As Salah phones to say I might have to wait two or three hours, the interior ministry mudir (director) rings the policeman, who photocopies my passport and waves me on my way.

Over coffee in the garden at Marna House hotel, Amjad Shawa, head of the Palestinian non- governmental organisation network, says: “The story in Gaza is control.”

The de facto Hamas-run Gaza government has adopted new bylaws for NGOs that “will seriously affect their structure and work. We have appealed to the legislative council to repeal the law.”

Foreign NGOs are trying to control development in Gaza by replacing local NGOs although, according to Shawa, “Palestinian civil society is well organised and has popular support”.

Israel is using its control of Gaza and the West Bank “to create two political and social entities and kill the unity of the Palestinian national project.

“We are trying to counter this by holding unified elections in the lawyers and journalists syndicates” and pressing Israel to allow West Bank women with Gazan spouses to visit families in Ramallah, Nablus or Hebron.

The West Bank Palestinian Authority, ousted from Gaza by Hamas in 2007, is trying to reassert control in Gaza by manipulating the supply of medicine and fuel.

Mahmoud Daher, director of the World Health Organisation’s Gaza office, says 182 out of 500 essential medicines are out of stock because the authority’s ministry of health does not send supplies.

Gaza does not have medicines for common chronic diseases or for operating theatres, he says.

The waiting list for operations is six rather than three months, while referrals to hospitals outside Gaza have doubled to 16,000 due to the lack of key pharmaceuticals.

“The modern system of medicine depends on machines affected by power cuts. The lack of fuel for generators means hospitals can be forced to close down; hospitals are always on the edge. People are weakened by unemployment, poverty, lack of infrastructure and poor nutrition. We have a manmade disaster.”

Raji Sourani, founder of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, has upbeat news from Gaza. Experts from the centre have provided human rights training for 35 Libyans, 35 Syrians and 34 Yemenis.

“We were in Libya after the revolution, it was shocking for us,” says Sourani, who adds that he was tortured while imprisoned by Israel. In his view, Israel’s 2008-09 war on Gaza was one- tenth as deadly and destructive as the 2011 conflict in Libya.

“What is going on in Syria is beyond belief. There are massive violations of human rights . . . brutality is widespread,” he says.

“Exaggeration of fatalities encourages the army to kill large numbers. The Arab Human Rights Organisation dispatched monitors to Syria with the Arab League mission. We were supposed to train all the monitors but this did not happen.

“Our experts were the eyes and ears of the mission. One was killed by a sniper.”

The Arab Human Rights Organisation also co-operates with the Geneva-based Human Rights Council investigative mission. “We are ready to co-operate with the UN mission” now in Syria.

A recipient of the 1991 Bobby Kennedy rights award, Sourani speaks with affection of the Centre for Human Rights’s long-standing relationship with Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trócaire.

In spite of Ireland’s current financial difficulties, Dublin has “kept aid at the same level”.

During his tour of Gaza in January, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore visited the centre and, once again, urged Israel to lift what critics see as its siege and blockade of Gaza.

Before leaving the strip, I fill out the permit form and deliver it to the helpful mudir, who shakes my hand and waives the fee.

“I suggest you apply a week before you plan to come next time,” I am told.