TWO REPORTS FROM GAZA ~~ DON’T SAY ‘I DIDN’T KNOW’

The Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs gets the truth out…. the problem is getting Americans to read that truth.

Presented here are two recent reports from Gaza… just two of many that must be read. The facts must be known to avoid the situation of ‘I didn’t know’….. no one can say that in 2007….. a far cry from 1940.

“I Want to Live”: Israeli Authorities Deny Dying Young Cancer Patient Access to Care

By Mohammed Omer

At his funeral, Mahmoud Abu Taha’s mother, Umm Hani, and sister Asma’a hold pictures of the young man who died en route to an Israeli hospital (Photo M. Omer).

Frail, a mere ghost of a youth, 20-year-old Mahmoud Abu Taha lay listlessly in a Gaza hospital room, nurses helpless to assist. The strain of his illness and uncertain future was etched on the faces of his family members who surrounded his bed.

Diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year, the young man’s life had been taken over by the disease. Merely raising his head or speaking required all his energy. “It hurts,” he whispered when asked how he’s doing. “I feel pain in every part of my body.”

Having lost one-third of his body weight in the months since his diagnosis, Abu Taha was unable to walk or stand. The lack of vitamins, essential nutrients and medications in Gaza due to the closure of its borders meant that even the most basic treatments are unavailable to him. In August doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to his small intestines.

The U.S.- and EU-backed and Israeli-enforced siege of Gaza continues to devastate the healthcare system, depriving hospitals and clinics of medications, supplies and equipment—not to mention the absence of basic necessities such as food, water and electricity, denied to all Gazans. Those who require medical care must seek treatment in Egypt, Jordan or Israel, with Israel being the closest. Regardless of their destination, however, all must overcome one major obstacle: permission from Israel to leave Gaza.

The first attempt by aid workers, physicians, and Abu Taha’s friends and family members to secure papers for the chronically ill youth failed because, according to an Israeli army official, he had been deemed a “security risk.” Two subsequent attempts also failed, with no explanation given.

Of course, the denial of passage for critically ill Palestinians represents the norm rather than the exception to Israeli control of Gaza’s borders. According to a coordinator with the Palestinian Ministry of Health, six such patients currently are awaiting Israeli permission to leave Gaza for medical treatment. Most have cancer or require heart surgery, but one is a young girl whose neck was broken in a car accident. She has been denied passage to a hospital with a trauma unit.

“At least three patients denied exit permits have died since June,” a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch noted, “and others have lost limbs or sight.”

But Abu Taha’s family refused to give up. A fourth attempt finally yielded the necessary papers and permits from the Israeli Army Coordination and Liaison Administration at Erez Crossing to transfer the teen to Tel HaShomer hospital in Tel Aviv—a mere hour’s drive away.

On Oct. 18, 2007, their papers in order, Abu Taha’s 58-year-old father, Kamal, accompanied his son in an ambulance to the Erez Crossing. All appeared to be proceeding well when, after a half-hour wait, the father heard his name called over the loudspeaker. Mahmoud’s brother Hani continued the saga.

“My brother continued to wait, lying on a stretcher receiving a transfusion and hooked up to an oxygen tank in the ambulance,” Hani said. “After two hours, the loudspeaker announced he was denied entry into Israel.”

Forced to turn around, the ambulance transporting its young cancer patient returned to the hospital in Gaza. Mahmoud’s father, however, was detained at Erez. A few days later, Hani received a phone call informing him that their father had been arrested by Shin Bet. Palestinian sources have since confirmed that Kamal Abu Taha was transferred to Israel’s Ashkelon prison. No reason for his arrest was given.

Another cancer patient’s father had a similar experience. When Mohammad Al Najjar’s 20-year-old daughter’s condition recently worsened and he attempted to escort her to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, where she previously had been treated, the Israeli army official at Erez conditioned their passage on the father’s becoming a collaborator for the Israeli military. He refused, and his daughter was denied entry to Israel and the medical attention she needed.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud’s time continued to run out. “I want to live,” the young man pleaded, his voice wavering under the strain. “I don’t want to die.”

Finally, on Oct. 29, his family received assurances from the Israelis that Mahmoud would be allowed to pass through Erez. When the ambulance transporting him once again arrived at the Israeli-controlled border, however, it was kept waiting for eight hours, according to a spokesperson for Physicians for Human Rights.

When it finally was allowed to cross into Israel, it was too late to save the young Palestinian’s life. Mahmoud Abu Taha died en route to the hospital—having spent his final weeks of life suffering not only because of his disease, but from the political whims of a hostile and inhumane occupier.—M.O.

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Ramallah Government Pays Gaza’s Civil Servants—If They Promise Not to Work

By Mohammed Omer

At a post office in Gaza, a Palestinian Authority employee receives his much-needed salary (Photo M. Omer).

A PLUME OF smoke, its scent redolent of roasted apples, wafts out the paneless window into the autumn air. A rhythmic bubbling can be heard as 47-year-old Abu Khaled inhales from the ornate hookah set beside him. As he exhales deeply, his heavy eyes watch the latest snakelike plume follow its predecessor. Once a man of action, today he simply sits, sentenced by political maneuvering to a sedentary existence and lamenting the life he until recently led.

Prior to June of this year, Abu Khaled worked as a security officer at Gaza’s border crossings. Walkie-talkie in hand, he bustled between the operations room, gates and terminals, shouting orders, checking identifications and maintaining order. Today he idles his day away channel surfing his TV and keeping up with current events on the Internet. He would rather work, yet today civil servants in Gaza receive wages from the U.S.-backed Palestinian government in Ramallah on one condition: that they not work.

A few weeks after Hamas came to power in January 2006 elections, Israel and Washington imposed an international boycott on the new, democratically elected government. Eighteen months later, having failed to topple Hamas, U.S.- and Israeli-funded and trained Fatah militia attempted a coup. While Fatah gained control of the West Bank, Gaza remained under the control of Hamas.

The American and Israeli governments began funneling cash and support to Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, and declared the elected Hamas government illegitimate. Declaring Gaza a “hostile entity,” Israel proceeded to increase its pressure. Tactics have included sealing Gaza’s borders, Israeli military incursions and regular bombings, the cutting off of water and electricity, bank closures, and cutting off aid.

Ramallah’s latest anti-Hamas tactic is to pay government employees not to work, while providing them a small stipend to compensate for 18 months of unpaid wages. Those who continue to work at hospitals, schools, police stations and other public institutions have their wages withheld.

The result of this strategy was quickly apparent. Commerce skidded to a halt, inflation soared, and the most basic necessities of life virtually disappeared from this 23-mile strip of land, home to 1.5 million people, of whom 68 percent are under the age of 18. An atmosphere of fear enveloped Gaza.

“Why should I work?” asked Abu Khaled in a hushed voice, looking around to ensure no one could hear him. “I support our leader, President Abbas. If I work under Hamas, my salary will be cut off by the Ramallah-based government.”

Abu Khaled, who declined to reveal his full name, personifies the anxiety shared by most Fatah loyalists in Gaza. By not working, the idle security guard could get in trouble with Hamas. On the other hand, he at least receives compensation. Officials estimate that 55,000 Gazans currently are being paid not to work. Some do it out of loyalty to Fatah, others out of fear or necessity.

A Life-or-Death Decision

Healthcare providers face a unique dilemma. Their choice whether or not to work can literally be a matter of life or death.

At Al Nasser Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, 30-year-old staff nurse Hamam Nasman remained on duty, assisting in operations. The Ministry of Health in Gaza falls under the control of Hamas.

“Ramallah’s government deprived me of my salary,” he explained in frustration. “How can I sit at home and just leave children to die? This is a crime!”

In enforcing the salary rules laid down by the U.S. and Israel, the Fatah government in Ramallah has created a severe crisis for public employees in Gaza, forcing them to choose between feeding their own families and serving or saving the lives of others.

“This is my human duty,” Nurse Nasman insisted. “I took an oath to treat patients, not to be a tool used for political purposes.”

Speaking on behalf of Hamas, Palestinian Legislative Councilman Dr. Salah Al Bardawil summarized the purpose of the latest directive from Ramallah.

“The objective in cutting off employee salaries is political,” he stated. “It is designed to cause a failure of democracy in Gaza—the same democracy which is not honored by the American or Israeli administrations.”

Though strapped for cash, the Hamas government manages to sporadically pay approximately 10,000 public sector workers as funds become available. According to Dr. Al Bardawil, however, 33,000 civil employees currently work without pay, and that number is increasing. Gaps in services are filled by Hamas supporters who volunteer by stepping into critical positions in the various municipal agencies, schools and hospitals.

But not all gaps can be filled in Gaza, where today only emergency humanitarian aid is occasionally allowed to enter.

A Culture of Fear

The worsening shortage of necessities resulting from this latest tightening of the screws on Gaza increasingly is pitting friends and families against one another. Abu Khaled knows this pain only too well. Trepidation coupled with discretion has prevented him from spending time with a friend in the Hamas security force.

“I’m afraid that if Fatah agents see me hosting him, the Ramallah-based government will assume I am not loyal and cut off my salary,” he explained nervously.

Even those in positions of authority feel pressured to comply. Abu Waled, a Fatah loyalist and supervisor at the local police station, admitted that he now spends his days like a retiree, visiting friends and sitting at home.

“I’m not going to risk losing my salary by going to work,” he said sharply. “Let Hamas manage Gaza by themselves.”

Mohammed Omer, winner of New America Media’s Best Youth Voice award, reports from the Gaza Strip, where he maintains the Web site <www.rafahtoday.org>. He can be reached at <gazanews@yahoo.com>.

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous said,

    December 28, 2007 at 06:36

    We have millions suffering in the US, hell, I was living in the hills for 9 months after getting out of the joint. You want me to care about folks thousands of miles away? Yeah, it’s sad, I feel real bad..so what.

  2. Anonymous said,

    December 28, 2007 at 07:22

    if you are paying taxes, you are already supporting the opposite side of this story… you are deep in it as much as anyone “thousands of miles away”.

  3. Disturbed Irish-Canadian living in the Netherlands said,

    December 28, 2007 at 15:11

    Are you kidding me?!?!?!
    “You want me to care about folks thousands of miles away? Yeah, it’s sad, I feel real bad..so what.”

    that’s some cold shit bro, and yes I do, just as you would like people to care if you were beaten and bloody in a gutter bathed in piss, blood and bile due to lack of proper sanitation. Unless you like your infected wounds. people are people now matter how far away, I didn’t think any of this needed to be said but you people make me sad. and on a tangent Why is the one (golden) rule shared by all religions the most easily set aside?

  4. Anonymous said,

    December 28, 2007 at 18:10

    The UN’s first action was to charter the state of Israel. All actions since, through the singular US Security Council Veto was to protect, advocate and finance Israeli War Crimes.

    What is the benefit of every general assembly member being associated with war crimes?

    Let’s get rid of the UN – let Israel swim in the swamp like the rest of us. Have Israelis forgotten they’re Jews. When would a true Jew allow himself to be a crack-whore for the US War Exchange?

    Things need to change. Despite every obstacle the police state and their facilitating information ministry media throw at me – as tiring as the spin of the genocide machine is – as scary as any retribution might be – down inside me – and I bet inside every other proletarian on the face of “our” planet – the blood boils – and I am not afraid. It is close to the moment where the approaches of either apathy or reaction – lead to the same slow death. Waiting leads to the same slow death.

    There is nothing left to loose – we’ve let them take it all. Whether we go quietly into the night, or we resist, we have nothing left to loose.

    I say it’s time to make some noise.


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