25 June 2007
Michael Robin Bailey, an Oxfam staff member in Jerusalem reports on the crisis in Gaza.
Sunday morning, church for Christians, I'm on my way to the Old City weaving through the traffic on the green line road that literally cuts Jerusalem in two. Just by crossing the road you move between Israeli West Jerusalem and Arab East Jerusalem. If only the rest of this situation were as simple and benign.
I'm thinking of the various reports I read over breakfast, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights highlights the dangers of the Palestinian Director General of the Police suspending the work of the police force in Gaza leaving the population caged in the strip with no policing for anything from traffic control to catching murderers or imprisoning convicted criminals. Added to this the legal system has been brought to a halt with the danger that alternative courts could be set up. Next to this was the report of a public opinion survey carries out last week in West Bank and Gaza. The majority of the 1270 people questioned believed that Hamas and Fatah were equally to blame for the infighting and that both sides were equally losers.
What the ordinary people want above all is a stop to the infighting and criminality.
An emergency stop because someone just swerved in front of me. Here in Jerusalem criminality seems mostly confined to bad driving and pick-pocketing tourists, lucky us. So then, the people of Gaza and the West Bank, all four million of them have been ignored twice it seems. First when they voted in a democratic election and the international community and Israel did not like the results any more than the losing party did and now when the same cast of international and local actors are imposing their will which does not seem to be the same as the people's in the street. The people of Palestine must be getting used to this.
Getting used to things, becoming numb to injustice, tolerant of suffering is a theme which comes up in my church service. In a hymn we sing 'Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore'. Hasn't the international community given in weakly to the evils of occupation and attacks on civilians in Israel and Palestine. Don't we just accept the closures of crossings people use to get to their fields and schools and hospitals? We grumble a bit but then we are resigned to these evils. And now the blockade of one and a half million people, we grumble a bit more loudly but we hardly move out of our chairs to do anything about it.
After church my mobile rings, its our water engineer in Gaza calling to say that he cannot inspect the sewage lake holding back one and a half million cubic metres of sewage and toxic waste from flooding 10,000 people because there are Israeli tanks in the immediate vicinity and so its not safe to go there (it wasn't safe anyway but adding the danger of being shot or blown up to the danger of being drowned in faeces is just too much danger). He tells me about the sewage lake and the emergency project to partially drain it which was started four months ago when a smaller lake burst its banks and killed three women and two children and made some people homeless.
The necessary pipes have been partly laid, the pumps have been purchased (and have sat for three months in Israel at the Karni crossing waiting for Israeli permission to be transferred into Gaza) and the contractors have been working (until security concerns and lack of permission to enter Gaza prevented them working). There are now less than three weeks left for the work to be completed before the ever rising level of sewage and toxic waste reaches the limit of the retaining wall's capacity to hold it back.
Now here is something to get off your backside for, and in Jerusalem and in Oxford Oxfam staff are doing just that, in the office at the weekend, working frantically against the clock developing emergency project plans with partners and to get press statements and articles out and to lobby the world leaders meeting on Monday beside the sea in Egypt and the top officials of the quartet meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Whether it is lobbying about people drowning in faeces or facing food, water and power running out as a result of the stranglehold being applied to all the people of Gaza it is what we are here for. Let us hope, let us pray, that we are heard before its too late and we spend our next weekend or the one after that clearing up the mess and burying the dead.