By Marie Kennedy, Grassroots International, March 27th, 2009
After 3 weeks in the West Bank, Israel and Gaza, I returned to Los Angeles in a state of stunned disbelief. I had last been in Palestine in 1995, a time when many were hopeful of a peaceful transition to two-states, as outlined in the Oslo accords. Even at that time I was pessimistic about a solution to the conflict-already Palestinians were prevented from freedom of movement, subject to arbitrary detention by the Israeli military, and land seizures for new and ever expanding settlements were rampant. Now, things are immeasurably worse, not only in Gaza (although that is the most extreme), but also in the West Bank and for Palestinian citizens of Israel. I will share a few brief impressions and some facts, starting with Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison-a 140 square mile strip of land in which 1.5 million people are crowded together. Even before the recent Israeli offensive, the people of Gaza had been subjected to a punitive blockade for 18 months.
Massive destruction was evident the moment we cleared the border from Al Arish in Egypt to Rafah in Palestine, on March 9, 2009. The further north we went, the worse it got. Houses, apartment buildings were shot or bulldozed down; mosques, all police stations, all government buildings, including parliament were destroyed; huge sections of the walls of schools were blasted away, the American International School was obliterated, the United Nations Refugee School was bombed, as was the Islamic University of Gaza; the walls of hospitals were pocked with bullets; lone houses stood in plains of rubble. What little Gaza had of economic infrastructure was re-engineered into swaths of upturned concrete and twisted metal. Olive trees were uprooted and crops bulldozed under. Thousands of people were living in tents, hastily constructed hovels, or in the ruins themselves. These were the things I saw with my own eyes. The stories I heard were even more devastating.
Even though we were there during the "ceasefire", the war continued by non-explosive means. Nothing in-food, fuel, medicines, people with essential emergency skills; nothing out, including people in need of critical medical care not available in Gaza. Of course, it wasn't a total ceasefire-every night we heard loud explosions-we were told that the Israelis were continuing to bomb the tunnels and to fire artillery at fishing boats.
Israel carpet-bombed the 140 square miles of the Gaza strip. The attack was supposedly to teach Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israeli villages. Of course, wars are never about only one thing and the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so long and complex that it almost defies sorting out.