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Inside the world's biggest prison - GAZA

MANY ways to die
User ID: 585165
United States
01/25/2009 08:39 PM
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Inside the world's biggest prison - GAZA
Evidence is mounting that the Israel used the Gaza assault as a testing ground for new, horrific weapons that have confounded doctors’ attempts to save the wounded.

THERE WERE MANY ways to die during the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

YET FOR ALL the high-tech weaponry, perhaps Israel’s most vicious arm against the Palestinians has been “al-hissar”, the siege, imposed on the Gaza Strip 19 months ago when Hamas, after winning a democratic election that the world refused to recognise, seized power from the Fatah Palestinian Authority.

The world turned a blind eye as Gazans languished in the world’s biggest prison, unable to travel, import, export or interact with anyone or anything beyond their borders. And the world largely ignored the rockets Hamas fired in anger and frustration from within the siege.

As a result of this dual negligence the conflict exploded, killing 13 Israelis and 1,300 Palestinians.

The siege was one reason casualties were so high in the three-week war, says Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch. With the Israeli and Egyptian borders closed, “It wasn’t possible for Gazans to escape. The only way to get out was on a stretcher.”

For 19 months, Gaza has endured shortages of fuel, food, medicine and building materials. The Palestinians suffer the additional humiliation of using their tormentors’ currency, but two months ago the Israeli government cut the supply of shekels, creating a severe cash shortage. Fayad Salam, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, was forced to plea with the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.

There were long queues at ATMs in Gaza City this week, but no matter how much they have in salary or savings, cash is rationed and Palestinians can withdraw only 1,000 Israeli shekels per month. “If the Israelis could deprive us of air, they would do it,” says a Palestinian doctor.

The siege of Gaza lies at the heart of the conflict. “If the Israelis want the war to end, they must open all the borders and end the siege,” says Hamas government spokesman Tahir al-Nounou. “Because the siege is war; the siege is killing our people.”

The only lifeline for Gaza are some 1,300 tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egyptian border. It costs $10,000 (€7,800) to dig a tunnel. The best tunnels are bored with sophisticated machines that compress earthen walls so no give-away sand appears outside. Some have railway tracks and electricity, and the tunnels are a lucrative business for Gazans and Egyptians. Because Hamas is believed to import weapons through the tunnels, Israel carpet-bombed them during the offensive. Yet only an estimated 400 were destroyed, and by mid-week the tunnels were again open. Huge plastic cubes in metal frames, holding petrol, appeared on the pavements of Gaza City.

But the return to a semblance of normality cannot efface the three-week nightmare. Whole families were wiped out. Abu Mohamed Balousha, who lost five daughters, and the Samounis of Zeitoun, where a four-year-old boy was the only survivor in a family of 30, have become causes célèbres.

Everyone has a worst memory. For ambulance driver Hathem Saleh, it was desperate telephone calls from the wounded. “When you have been talking to him on the phone and you cannot reach him because the Israeli tank will hit you – it happened to me many times . . . I could hear cries and the Israelis were shooting at us.”

Dr Mahmoud al Khozendar, a chest physician, tells of a colleague whose Russian wife was cut in half when an Israeli missile hit their home. It also killed their six-month-old child. “He took the two parts of his wife and put her on the bed with the baby. He escaped with a wounded son and daughter, and asked the Red Crescent to go back for the bodies.”

At Shifa, al Khozendar had a room full of limbs he could not match with bodies, and one body with two heads. “Most of the bodies were buried without names,” he says.

THERE WERE MANY ways to die during the Israeli offensive on Gaza. Perhaps the greatest number killed were crushed to death when the Israelis fired heavy tank artillery at their houses. Halima Radwan, 60, seemed particularly symbolic to me. Radwan was a young woman when she and her family fled from Israel in the 1967 war. She spent her life as a wandering Palestinian, moving to Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt. In 1996, in the glory days when Gaza had an airport and Palestinians carried passports, she and her husband Ahmad, a PLO official, decided to move back to “Palestine”. They built a five-bedroom villa in the Abed Rabbo district of Gaza. A month before the offensive, they paid off their debts and celebrated.

Maher Radwan, 36, is Halima and Ahmad’s only son and a mechanical engineer with the Palestinian Authority. He, his wife and children lived with his parents. “Before the ground offensive started, I decided to take my wife and children further from the border,” Maher recounts in front of the ruined villa. “I begged my parents to come with us, but they said ‘No, we are old. The Israelis won’t harm us’.”

On January 6th, an Israeli tank fired a shell at the Radwans’ house. Ahmad was wounded in the head and walked out with a white flag. He begged the Israelis to allow the Red Crescent to rescue his wife Halima, who was buried alive in her kitchen. The Israelis said no. Halima lived for four days under the debris of her house, which the Israelis then dynamited.

“They knew she was there and they saw her, because they searched the house before they destroyed it,” says Maher.

As soon as the ceasefire took effect last Sunday, he went with friends and relatives to dig his mother out. “I had the tiniest hope she might still be alive.” But Halima’s legs, shoulder and head had been crushed by concrete.

Broken porcelain, a framed verse from the Koran and a piece of plaster with Hebrew writing by the Israeli soldiers are scattered in the ruins of the Radwan family home. The pigeons they raised have returned to roost on the broken roof. Maher Radwan’s neighbours say there can be no peace with the Israelis who did this. But Maher is more sad than angry. Peace might still be possible, he says, “if only there were wise Israeli people”.
[link to www.irishtimes.com]
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times
Anonymous Coward (OP)
User ID: 585165
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01/25/2009 08:45 PM
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Re: Inside the world's biggest prison - GAZA
Gaza tunnels will keep working "as long as there's a siege"


FROM A distance, you’d think it was a horticultural project. Banks of red earth criss-cross the Palestinian side of the no-man’s land between Gaza and Egypt. Every 20 or 30 metres, young Palestinian men work under what appear to be greenhouse canopies.

The tunnels of Rafah – more than one thousand of them – are a major stake in the war between Hamas and Israel. Israel wants the tunnels shut; the Palestinians say they would starve without them, because of Israel’s 19-month siege of the Gaza Strip. Despite three weeks of heavy bombing, the majority of the tunnels are open.

The area has as many holes as a Swiss cheese. “Sometimes the tunnels intersect,” says a worker. “We try to avoid it. We go under or over other tunnels. It’s like directing train traffic. It’s fun underground.”

Hamdan (22) owns a tunnel which partly collapsed when an Israeli missile dug a huge crater 10 metres from its entrance. He says it will take a month, and $20,000, to reopen the passage. “We bring only foodstuffs from Egypt – cheese, meat, chips, candy, milk and cigarettes,” he says, chainsmoking Camels.

Hamdan bribes Egyptian officers to turn a blind eye. Food is towed through on a plastic sleigh. Livestock are herded through larger tunnels.

” And the weapons? “No, no, no,” Hamdan says emphatically.

“The weapons come through Hamas tunnels only, and those are secret.”

Some 40 Palestinians died in the Rafah tunnels last year – 20 were asphyxiated when the Egyptians used lethal gas to flush out smugglers. The others perished when the sandy walls caved in.

But the money is exceptionally good by Gaza standards. Hamdam pays his men $100 per day, because of the danger.

“When you go down, you’re never sure if you’ll come back up,” he explains. Tunnel owners will not hire married men, for fear of greedy widows.

The smugglers work in jeans, T-shirts and bare feet. “We shore up the collapsed parts with wood,” Hamdan explains. “If the Israelis bomb again, we’ll use metal next time, and concrete the time after that. As long as there’s a siege, the tunnels will keep working.”

[link to www.irishtimes.com]
Anonymous Coward
User ID: 600597
United Kingdom
01/25/2009 08:49 PM
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Re: Inside the world's biggest prison - GAZA
Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel, why should the Israelis help or support them in any way at all?

That they still do supply them with food electricity fuel medecine etc is beyond me entirely!

Anything they need should come through Egypt!