Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why Gaza is hungry, scared and isolated

floThe conversation at the lunch table with Isa and May, Elias and Rana was just about two things, immigrating and what the most vital shopping items are for their homes.

“People are thinking of how to spend the summer vacation we are thinking of how to stockpile food,” said Rana Al Najjar, one of my hosts as we made a trip to the shop to buy what food was still available.

News has spread through Gaza that in light of the economic embargo on the Gaza Strip we will run out of gasoline by tomorrow. This means electricity will also cut as the main power station in Gaza is run on petrol.

Our first stop was a natural gas shop where we drop off our oven’s gas bottles and were told to pick them up filled in the evening.

Next was a wholesale sugar store. Prices of sugar, flour and basic foods are going up as people are buying in a frenzy, afraid of shortages in coming days.

Our last stop was the grocers, where swarms of people were shopping in order to stock up for a very uncertain future.

My visit at the hospital this morning was difficult. On Friday Ghada’s brother was shot in his right leg twice, one bullet remained in his leg. When he first arrived at the hospital they had placed him on a wooden board waiting for space to be freed for him. His operation lasted many hours and ended with 33 stitches in his leg.

Ghada told me that he had screamed a lot the night before. When I saw him he was still writhing in pain. Sa’ed is 22 and had just working for the Fatah secret police two months ago. He is unmarried and jumped at this opportunity to take a job in order to prepare for his future. The events of the past days were not what he had reckoned for and whatever grudges Hamas held against the security apparatus he was not one with blood on his hands.

What I witnessed at the hospital was horrible and that was without even entering one single hospital room. Sa’ed was in a bed in the hallway, since they had run out of rooms and at one point even out of beds. Looking from the hospital window I saw at least three other young men being moved around on beds or wheelchairs with just their right leg bandaged. Being shot in the legs, a common occurrence in the past days of fighting is a horrible form of torture.

Mahmoud Abbas has declined a meeting with Hamas’ Khaled Mishal citing he would not meet with “murderers.” Furthermore, an internationally backed and recognized emergency government is to be sworn in later this evening, after the president has officially dissolved the democratically elected, Hamas dominated unity government.

I want to point out at this point that I called the events of the last few days a “coup” in accordance with what many in Gaza are naming it. In hindsight I consider Hamas to have a legitimate political right to the military takeover that occurred. Yet, this is not to say that this occurrence bodes well for the people, rather there is a fear of this turning into a social and humanitarian crisis.

The source of this fear of what the future holds is two-fold.

The at times double-faced statements of the Hamas leadership (in Sa'ed's case Hamas announced they did not harm any Fatah security force members that handed themselves over, Sa'ed did and was shot at by a sniper, then tortured and shot in the legs), a priority of their own people over the general public and their seeming lack of realpolitik, revealed in the few signs of a strategy or plan for the future by the Hamas leadership (after routing Fatah security forces and political leadership in Gaza and taking over their headquarters, Hamas declared they recognize Abu Mazen as president and do not consider Gaza a separate Palestinian entity). The consequences of this are felt by the people, not those in power.

Yet, my fear is rooted even deeper in the actions of the “International Community” (largely a pseudonym for the USA) who has refused to recognize a democratically elected Palestinian government in an election that was enforced on the Palestinians in accordance with an American Foreign Policy drive for “Democracy in the Middle East.” Moreover this “International Community” collectively punishes Palestinians for their “democratic” vote which the world’s sole superpower is not in favor of.

Because of a hypocritical promise of "freedom" through “democratic reform,” Sa’ed is suffering in an open air hospital bed in Gaza City, Rana, Elias, Isa and May are scrounging to stockpile food for an uncertain future and the entire Gaza Strip is punished on behalf of the duplicitous ideology and wishful thinking of a few rich white men.