November 29, 2007

A Call From Gaza Asking for Your Help to End the Siege

By News Editor Delinda C. Hanley and Managing Editor Janet McMahon

Today—the 60th anniversary of the passage by the U.N. General Assembly of the nonbinding resolution partitioning Palestine—is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. We’ve been hearing speeches about peace all week from politicians—but talk, as we’ve learned, is cheap. We’ve seen photos of Gazans demonstrating in the streets against the Annapolis conference, to which the elected government of Palestine was not invited, but with few reporters in Gaza Americans aren’t getting the entire picture.

Yesterday our Gaza correspondent, Mohammed Omer, called us to discuss a story idea for the next issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Speaking on his cell phone from the office of a taxi cab company in Gaza City, Mohammed told us that he’d have to spend the night in Gaza City because there were no taxis available to take him home to Rafah.When we put him on speaker phone, we could hear the two other men in the office—Imad, the owner of Imad Taxis, and Mahmoud, who works for the municipalities department—ask who he was talking to. When Mohammed explained that he was speaking with his editors in Washington, DC, the floodgates opened. Our correspondent proceeded to translate what two everyday Gazans want the outside world to know. Their words were spontaneous, unpolished, and spoken from their hearts. It’s extremely urgent that Americans listen and respond.

Israel has kept Gaza’s borders sealed since June, when Palestine effectively was divided between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Fatah-ruled West Bank. But since January 2006, when free and fair elections resulted in a Hamas parliamentary majority, Gaza’s borders have only rarely been opened. That means 1.5 million men, women and children are trapped there.

The owner of Imad Taxis told us that, because of the closure, if one of his cabs breaks down there are no spare parts to fix it. “Drivers can’t work,” he said. “Gas is getting very expensive. I can’t even pay my telephone bills, so soon customers can’t call to book a taxi.”

Mahmoud chimed in: “We’ve run out of everything. After every Israeli attack something more is ruined. Electrical poles, wires, water pipes, and we can’t replace them. Why are we being punished? What is our crime? Is it because we were born Palestinian?

“We can’t fix generators or even keep them running,” he continued. “When there is no electricity we can’t distribute water. We’ve run out of chlorine to clean the water. It’s full of bacteria. A water heater used to cost 10 shekels, but now it costs 40 or 50 shekels—if you can find one. So we don’t have hot water for bathing. Our sewage system has collapsed. There’s no power to pump sewage out and no chemicals to clean it. Look at the garbage in the streets. There is no fuel for the trucks to come to haul it away.”

“Israel is only allowing basic food supplies into Gaza: sugar, rice, flour, and oil,” Imad told us. “Every day my little girl asks me to bring home a chocolate bar. I can’t find any in Gaza. I disappoint her every night. We can’t even buy Arabic coffee. There are no razors, no shaving materials. We’ll all have to grow beards. [Laughter] There isn’t stone, not even cement, to make headstones for graves. We’re using pieces of metal to write names on graves. We can’t buy diapers. Gazans are starting to smoke molokhiya [a green leaf vegetable] because we can’t buy cigarettes. We can’t buy shoes and soon we’ll have to make them from tires. There is no printing paper.”

Their words overlap as they tumble out—we can no longer tell who is saying what.

“You can’t find jackets, wool clothes, underwear, or even socks for winter in the shops.

“Medical supplies in hospitals are exhausted. There’s no oxygen; drugs aren’t available. We cannot find the basic needs for life.

“For God’s sake open the border.”

Mahmoud tells us: “My son has had a visa to study in the United States since last year. He was admitted to San Francisco State. He speaks good English. He has high grades—everything. Last year he missed going because the border was closed. He’s ready to travel today. He’s missing a second year. If my son doesn’t have a future where will he go? Hamas is begging him to join its militia, but he doesn’t want to. He’s volunteering for [psychiatrist and peace activist] Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj’s International Campaign to Break the Siege on Gaza. Help prevent our children from becoming extremists. They’re so hopeless they could find al-Qaeda. We want them educated. Don’t punish our children.”

“History will never forget. Israel and America are creating hatred in Gaza. The whole table will collapse if Gaza is excluded from the peace talks. Who is responsible for us? The U.N.? The European Union? We are not beggars. We are hard workers, educated, intelligent. We need our international human rights. We want to live like anyone in the world.

“We hope you can get our message out. Please open the borders and end this siege.”

Call or write your local editors and radio talk show hosts, and contact your elected representatives in Washington, DC.

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
(202) 456-1414
White House Comment Line: (202) 456-1111
Fax: (202) 456-2461
E-mail: <president@whitehouse.gov>

E-mail Vice President Dick Cheney: vice.president@whitehouse.gov>

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
State Department Public Information Line:
(202) 647-6575

Any Senator
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-3121

Any Representative
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-3121
E-mail Congress: visit the Web site <www.congress.org> for contact information.

The Israeli Embassy, Washington, DC
(202) 364-5500

The Israeli Embassy, Canada
(613) 567 6450

For more information about this issue or to subscribe to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs visit our Web site <http://www.wrmea.com/>. This 26-year-old publication has the largest circulation of any magazine of its kind, and is sent to both public and university libraries and bookstores in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. For a free sample copy call (202) 939-6050.

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, PO Box 53062, Washington DC 20009. Phone: (202) 939-6050, Fax: (202) 265-4574, Toll Free: (800) 368-5788, www.wrmea.com Published by the American Educational Trust, a non-profit foundation incorporated in Washington, DC to provide the American public with balanced and accurate information concerning U.S. relations with Middle Eastern states. Material from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs may be printed with out charge with attribution to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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