Sunday 29 March 2009


This is a two part piece. The first by Tony Davies is on the general health situation in Palestine. It is pretty lightweight because the topic of wounds and disease as a direct of the recent genocidal attack are not mentioned, let alone the residual psychological aspect of the attacks and family losses. The results of deteriorating health due to living more in the open, in squalid tents with less water, etc is only making things so much harder.

Part two, Hunger Before the Storm, was written by Palestinian native Sameh Habeeb. Sameh wrote this the night before the bombing began in Gaza. If things regarding food were as bad as they were then, how much worse must things be today. Part of the campaign of Operation Dead, er, Lead, was to destroy Palestinian capability to feed themselves. Refer to my piece Were Chickens Firing Those Rockets? Green houses, nurseries, livestock were targeted and fields dusted with poisons and cluster bombs. The constant attack and theft of farm land and groves adds to the problem significantly.

It was recently discovered that at the borders crossings food was being withheld for security reasons ~ jam, pasta, pasta sauce, chickpeas, tomato sauce, rice along with toilet paper.





By Tony Davies

On 13th March, at Birzeit University near Ramallah, five articles from the university’s Department of Public Health on health in the occupied Palestinian territories were launched. The articles are being published by the medical journal, The Lancet.

They have been condemned as propaganda by the Israeli prime minister’s spokesperson, Mark Regev. As an expert propagandist, he will know, if he has read the articles, that the studies they report have been conducted by able Palestinian academics collaborating with respected scientific workers from a number of countries and reported with a care and objectivity which are the antithesis of propaganda.

Whereas there were health gains in the occupied Palestinian territories (the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip) during the 1990s, improvement has not been maintained. Infant mortality remained at about 27 per 1000 live births between 2000 and 2006, compared with 3.9 in Israel. The stillbirth rate has recently increased in Gaza.

The proportion of stunted Palestinian children under the age of 5 years increased from 7.2% in 1996 to 10.2% in 2006. Stunting results from chronic malnutrition. It is serious because it is associated with reduced mental development and with increased illness in childhood and in adult life.

Malnutrition is a result of the poverty imposed on Palestinians by Israeli occupation policy. In 2007, 52% of families (40% in the West Bank and 74% in the Gaza Strip) were living below the poverty line of US$3•15 per person per day. The average annual income of a Palestinian is $1200, compared with an Israeli average of $26000. Nearly half the Palestinians are now dependent on food aid.

The psychological toll of the occupation is enormous. The lives of Palestinians have become more insecure since 2000. Not only are Palestinians killed nearly every day by the Israeli military, but others are assaulted, injured, or humiliated. Palestinians are subjected to restriction of movement at armed checkpoints and due to the barriers round Gaza and much of the West Bank. Detention, torture, destruction of trees and crops, demolition of houses and theft of land are daily occurrences.

Unlike the Israeli settlers who were moved out of Gaza in 2005, the Palestinians receive no compensation for their losses.

At one time, this child's mother cooked tasty meals

in this kitchen. Now, no food, no kitchen.

Though Israeli government and military strategy is the overriding cause of deficient health care in the occupied Palestinian territories, international donors pursuing their own agendas, and problems in the administration of health care are contributory factors.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health is hamstrung by the occupation because the hostile occupying power not only rigidly controls movement of people (including patients and health workers) and materials (including drugs and medical equipment) between the occupied territories and the outside, but also within the Palestinian areas.

The minimum humanitarian requirement is that there should be uninterrupted movement of people requiring medical care through checkpoints, but these agents of oppression need to be removed altogether. Their main purpose is not Israeli security. Controlling movement of Palestinians within the territories has little or no bearing on Israeli security, and checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank can be, and are, circumvented.

The Israeli military has repeatedly damaged ambulances, prevented them from attending injured and dying people, has injured and killed health personnel, and refused women giving birth, and many severely ill people, access to hospitals.

It has bombarded hospitals and clinics. These atrocities contravene the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel has signed and ratified. It is essential that the truth is told about the effects of the occupation on the health of Palestinians.

This is the importance of the Lancet articles. Armed with such information, we have to campaign as hard as we can for our governments to apply pressure on Israel to end the terrible suffering its military is inflicting on Palestinians.

Tony Davies is a visiting professor of physiology, Medical School, Al Quds University, Abu Dis, East Jerusalem.

Boys scavenging for food

Israeli politicians, in the run-up to elections, are promising to deal a severe blow to Gaza as this is how Israeli policy is made. However, every household in Gaza is already under siege. In Gaza you can only find pale, angry and frustrated faces. If you visit my house you won't find power, while my neighbor is out of gas. Another neighbor seeks potable water as power outages have left him without for four days. A third neighbor disparately looks for milk for his child but does so in vain. Another friend who lives on the corner needs medicine that can't currently be found in Gaza.

There is no shortage of such stories in Gaza ~ though there is a shortage of nearly everything else. Perhaps broadcasting such stories would result in pressure on Israeli leaders to stop the siege. Because what is happening is that the entire Gaza population of 1.5 million ~ densely packed into a small area ~ is being punished for crude rockets being fired into Israel by a few.

Shaher Mazen, 25, holds a degree in political science but works as a taxi driver to put bread on the table for his family. I spoke to him while I was on my way to some of the Gaza bakeries to cover some news that was happening there. Shaher was frustrated because of siege and furious towards the two rival Palestinian governments, considering them as weak in the face of Israel.
Mazen said, "We are under an organized Israeli media campaign. We are being starved and victimized by Israel. The world think we are besieging Israel, not the other way around. Israel is playing up the issue of rocket fire to besiege us more and more."

This child gets there for the baker to tell him there is nothing left.

Flour is now a precious commodity in Gaza. Al-Shanty bakery in Gaza City is one of the Strip's largest, supplying tens of thousands with bread. Yesterday, hundreds of people crowded outside the bakery in a very long queue, waiting for a bag of bread. Children, women and men were awaiting the chance to buy some bread, which has become scarce as Israel has not allowed the import of adequate supplies of flour and cooking gas.

"Our bakery is out of bread for days now and what we have will only last for another 24 hours. In fact, we stopped our work yesterday as we ran out of flour. Now, we use animal feed which will finish in a matter of hours," explained 24-year-old Abed Masod while he busily worked at the bakery.

A woman's voice arose above the crowd. She started to scream and appealed to God for salvation and relief from Gaza's dire situation. Forty-five-year-old Om Ali Shoman's face bore the impact of Gaza's suffering. "This is our destiny," she said. "It's a conspiracy designed against us. What did my children do to stay at home with no bread? Did they fire rockets? Did they kill Israelis? Are they holding guns?"

Only about a dozen of Gaza's 47 bakeries are currently operating as of yesterday, but with rapidly diminishing supplies. The UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) had to stop its food aid deliveries because Israel has not allowed it to replenish its stores. This affects 750,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip.

Gazans fear that the worst, however, is yet to come as the Israeli government renews its threats of a major offense against the Gaza Strip, irrespective of the civilian toll an invasion would inevitably incur. Time is running out in Gaza and mass starvation looms as Gaza's skies are further darkened with threats of an Israeli military incursion.

As a journalist, peace activist, and one of the hundreds of thousands of Gazans who are being collectively punished by Israel, I urge those who read this to appeal their governments to hold Israel accountable to international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, article 33, of which forbids the collective punishment of a civilian population.

Though it unilaterally removed its illegal settlement population from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel has remained in control of Gaza's borders, sea and airspace, as well as its population registry, and remains the occupying power, and as such is obligated to abide by international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

I urge readers to press their governments to force Israel to respect the countless United Nations resolutions that affirm Palestinian rights, and which Palestinian leaders demand must be immediately implemented.
Please don't let Gaza's plight be forgotten, and urge those around you to act as well.

Good fortune! These two managed to get bread.

All photos by Sameh A. Habeeb. Sameh A. Habeeb is a photojournalist, humanitarian and peace activist based in Gaza, Palestine. He writes for several news websites on a freelance basis.

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