The morning of our fourth day in Gaza saw us received by the Ministry for Media of Gaza. Portrayal of Palestine to the outside world is a very important concern, as it is through the image of Palestine given to the world that interest and solidarity can be fostered. The ministers were therefore very interested to hear our first impressions of Gaza, and we spent the time exchanging ideas on how the media exposure of Gaza might be improved and fine-tuned (an article written by the ministry on our visit can be found at http://alray.ps/en//index.php?act=post&id=903).
With our meeting concluded we journeyed to the headquarters of the charity Palestine-Aid (http://palestine-aid.org), who we would be working with throughout the day. Before we set off around the city we delivered the donation money we had been collecting to the charity, where it would be used to support orphanages in Gaza. We then travelled with staff and social workers from the charity to two children’s hospitals, where we delivered packages of toys to the children, many of whom are cripplingly ill, an incredibly cruel twist of fate to blight families already suffering from the strains of raising a family under the effects of siege.
Our next destination was one of the poorest areas of the city, an area largely inhabited by people who had lost their homes to Israeli bombing. As we delivered food packages throughout the narrow alleys of the slum we had a first hand experience of the truly awful conditions in which thee victims of Israeli aggression are forced to live, with families living in run down dirty shacks of bare bricks and corrugated iron and plastic roofs.
As if the situation for these people was not bad enough, the families we met often had fathers or children suffering from mental or physical disabilities, making a bad situation nearly unbearable, especially considering that most of these families had to support up to eight or nine children. One of the most touching examples of the suffering the residents of these desolate neighbourhoods undergo was the story of a woman who had lost not only her parents but her entire family to Israeli bombing, leaving her an orphan with no family to turn to. Yet despite all these hardships, these inspiring people still put on an incredible show of strength and resilience, and there was a strong sense of community and hospitality throughout the slum.
The Israeli blockade of Gaza affects all aspects of life in Gaza, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the hospitals, where sufficient supplies and functioning facilities are quite literally a matter of life and death. The frequent power cuts and fluctuations in Gaza, a result of its dependence on unreliable generators for power, are especially debilitating to the hospitals of Gaza, both due to power loss to life-saving equipment causing acute emergencies, and due to power fluctuations causing the equipment, which relies on a constant power supply, to fail to adequately function.
The siege also causes a serious shortage in essential medicines and equipment (not to mention fuel for the hospital generators), as Israel severely restricts transport of this life-saving gear into Gaza, despite the fact that it poses no threat to Israel whatsoever. We endeavoured to do what little we could to alleviate this shortage by delivering a large cache of medicines and surgical kit we had taken with us across the border to the hospital (with thanks to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Newport, for their kind donation of vital equipment). As if the lack of basic necessities was not trouble enough for the health of Gaza, pollution from weapons used by Israel in its attacks on Gaza have been strongly linked to a significant increase in rates of cancer and congenital abnormalities in Gaza.
Our final port of call with Palestine-Aid for the day was the Alshata’a refugee camp in the city, an area of absolute poverty where Palestinian families who have been forcibly evicted by Israel from their ancient homes find shelter and eke out what livelihoods they can in the dirty streets and alleys. Again, as we distributed food packages to help in whatever small way we could, we encountered the common theme of huge families with frequent mental and physical disabilities exacerbating the already desperate situation of these refugees, with one man, who himself was disabled, struggling to support a family in which three of his children were suffering from mental disabilities.
Although the people of Gaza have the strength of spirit to muster outward smiles, and maintain their levity in the face of tragedy and oppression, it is important not to forget that behind the welcoming arms and laughter runs a deep current of sadness and loss. Many of these seemingly happy men have lost more than it is possible to imagine, be it their homes, their livelihoods, their independence, or even their own families, and far too often, all of these things at once. Nowhere is this more visible and clear than the slums and refugee camps of Gaza, but even a short conversation with any Palestinian will reveal that this thread of loss and tragedy runs through the lives of all in this besieged and oppressed land.