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Thinking about Gaza

About four years ago I wrote an article for the newsletter about a visit to East Jerusalem and the West Bank – the first I had made for about fifteen years,  when I had lived and worked there.

At the time we were unable to go to Gaza. The Israeli blockade was impenetrable. Even friends working in NGOs were not allowed in, so we didn’t try. I’ve kept in close touch with events in the Occupied Territories over the years as we have a UN friend there who stays with us in London whenever he gets a break.

I have a small personal history in Gaza: my husband was appointed British Council Director of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in late 1987 and I spent 3-4 years there, mainly in Jerusalem. In summer 1990 he opened a Library and English Language school in Gaza and I became one of the English teachers. Local staff were employed and all went well. Education of any kind was welcomed. I was a young and energetic 54! 

The two terms I spent there were extremely happy. The people were very kind and hospitable and I got as involved as my poor Arabic would allow, even being at a birth in Shifa Hospital, so recently bombed. The borders were controlled even then, with checkpoints, but as foreigners we had no difficulty driving in and out.

When I first drove into Gaza in 1990 I was dismayed at some of the conditions: the overcrowding in the camps, the unmade roads with poor drainage. Several of the houses in Gaza City, where we rented our office, were prosperous but conditions were basic in many areas. The Mediterranean beach was not much used. Yet there were hospitals and schools and Universities.  In the years soon after I left, there seemed to 

be more prosperity in Gaza. There was some hope of a solution to the Occupation and people returned from abroad and built houses and hotels. The beautiful beach began to be used by families and visitors for enjoyment. The E.U built an airport in Gaza, which operated for a short while before its use was banned by the Israelis. 

From the time that Hamas won the EU monitored Palestinian general election, the Gaza blockade became a stranglehold. The one ready source of food, fish, is limited because the Israelis control the waters. Gazans with appointments for hospitals in East Jerusalem and the West Bank have to apply for permits to leave, which can be cancelled at the last minute and children severely injured in the attacks have had to wait days to get permission from the Israelis to be taken out for treatment and surgery.

How do I feel now about Gaza? Recently my son died and I am grieving. How much more must the families of the hundreds of dead children and young people feel? And the ruin of hundreds of homes? We were distressed at the suffering of families in England when their homes were flooded and possessions ruined. I can’t imagine how the wrecks of houses in Gaza we’ve seen on TV can ever be rebuilt and how the people will live meanwhile.

How do I feel about the future? As I write this, an open ended truce has been agreed by both sides, with talk of more talks, eventually. Israel and Egypt have opened the crossings to allow in “humanitarian aid” and fishing has been extended from three to six nautical miles from the shore.

However, Israel recently announced plans for a large new settlement to link two existing settlements in the West Bank. Who knows what will have happened by the time you read this. Until there is a just solution and an end to the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories there will be no peace. There will be a period of quiet and it will all start again. I feel that Britain, the US and the rest of the world must insist upon meaningful talks and not allow Israel to continue to stall and steal but I don’t expect to see a solution in my lifetime.