Israel spraying toxins over Palestinian crops in Gaza

An Israeli agricultural aircraft sprayed herbicides onto farmland along the eastern border in Gaza [Adel Hana/AP]
Khan Younis, Gaza Strip– On January 7, a low-flying agricultural aircraft sprayed herbicides on to Palestinian farmlands along the eastern border, eradicating or damaging up to 162 hectares of crops and farmland along the Israeli border fence.

“Herbicides are sprayed in high concentrations. Thus, they remain embedded in the soil, and then find their way to the water basin. This constitutes a real hazard for the population,” said Anwar Abu Assi, manager of the chemical laboratory at the Ministry of Agriculture.

The sprayed areas belong to Israel’s unilaterally imposed and poorly delineated “buffer” or “no-go zone”.

The zone, which amounts to an estimated 17 percent of the entire territory of the Gaza Strip and a third of its agricultural lands, erodes into the Strip’s most vital and fertile soils.

Yousef Shahin, 40, was having enough trouble sustaining his farmland when, last week, an Israeli raid targeted the water tank that supplied his farm and neighbouring farms in the al-Faraheen area east of Khan Younis.

The tank and collection system had cost Shahin and his neighbours some $15,000. Shahin said governmental support was lacking.”Without support, we can never reconstruct the system again. We don’t have running water for irrigation; I think we lost this season.”

The Israeli army’s move had added another element to the suffering of Shahin and his fellow farmers.

With the Strip being merely five kilometres wide in some areas, a few hundred metres prove essential to the Strip’s food security. Over the past few months, Israeli soldiers have killed at least 16 Palestinians who entered the zone, most of them protesters who were shot at by snipers while participating in demonstrations near the fence.

Furthermore, scores of casualties have been reported among farmers who were merely tending to or approaching their lands. “We had to jeopardise our lives daily growing these crops; now all our efforts are in vain,” said Shahin while examining a new implant of spinach.

He lost crops that included spinach, peas, parsley and beans. Whether or not his new endeavours to cultivate will succeed remains unknown.

Farmers confirm that the damages of the latest spraying extend beyond the so-called “buffer zone”, as the winds carried the chemicals further inside the Strip. They also fear consequences of such materials may affect their lands in the long run.

Abu Assi explained that each herbicide or pesticide has a safety period that needs to be observed before attempting to grow new crops. At such high concentrations, he fears the lands are likely to constitute a hazard for a long time.

An Israeli army official cited “security reasons” as justification.

During the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, the agricultural sector sustained losses and damages of up to $550m. Some 14,000 hectares were razed and destroyed; thousands of hectares of crops were also lost because farmers were unable to reach their lands amid the fighting.

A few days ago, Israeli warplanes bombed Gaza’s main agricultural experiment station, causing $300,000-worth of damages and destroying the station’s building, laboratories, vehicles and a large power generator.

The station developed new seeds and strains for use by local farmers. Bombed and completely destroyed during the 2014 war, Israel seems insistent on keeping the station out of service, effectively stifling every Palestinian attempt to attain self-sufficiency or independence, even agriculturally.

The station’s manager, Shaher al-Rifi, says that the facility is currently 70 percent out of service. With the Israeli restrictions on imports of tractors and agricultural machinery, it is likely to remain so for a long time to come.

Adel Atallah, a general director at the agriculture ministry, explains that the whole agricultural sector has for years been running on old machines. “Domestic farmers face problems trying to replenish anything that goes out of service. What isn’t banned is stalled at the crossings by Israel.”

The troubles facing the agricultural sector in Gaza span a wide myriad of difficulties. Irrigation is disturbed by the continuous power interruptions, which sometimes last more than 12 hours a day. Farmers depend on power generators to pump water, and the costs of fuel add another factor to their economic vulnerability.


This report was originally posted here


Gaza’s crumbling healthcare system

The roof cave-in at Shifa was just the latest manifestation of Gaza’s ongoing health crisis [Ahmed Abdelall/Al Jazeera]
Gaza City – Zinat al-Jundi was in her bed in the maternity ward at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital when chunks of cement and concrete began to fall on to a nearby bed, occupied by a mother who had just given birth.

“My roommate had just moved her baby to make the bed when a block of concrete fell, right where the baby was,” Jundi told Al Jazeera. “It was a miracle that we were not hurt.”

The debris fell into their room after the building’s concrete roof caved in last month, causing panic throughout the facility as it was evacuated in a hurry.

The incident, however, was far from unforeseen: Used daily by thousands of people, the 60-year-old building – part of the complex that makes up Shifa hospital – had long been showing signs of disrepair, as cracks crept into the walls and ceilings.

The roof cave-in at Shifa was just the latest manifestation of Gaza’s ongoing health crisis, as the besieged territory struggles to provide adequate care to its 1.8-million population.

Several Gaza Strip hospitals are six decades old. Nasser hospital, the main facility serving the southern Khan Younis district, was built under Egyptian rule in the late 1950s and named after Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former president.

Three of the five main buildings at Shifa are from the same era, and two are now collapsing: In addition to the obstetrics building, the internal medicine building was evacuated four months ago after engineers warned that a collapse was imminent.

The building housing Shifa’s maternity ward contained 93 beds and handled about 70 deliveries a day. Also in the building were a gynaecology ward, an outpatient clinic and a neonatal intensive care unit that received cases from throughout the Gaza Strip.

Two private hospitals in Gaza are now helping to manage the cases that otherwise would have been directed to Shifa.

Medhat Abbas, director general of the Shifa complex, told Al Jazeera that even before the cave-in, patients in the ward sometimes had to stay in the hallways due to overcrowding. Attempts were made to secure funding from international agencies for a new building, he said, but to no avail.

“We alerted everyone and provided situational updates,” Abbas said. “No one listened.”

Around $10m is needed to replace the two crumbling buildings at the Shifa complex, he added – but who would finance these projects remains unclear. Tens of thousands of former Hamas employees in Gaza have gone without their full salaries for months, and the consensus government in Ramallah has shied away from managing Gaza’s crises.

Even if funds were secured, progress could be further stalled by Israeli restrictions on building materials entering the territory.

Munther Ghazal, the managing surgeon at Shifa’s department of gynaecology and obstetrics, could not conceal his frustration at the situation.

“You cannot have patients, operation rooms and the neonatal ICU scattered at different areas across the city,” he told Al Jazeera. “This has to be temporary.”

The frailties of Gaza’s health sector are deep and diverse. One year ago, maintenance and cleaning companies went on strike after failing to receive their salaries, and the ensuing financial crunch forced hospitals to stop serving patients’ meals. Charity organisations stepped in to help fill the void.

Shifa’s old and rusty laundry machine stopped working more than a year ago, and since then, sheets, robes and gowns have to be carted 30km away each day to Nasser hospital for washing. Meanwhile, vacancies left by retiring employees have not been filled: For the past three years, there has been no significant, permanent recruitment in Gaza’s public sector.

Consequently, despite hundreds of vacancies, scores of newly graduated doctors, nurses, technicians and secretaries remain unemployed.

Subhi Skaik, medical director at the Shifa compound, estimates that the hospital runs with 20 percent less staff than it needs – and smaller hospitals are probably suffering more, he added.

Gaza’s health ministry and the Palestinian Medical Council, which oversees training programmes, has offered new graduates the chance to fill these vacancies without pay in exchange for experience certificates and the possibility of employment down the road.

Dozens of people have taken advantage of the programme but, with no permanent solution on the horizon, dozens more have emigrated or are seeking a chance to leave Gaza.

Movement restrictions have led to a further deterioration in the quality of services in Gaza, Skaik told Al Jazeera.

“Medical education is a continuous process. We need scholarships and delegate exchanges to update our knowledge and improve our skills and experience,” he said. “Dozens of doctors lost grants of higher education because they were not able to join their programmes in time … Nonetheless, we hold regular conferences and have resorted to online lectures with foreign experts and tutors.”

Several specialties, such as pediatric cardiac surgery and radiation therapy, are missing from Gaza hospitals altogether, either due to a lack of specialists or a lack of equipment, forcing patients to be transferred to Israel or the occupied West Bank.

Shifa’s Prince Nayef Oncology Centre, built in 2005 with a price tag of more than $5m, has yet to become operational due to an Israeli prohibition on equipment needed for radiotherapy and cancer diagnostics.

Jundi, the patient from Shifa’s maternity ward, said it is time for the government to step up: “I call on President Abu Mazen and everyone to save us … We have nowhere to go now.”


This content was originally posted here

‘Gaza’s new generation of children only knows stress, wars and aggression’

If you keep depriving children from Gaza of everything, eventually some of them will join armed conflict and Israel will have no one to blame but themselves, Belal Dabour, a Palestinian doctor from Gaza, told RT.

The Israeli Air Force launched an airstrike on Hamas bases on Saturday, March 12, in which a 10-year-boy who lived next to one of the targets was killed, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, according to AFP. His six-year-old sister died later of her injuries, local media reported.

RT interviewed Dr. Belal Dabour, who assisted many injured during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, for his take on the situation.

RT: Do you see many children injured by Israeli attacks and how are they affected by the situation?

Belal Dabour: We have had a complete decade of blockade on Gaza. For 10 years people have suffered three major operations and continuous chronic stress… Everyone who was born in 2006 and afterwards, we have a new generation who has only witnessed stress, wars, and aggressions. They have basically never experienced normal life…

You would expect this whole generation that they have an appraisal system that’s geared up to face wars, to face continuous lack of electricity, the stress on their parents, and the lack for their safety, for their parents’ safety. This would reflect on basically everything: how they play, how they see the outside world, how they look at cartoons on TV, how they expect people to act to their childhood, their ideas, their impressions from everything. Certainly, everything is affected by these 10 years. And even me, I am an adult – in 2006, I was 16 years old – and still I feel a lot of my reflexes, how I see the world has changed a lot over the last decade.

RT: Children’s brains are more sensitive and therefore more vulnerable. How is their mental state affected by such incidents? Do they tend to join Hamas, for example, to get revenge on their attackers?

BD: Children are the out-product of their environment. Everything that you hear: Why you don’t have electricity to see your favorite cartoons? Because of the siege. And who is conducting the siege? Israel. So, that is block one. Who killed your friend? It is Israel. So, it is another point. And it keeps piling up. Eventually some of those are going to decide to take action themselves without being Hamas or someone else. Hamas is not the main topic here – anyone who would give them the idea, the opportunity to defend themselves, to prove to the world that they matter. When you keep depriving them of everything… When they grow up – I am not saying everyone will join armed conflict – but eventually some of them will and Israel will have no one to blame but themselves.

RT: Is there any way to reduce casualties at least among minors in this ongoing conflict?

BD: I witnessed the Operation Protective Edge in 2014 at first hand; I was working at the Al-Shifa Hospital.  And I have seen virtually hundreds, maybe thousands over the 51 days of war, many of them, maybe up to 30-40 percent were children. Here in Gaza we are living in an enclave, it’s an open-air prison, we have no shelters, no alarming systems, it’s a very crowded area. I think there is absolutely no way to reduce casualties among children. But what can we do is to provide care for them after the hostilities are suspended, for example, psychiatric support to help them live their childhood afterwards. And the best thing of course is to lift the siege, but I think it is beyond the scope of our discussion right now.


This interview was initially posted here

What I learned from Gaza’s first TEDx

Speakers brought to light several issues facing Palestinians who live under harsh Israeli occupation [Facebook: TEDxShujaiya]
Gaza – TEDx finally arrived in the besieged Gaza Strip, and the Palestinians there had some incredible insights.

For several years, Palestinians in Gaza dreamed of hosting their first TEDx event, and on October 29 they were finally able to do it.

The event was called TEDxShujayea, named after the neighbourhood which bore the brunt of Israel’s deadliest attacks on the Gaza Strip last year.

Shujayea was effectively levelled to the ground in what rights groups have documented as one of the worst human rights violations during the 51-day war.

The event featured 11 speakers showcasing the Gaza Strip’s intellectuals.

Speakers ranged from university professors to university students, young self-employed individuals and freelancers, as well as artists and engineers.

TED rules dictated that the audience for the first event should not exceed 100 people.

Al Jazeera was able to gain access to the exclusive event, and has gathered the seven main themes TEDxShujayea brought to light:

‘Shujayea is now the epitome of resurrection that refuses to kneel to Israel’s barbarity,’ Refaat Alareer told Al Jazeera [Facebook: TEDxShujayea]
1- Shujayea has become an icon.

An icon of resistance, of resilience, of hope, and of life.

Israel’s attempts to eradicate this neighbourhood and kill its spirit have failed.

“Shujayea refuses to be defeated. Shujayea is now the epitome of resurrection that refuses to kneel to Israel’s barbarity,” said Refaat Alareer, one of the key speakers, and a resident of Shujayea.

Refaat’s brother was killed and his family house was destroyed in the summer attacks of 2014.

“I am participating to give voice to my birthplace and the fallen ones of Shujayea whose love of Palestine we must promote,” he added.

2- Palestinian youth are taking the lead.

Palestinian youth have begun to lead the discussion [Facebook: TEDxShujayea]
The TEDxShujayea event was put together by two dozen organisers and volunteers: The oldest being 25 years old, and the youngest only 12.

They come from different backgrounds, but their diversity became an asset rather than a liability.

Two things to take note: The youth expressed their frustration with the business-as-usual workings of Palestinian politics, and are now taking matters into their own hands, starting with leading the conversation.

For a long time, those young people were restrained by political divisions, but they are now breaking away from that.

“To bring about change, we need to influence the masses. We want to be the change we want to see in Palestine,” Asem Alnabeh, an event organiser, said.

3- Defying stereotypes, everyone contributes.

Hashim Ghazal, who is deaf, used a sign-language interpreter to talk about how leading a successful life, defying stereotypes, and overcoming disability is a metaphor for Gaza.

Despite the siege, aggression, internal division, and the many hardships, Gaza shows that hope can indeed be found in the darkest places.

Despite Palestinians in Gaza facing hardships in virtually all aspects of their life due to the illegal Israeli-Egyptian siege, some speakers like Hashim Ghazal showed that there is always a way to offer something to others [Facebook: TEDxShujayea]
4- Finding hope in the tiniest of cracks.

Ahmed Alfaleet, a freed Palestinian prisoner who spent 19 years in Israel’s jails, pointed out the little regard people have for things that are taken for granted; how seemingly trivial objects are not so trivial when they are no longer in reach.

Alfaleet talked about how Palestinians in Israeli prisons are deprived of basic rights, from merely having the ability to look at the moon to eating regular food or communicating with their families.

To fight Israel’s suffocating measures, the prisoners, Alfaleet emphasised, found hope in the tiniest of cracks.

5- Palestinians in Gaza have plenty of stories worth telling.

Whether told in the form of an article, a video, or even at an event like TEDx, a story untold is a dead story. Stories give power to the people.

Refaat Alareer’s speech, Tell me a Story, highlighted this point: Palestinians must not let the stories of their parents and grandparents die out. That will allow the narrative of the other to take control.

With examples from Africa and Canada, Alareer explained the necessity of owning our narrative. The people’s narrative does not need to be marginalised by internal Palestinian politics nor should it be determined by the elite.

“My mom made me the man I am because of her stories; and my grandmother made me love my homeland because of her stories,” Alareer noted in his speech.

6- Palestinian youth have become successful at addressing the world directly.

In recent years, people have started hearing from Palestinians rather than about Palestinians. TEDxShujayea has shown that they are also very much interested in life in Palestine beyond the fire and the smoke.

The way people from around the world interacted with the event was, simply put, amazing. Many sent messages of support and solidarity. On Twitter, there were 3,000 tweets with a reach and impressions of nearly 14 million.

Having said that, however:

7- It’s time Palestinians spoke to themselves, too.

“We wanted to show a different picture of Gaza, not only to the outside world, but to Gaza [Palestinians] themselves, too,” Roba Abumarzouk, a TEDx organiser, wrote on her Facebook account.

Palestinians need a restored faith in their capabilities, strengths and ingenuity. TEDxShujayea was a step in that direction, a successful one to be sure, but it needs to be seen in the context of intra-Palestinian communication. Palestinians, more than anything else, need to talk to Palestinians.

This article first appeared on Aljazeera English on 05 Nov 2015, here

In Gaza havens are far, heavens are closer

Palestinian medics carry a casualty as they run past a burning building in Gaza City’s Shijaiyah neighborhood, Sunday, July 20, 2014. (Photo: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Israel bombed the ice vendor. The blazing summer, made worse by the absence of electricity, drove dozens of people to gather around a small store which used to sell ice. According to my friend who lives in Shejaiya, eleven drone missiles targeted the marketplace on July 30, including the ice store. Twenty-four civilians were killed in this particular assault, four of whom died before my eyes at Shifa hospital where I work. Twenty-four hours before this massacre, two artillery shells disabled the sole power plant in Gaza, exacerbating power deficiency from about 50% to more than 90%. This and the unilateral ceasefire Israel announced two hours before the attack gave people a false sense of security, which drove dozens of them to their fate at the ice store.

In Gaza havens are far, heavens are closer. The strike on Shejaiya market came only few hours after 16 people had been killed in an artillery strike on an UNRWA-run school. Those killed were refugees who fled their homes in the northern parts of Gaza in obedience to the threats they received from the “IDF” through phone calls, SMSs, leaflets, and random artillery on their area. The artillery, however, followed them to where they evacuated. The leaflets, it should be noted, specified the areas to which these people were forced to flee as well as the routes they were required to take. This was the sixth attack on an UNRWA school; just a week before, 21 people were killed in a similar strike on a school in Beit Hanoun north of Gaza. Yesterday, UNRWA announced that of 273,000 at the start of the 72-hour ceasefire, 187,000 displaced Palestinian civilians are still taking shelter in 90 UNRWA schools – an average of 2,077 people per school. But that’s just one third of the problem. One week after the Israeli ground invasion, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos estimated that 44% of the Gaza Strip was a no-go zone. This means that about twice as the number of refugees in UNRWA schools are or were taking refuge elsewhere, in their relatives’ houses, or at their friends’; in my house alone three uncles and their families were taking shelter. On August 6th UNRWA estimated that 30% of Gaza population was displaced. As such, areas already heavily populated have had their population double and were susceptible to daily artillery shelling. On several occasions, for example, shells hit a houses in my street, which is considered to lie in one of the safest areas – if such area existed.

In Gaza there is shortage in almost everything, but death is in abundance. In the past 30 days, I have seen whole families get obliterated, children left with no one to call family when they grow up, and beautiful little girls with scars in their faces, scars that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I saw, moreover, young men pulled from under the rubble after being trapped there for a week. On my twitter account are uncountable stories, but I shall never forget little boy Kinan who lost all of his family, and who cried himself to sleep in his hospital bed calling for his father to come take him home; or Anas, a 16 year old teenager whose last breath I saw him take, and who, one hour before he was murdered, posted on Facebook demanding that if his house was going to be targeted that it should be done sooner than later, because he was too tired and wanted to sleep.

Palestinian medic tries to comfort a wounded boy at Shifa hospital in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip,
Palestinian medic tries to comfort a wounded boy at Shifa hospital in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, early Friday, July 18, 2014. (Photo: Ezz al-Zanoun)

At Shifa hospital, I have seen all kinds of atrocities, but what pains me more than anything else is that most of the victims have been reduced to mere numbers. A boy whose picture showed him clinging to a paramedic was lucky enough to have a photographer at the scene and at the right time to document this heart-wrenching moment, a moment which went viral. Thousands, however, remain without luck. Even him, the lucky little boy, will soon be forgotten just as how the world has forgotten his ancestors who were expelled from their land more than six decades ago. For nearly seven decades, the Israeli crimes against the Palestinians went unaccounted for, always in the name of peace. Unless justice is sought and realized, peace will be false and wobbly. By “justice”, I mean a comprehensive process which restores the rights of the Palestinians inside and outside historical Palestine. Citizens of the world must be active participants in attaining such justice. This could be achieved, for example, through economic and academic boycott, through supporting arms embargo on Israel, calling for bringing Israel to the ICC, and through exposing and breaking the siege on Gaza. Moreover, the world needs to see what is happening in Gaza as a secondary symptom of the primary disease, that is, settler-colonialism and occupation. Without such conviction, violence will not be abolished and, regardless of what anyone has to say, the Palestinians will continue to resist.

This article appeared on on the 21st of August 2014 here

The boy who clung to the paramedic: the story behind the photo

Palestinian medic tries to comfort a wounded boy at Shifa hospital in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip,
This photo of a boy injured in an Israeli strike clinging to a medic at al-Shifa hospital went viral on the Internet. (Ezz al-Zanoun / APA images)

Thursday night, 17 July, was the heaviest yet since Israel’s bombardment of Gaza began almost two weeks ago.

Dozens of people arrived to Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital, where I was on shift that night. Some arrived torn to pieces, some beheaded, some disfigured beyond recognition, although still alive and breathing.

Seemingly indiscriminate artillery fire, a new element in Israel’s assault, had exacted a heavy toll on civilians.

The medical staff were lucky to get a break of less than half an hour. Some spent it watching the flares and bombs Israel was raining on the eastern neighborhoods of Gaza City, while others refueled with coffee or lay down for a few moments.

The relative calm did not last long. At around 3am, about eight or nine casualties arrived at the emergency room all at once. The last to come in were four siblings — two of them little children, both about three years old, with relatively superficial wounds. But it was clear they were pulled from under rubble, their faces and clothes covered in dirt and dust.

Then came the older of the four siblings, a boy in his early teens. His head and face were covered in blood and he was pressing a rag to his head to stanch the flow. But his focus was on something else: “Save my little brother!” he kept screaming.

The last to arrive was his brother, the child in the above photo that circulated around the world.
“I want my father!”

He was carried in by a paramedic and immediately rushed to the intensive care unit, which is right next to the ER. He clung to the paramedic, crying, “I want my father, bring me my father!” until he had to be forced to let go.

As I stood by, alert for orders, a group of four medical personnel immediately started to treat the boy. But he kept kicking and screaming and calling for his father.

His injuries were serious: a wound to the left side of his head which could indicate a skull fracture and a large piece of shrapnel in his neck. Another piece of shrapnel had penetrated his chest and a third had entered his abdomen. There were many smaller wounds all over his body.

Immediate measures had to be taken to save his life; he was sedated so the medics could get to work.

Upon carefully examining the wounds, it appeared that the explosion from the artillery round sent flying small pieces of stone from the walls of his house, and that some of his wounds were caused by these high-velocity projectiles.

Photo by: Belal

He was extremely lucky: his neck injury was just an inch away from a major artery, his chest injury penetrated all the way through but failed to puncture his lung, and his abdomen was struck by shrapnel that just missed his bowel.

He had a stroke of luck denied to many that night.

The medics performed heroic measures in a remarkably short time, and the little boy’s life was saved.

Meanwhile in the emergency room, the elder brother was stitched up and the younger two siblings were washed and thoroughly examined for possible hidden injuries.

Somehow, despite the horror and the pain, they were sleeping. I don’t know how they did it, but I felt envious and grateful for the divine mercy that found its way to them.

Their brother with the most serious wounds will almost certainly survive, but with many scars and a difficult recovery period, both physical and psychological.

Too many casualties came in that night, too many for me to get this boy’s name, to know whether he was reunited with his father, or even what became of the rest of his family.

But there’s one thing that I know for sure, which is that hundreds of children just like him suffered similar or worse injuries, and up to the moment of this writing, nearly eighty children just like him have been killed as Israel’s merciless attack goes on.


This blog was originally posted on Electronic Intifada on 20 July 2014, you can find it here


Why won’t Egypt let me go home to Gaza?

“Come again next week,” said the man sitting behind a desk piled with paperwork. This was my fifth time hearing these words, from an official in booth number nine at the Egyptian embassy in Amman.

I asked if there was any hope of an opening for the hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza stranded in Jordan, but he said he could not promise anything. On an earlier visit, the day after the Egyptian army’s 3 July ouster of President Muhammad Morsi, the same employee told me that the delay in issuing visas was due to the “civil disobedience” that accompanied the 30 June mass protests in Egypt. He said that processing would speed up in coming days, but it never did.

For more than a week since the military takeover, the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza has been closed, except for brief periods. Palestinians, even with valid visas for Egypt, have been deported from Cairo airport.

Egypt has also instructed airlines to refuse to allow such Palestinians to board Cairo-bound flights. The instructions were confirmed to me twice from both Egyptian and Palestinian airline offices.

A relative of mine from Turkey was told that Egypt would fine Turkish Airlines €5,000 ($6,500) for every Palestinian brought to Cairo in defiance of the ban. And a friend of his, he told me, arrived in Cairo and was deported back to Cyprus, but was lucky enough to be given a courtesy ticket.


The result of all this is that thousands of Palestinians are stranded abroad, unable to return to Gaza, and many are running out of money. Almost a thousand pilgrims from Gaza are stuck in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Dozens more were stuck in Cairo airport’s deportation room — they were unlucky enough to have arrived before the ban on Palestinian passengers boarding flights for Cairo, but after the Rafah crossing was closed, and so they were locked up. Other Palestinians have been tweeting about their ordeal being held in the deportation room at Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Security concerns are the stated reason reported by the Egyptian media for these restrictions, but the Palestinians held up all over the world know a different story.

They are students, patients, intellectuals and workers who have no interest in residing in Egypt, and whose only wish is to return home, or visit their loved ones back in Gaza, and to spend Ramadan with them.

My own story illustrates some of the obstacles facing Palestinians trying to get home. As a medical student, I traveled to Amman, Jordan for a one-month long clinical course. I missed my homeward flight to Cairo, which was booked for 7 July, and I have also exceeded my planned expenses.

But the bigger problem remains the absence of a clear vision or even hope in the near future of when or how to get back to Gaza.


Figuring out how to get home is not easy and is influenced by many factors: the Jordanian permit to stay which is about to end; the state of Rafah crossing, which is managed on a daily basis with an unclear policy; the ban on Palestinians in the Egyptian airports; and the stalling and delays that hinder Palestinians from obtaining visas at Egyptian embassies.

After a few days of complete closure, Rafah crossing was opened for limited hours, but with the ban in airports still active, it is mainly those stuck in Egypt who benefit, in addition to a few hundred medical patients and foreign passport holders.

The combination of airport bans and visa delays makes for another problem: visas are valid for only two weeks. Those with valid visas will soon have to apply for new ones. Even if embassies start issuing them again, the paperwork takes two weeks on average to complete, which could lead to a whole new episode of waiting.

As thousands of others face similar dilemmas, thousands of days and dollars are lost while officials take their time trying to solve the problem.

Or maybe they are not trying to solve it. Who knows! After all, the media are too busy with what’s going on in Cairo and other capitals to shed light on this unnecessary suffering.


This article was published in Electronic Intifada on the 15th of July 2013

The grey city

The grey city

This is Gaza, looking at it you’ll notice the skyline of grey colored buildings.. this is the color of cement.
It is grey because Gazans rarely paint their houses, and this is mainly because the economic status of the vast majority is middle class level and below. For most of them, it’s a miracle they managed to even build a house !
Yeah and you might as well notice how crowded the city is.

~ Photo by Ali Ashour

حوار مع صديقي الأوروبي

جلست اليوم مع صحفي شاب من الدنمارك, قدم إلى غزة لإلقاء نظرة على الصراع القائم في فلسطين بعيون فئة الشباب. دار بيننا حوار ليس بالقصير..

عن الحصار |

هو: لديكم مطاعم جميلة وسيارات حديثة.. ولديكم حصار كما علمت ؟!

– الناس تنسى يا رفيق.. دعني أحدثك عن الوضع في غزة عام 2008 على سبيل المثال: تدخل إلى السوبرماركت فلا تجد فيه أي نوع من البسكويت, ولا تجد إلا نوعاً واحداً من الألبان, بكمية محدودة وقد لا تجده في أحيان كثيرة. لأسبوعين من الزمن تعمل المخابز على ما يرام, ولأسبوع لاحق ترى الناس طوابير بالمئات بعد أن قطع الاحتلال الطحين. وما أن يدخل الطحين حتى ينقطع الوقود اللازم لمحطة الكهرباء, فتتوقف المخابز أسبوعاً آخر. وإن توافر الطحين والكهرباء فإن وقود السيارات مقطوع منذ زمن. أسعار زيت القلي ارتفعت نتيجة استخدامه كبديل للوقود لتسيير السيارات, بل إن الشوارع أصبحت تلمع فعلياً بفعل الزيت المحترق !

الآن يا رفيقي هُناك أنواع عديدة من الشوكولاتة, والمطاعم تعمل على ما يرام, إلا أن مواد البناء ممنوعة, والقطع اللازمة لتطوير البنى التحتية ممنوعة. نحصل على ما تيسر من هذه الاحتياجات عبر الأنفاق إلا أننا لا نكاد نطمئن للحال حتى تذكرنا الأوضاع السياسية الساخنة في المنطقة بأن حتى هذا البديل الشاق مهدد بالانهيار في أية لحظة ! الآن يسمح الاحتلال بإدخال أجهزة التصوير المقطعي لمستشفيات غزة لأنه سيتقاضى عن إدخالها ضرائب جيدة, لكنه سيماطل في إدخال أي قطع غيار لهذه الأجهزة عندما تتلف وستبقى معطلة لشهور طويلة, وإن وجهت اللوم للاحتلال على تدهور قطاع الصحة فإن الرد سيكون جاهزاً: نحن نسمح لكم باستيراد ما تريدون !

لقد كان الحصار فظاً حتى صيف 2010 وحادثة أسطول الحرية.. والحصار باق حتى الآن, ولكنه حصار ذكي.. هذا كل ما في الأمر..! السيارات الحديثة, الكاتشب وأنواع الشوكولاتة على أرفف المحلات لا تعني انتهاء الحصار, ولكن الشعوب تنسى والحياة قاسية.

 عن الوطن |

 هو: ما آمالاك وتطلعاتك بالنسبة للقضية والشعب ؟

 –  للشعب الحرية, وللوطن الازدهار.

وهل ترى هذه أحلاماً وردية أم تطلعات واقعية ؟

–  كل شيء بالعمل ممكن.

هو: ولكن الحسابات المنطقية تقول بأن تحقيق هذه الأحلام صعب على المدى القريب.

– شعبٌ آخر كان استسلم وترك أرضه منذ عقود.. نحن الذين عدنا إلى مدارسنا وجامعاتنا بعد يومين من انتهاء حرب نوفمبر الأخيرة.. طالما استمرت فينا هذه الإرادة للحياة فسنصل لما نريد وسنتحرر.

هو: هل ترى انتفاضة ثالثة قادمة فعلاً ؟

– الأوضاع مهيئة لكن لا أحد يستطيع التنبؤ بمتى وكيف وأين.

عن الشباب |

هو: ما أكبر مشكلة من مشاكل الشباب في غزة برأيك ؟

– فقدان المستقبل.

هو: بمعنى ؟

– لا يستطيع أحد أن يخطط لأبعد من يومه ويكون متأكداً من تحقيق هذه الخُطط..

أزمات البطالة, مشاكل الإسكان.. الحصار, تعقيدات السفر اللامتناهية والتنازع السياسي كل منها كفيلة بتهديد مستقبل أي شاب.

هو: وما العمل ؟ أراك مُحبطاً !

– لستُ كذلك.. أستمع من الكبار وأسألهم عن أحوال فلسطين قبل عقود واتعجب كيف صمدوا ووصلوا بنا إلى النقطة الحالية.. أنا واثق بأن جيلي سيصنع نفس الشيء..  مجدداً: إرادة الحياة لدينا أقوى.

هو: كطبيب فباب الهجرة مفتوح أمامك.. هل هذا احتمال مطروح لديك ؟

– لا.

هو: لماذا ؟

– ببساطة لن أشعر بالرضى عن نفسي وأنا أعيش عالماُ في قرارة نفسي أن وطني يحتاجني وأني هربت.

 هو: وماذا عن السفر ؟ هل سافرت من قبل ؟

– نعم.. لكن أثناء عودتي إلى فلسطين فقط لا غير.. ليس سفراً بالمعنى المعتاد.

هو: وهل ترغب في السفر ؟

– قريباً بإذن الله.

 هو: ومالذي يجعلك متحمساً إلى هذه الدرجة ؟

– وهل هناك تجربة أكثر من السفر تصقل عقل الإنسان وتكسبه خبرات الحياة ؟! تخيل معي وصف طفل فلسطيني من الضفة الغربية للبحر.. هل سيكون وصفاً حياً وهو الذي لم ير البحر في حياته نتيجة الاحتلال والإغلاق ؟ في السفر حرية, والحرية أسمى قيم الإنسانية يا رفيقي.

 هو: أتفهم وجهة نظرك تماماً.. وأتمنى لك كل الخير. على أي حال أنا أشعر بالجوع.

– هذه ليست مشكلة مقارنة بالمشاكل التي ناقشناها منذ بداية حوارنا ! 🙂

Gaza’s second war: 5 Hours at Shifa


Monday, November 19th, 2012, was the fifth day of the war.  The number of casualties took a sharp increase in the past 24 hours, reaching more than 90 martyrs and 700 injuries, nearly doubling in 24 hours.  It was time for me to join the medical staff at Shifa hospital.  I made a few calls and the decision was taken: Two of my colleagues and I are going there.

Apart from few pedestrians, unable to find a taxi, the streets were empty.  Most of those in the street were heading to the same place, Shifa.

During my first hour at the hospital several delegations were arriving, visiting the hospital and conveying the support of their nations.  This was a huge change from the previous war in 2008, in which Gaza was left alone to face its destiny.  One of the delegations constituted of over than a hundred Egyptians; they were scholars, politicians, activists and journalists.  In the eyes of the visitors, there was neither fear nor pity, instead a feeling of honor and gratitude for the opportunity to visit Gaza.  “To the free world, Gaza has become a symbol of resistance.”, one of them said to me.  “We are visiting to get a glimpse at your glory being written.”,  he continued.

As the delegations were concluding their speeches and preparing to leave, we were preparing for a new wave of bombardment as the unofficial and incomplete halt of airstrikes ended with their departure.  Suddenly the sirens went on, several ambulances rushed out one after another.  They received information that drones had targeted a building and there were many casualties at the scene.  The target was ‘Al-Shorooq Tower’, which is located at the heart of Gaza city and on one of Gaza’s main streets.  It includes several media quarters in addition to residential apartments.

Despite my medical training,  I was worried about what I was about to witness; this was my first hospital duty in time of war.  War circumstances are nothing similar to those of regular medical practice.  I didn’t know what to expect.

Minutes later, the paramedics were rushing in with the first casualty.  It was a man who sustained large shrapnel, which penetrated his back and settled within the abdomen.  He was taken to the intensive care unit and a team started resuscitating him.  His injuries were critical.  Seconds later, another casualty was rushed into the ICU, a little girl under the age of eight whose face was covered with blood and she was unconscious.  Her injuries were directly to the head and she was in a critical condition, too.  A second team started working on her immediately.  They were racing with time to stop the bleeding as fast as possible to save her life, and fast enough to get ready to handle the other casualties coming on the way.  In the corner was a man in a sweater.  His face was expressionless, but his feet could barely support him.  He was the girl’s father.

Suddenly there was noise coming from outside.  I was heading towards the door of the ICU room when the door suddenly opened wide and a stretcher was pushed in.  A couple of seconds had to pass before I could realize that what looked like a black wooden sculpture was in fact the charred body of a martyr.  It was my first time to see such sights.  I could have collapsed like what two of journalists did immediately on the spot, but I was holding on.  I was inspecting the body as it was being taken to the morgue when the doctor besides me advised me not to look, “You’d better save your strength for later”, he said.  I believe he was right.

It is noteworthy that scenes of charred corpses and major deep burns were not uncommon in this war.  That raised serious debate among the medical society about the possibility of white phosphorus or other chemicals being used.  Until Gaza gets advanced techniques to investigate this matter, these debates will remain unsettled; and these weapons, whatever they were, are likely to be used again.

Back to the emergency room, dressings were in shortage and some types of sutures were missing. But there were few children who needed stitches which had to be done anyway.  The children’s parents used several approaches to keep them calm during the process, the youngest ones received money while the older ones were urged to be strong just like the resistance men.  Neither method was perfect but the second gained more success.  In such an atmosphere of resistance, even children participated in their own way.  Among all that was that doctor who hid a box of chocolate bars.  And whenever wounded children arrived, she would give them a bar or two.  It did not cheer up the crying children a lot, but certainly soothed the worried parent!  It is such simple gestures like this that actually make big differences.

Time quickly passed by.  It was getting dark and taxis were starting to disappear from the streets.  My two friends and I evaluated the situation fast and decided that we would go home for the night.  On the way home, the streets were completely deserted except from ambulances on the major crossings.  The only sounds were those of drones and the occasional explosions.

My short experience ended there, but up to date I keep thinking about the lessons I learned from it.  I keep thinking about how to many people, war casualties are nothing more than numbers in a fleeting tweet or a momentary breaking news.  About the families to whom loss of a member meant loss of the life as they knew it.  About the children who are never going to see their fathers, the wives who are going to raise their children alone and the mothers who never thought their sons will leave this world before them.  Yes, War is ugly, but its ugliness also drives out the best in people; the paramedics spending the night out in the open, the doctor with the chocolate box, the taxi driver who refused to take the fees, the minimarket owner who opened his shop despite the risk.  These are all examples of how everyone can make humble but significant contributions to their society in ways they did not think were important.  With these lessons and many others, my experience which lasted for a little over five hours affected me in many ways that will last forever.


A version of this article was published in The Lancet Student magazine on the 8th January 2013