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Will Israel Lift the Blockade and Save Gaza from Drowning?Bonnie King Salem-News.com
Two deaths have been reported by the Ministry of Health in Gaza, and hundreds suffered weather-related injuries
(SALEM) - During the last six days, nearly 7,000 Palestinians have been displaced in the Gaza strip, forced to evacuate their homes due to heavy rains from the winter storm, called Alexa, which caused floods and torrents of raging water through the streets.
"Large swathes of northern Gaza are a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see. Areas around Jabalia have become a massive lake with two meter high waters engulfing homes and stranding thousands,” stated UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness (United Nations Relief and Works Agency).
Mother Nature is not the only force causing havoc and chaos for Gaza. The choice that Israel made to open dams and further drown the Gaza Strip is however, debatable.
Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported that because the excess water from all the rain wouldn’t drain away, "the Israeli authorities resorted to discharging the excess water into the Gaza Strip".
Rafah City Mayor Issa Nashar confirmed the incident on Sunday, saying, "Israel has indeed opened the dam which led to drowning the neighboring areas with accumulated rain water up to 1 meter deep."
Some claim that Israel opened the gates on its dam to prevent a “catastrophic event”; that the dams would otherwise have breached. This theoretical event was apparently waylaid by allowing a “controlled flood” instead of the feared “uncontrollable deluge” of Israeli territory that might have taken place, had they not drowned Gaza.
“Israel can’t control the weather,” said a Gaza local. “But Israel opened dams, causing filth and sewage to pour through streets of the Gaza Strip.”
“Israel is besieging the Gaza Strip and preventing the entry of equipment that helps pull the water in heavy rains. Israel is responsible for stopping fuel from entering the Gaza Strip, and has caused the electricity crisis.”
“Israel is capitalizing on the weather conditions to further terrorize the people of Gaza,” said another Gazan resident.
According to local emergency service units, dozens of homes were flooded as the water level in Wadi al Salqa, east of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, increased suddenly when Israel opened the dams east of Deir al-Balah, incuding the Wadi Sofa Dam east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Residents say that nearly twenty houses in al Mashaalah, an area south of Deir al-Balah, were also completely flooded.
Local civil defense crews have been working for days, evacuating those that were trapped in flooded homes, while local authorities attempted to set up sand dams to control the water flow.
Untold Misery in the Miserable Gaza Strip
Scant has been the response internationally. “Palestinian people are waiting for the fleets of the Arab Gulf countries and the Arab countries for the relief from floods,” said a friend in Gaza, sarcastically. “OHH I forgot... we are not the United States of America...”
The lack of media coverage throughout this ongoing struggle has disappointed the people there, as there is no other way to efficiently reach the world community. Their strategic, and blatant, oppression is difficult to document if TV cameras are not interested in what is happening. Or rather, if they are intimidated into not pointing them in the right direction.
Two deaths have been reported by the Ministry of Health in Gaza, and hundreds have suffered weather-related injuries.
Scores of homes have been flooded in the northern Gaza Strip and al Berka, an area northwest of Gaza City, as well as in Wadi Gaza, in central Gaza, where dozens of families were evacuated due to fears about the rising water level. Nearly 100 homes housing 20 families were destroyed in Khan Yunis, and the families moved to shelters.
Many of these family homes were not flooded before the dam was opened. These families were not already displaced. Hundreds more are now homeless because Israel chose to open the dams.
At last count, 15 rescue shelters had been opened to accommodate displaced families across Gaza Strip, mainly in the central and northern towns.
The local Ministry of Social Affairs said it has provided nearly 1183 families (5,246 people) with shelters and emergency aid such as mattresses and food parcels. During disaster-relief missions in the neighborhoods of al-Nafaq and al-Zaytoun, 81 people were taken to hospitals while others were treated on the spot.
The Palestinian Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh has urged the international community to help Gazans during this natural disaster.
"Four thousand UNRWA workers are battling the floods and have evacuated hundreds of families to UNRWA facilities. Our sanitation, maintenance workers, social workers and medical staff have been working through the night and round the clock to assist the most vulnerable, the old, the sick, children and women," said a statement from UNRWA.
"Long term de-development of Gaza is the context in which (the storm) occurred," UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said. "It's fairly obvious that it's a combination of man-made problems and natural problems" that produced the latest disaster in Gaza, he added.
"Before the rains, there was sewage flooding in the streets because sewage pumps did not have electricity to pump waste water. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who's responsible for that."
"These solutions are only about the hours to come, but we need to be thinking about the coming decades."
Gunness called on the world community to lift the Israeli blockade in order to allow recovery efforts to proceed.
"We in the UN have always said that this policy is unsustainable. When the natural disaster ends, we need to look at long-term solutions."
Gunness also stressed the need for “limitations” on exports from Gaza to be lifted.
"Gaza would not be so aid-dependent if it could export. People would have disposable incomes to buy the things they need.”
Monday, Gaza officials announced that the Gaza Port and the fisherman’s dock, had suffered $100,000 in storm damage. Officials say that the reason for this tremendous damage is that port officials were unable to secure the facility with enough barriers because Israel severely limits the import of concrete. At least 1,000 fishermen and their families are affected.
"Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster. But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this," Gunness said.
"And of course it is the most vulnerable, the women and children, the elderly who will pay the highest price of failure to end the blockade."
This is a disaster of untold proportions, and the suffering masses deserve to have the facts shared with the global audience.
Cold, and It’s Getting Colder
The Gaza Strip is currently under a state of emergency. An initial assessment by the government has already put the damage caused to homes, businesses and infrastructure at $64 million.
The severe weather conditions are one huge problem. Fuel shortages are another, urgent problem. Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt since early November, as power plants and water pumps were forced to shut down, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on them by Israel. There are 1.8 million people living in Gaza. 800,000 children. Supplies are at an all time low for all.
Many women and children are suffering due to the lack of basic needs. One pregnant woman living in Gaza has been directly affected by no access to medical supplies. She has been in desperate need for heparin shots. This mother, like countless others in Gaza, Palestine, cannot afford specialty treatments. The cost of one injection is only the equivalent of 8 (eight) U.S. dollars, an unattainable amount for many.
There are no easy answers, but people can take care of people, and that is what has happened here. A group of citizens took up an international collection and were able to get her the medicine, but barely, and she needs more injections to complete her treatment. The contributions have got them within sight of their goal, her second set of injections.
Constant exposure to sewage water and lack of medical supplies could cause chest and skin diseases according to the General Director of military medical services in Gaza Atef al-Kahlout.
"We are on the verge of a complete breakdown in the health sector, services, and civil institutes," Atef al-Kahlout said.
He called on countries worldwide to aid Palestinians in Gaza by providing medication and supplies.
There is no power. The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant for almost two months, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel. The power plant was hit by an Israeli air strike in 2006, and was only reopened last year. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip's electricity supply, while the other 70% is purchased from the Israeli occupation and Egypt.
UNRWA reported that they had “distributed five thousand of liters of fuel to local pumping stations, but the situation is dire and with the flood waters rising, the risk of water borne disease can only increase. This is a terrible situation which can only get worse before it gets better.”
450,000 liters of fuel were allowed into the Gaza Strip by Israel on Sunday after calls from the Hamas-led Gaza government. Qatar paid for the fuel.
"Hopefully, the power plant will gradually resume full operation during the day," said Ahmed Abu Al-Amrain of the Gaza energy authority. "The fuel we are receiving from Qatar will allow us only to return to the old schedule of eight hours of cuts followed by eight hours of power."
There is a lot of reading by candlelight for Gaza’s children, and the nights are uncomfortably cold for too many. Lifting the siege is the only, long-term answer for Gazans to live properly, with respect, able to create their own destiny.
Tunnels of Mercy Abolished
The blockade has been in place since 2006, abolishing most imports and exports, and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.
In the last year, however, the situation had greatly improved, directly due to the positive changes in Egypt and the opportunity for at least some trade. Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the people of Gaza. Medicine, car parts, clothes, building supplies, even beekeeping supplies, and mail (there is no postal service in Gaza) are but a few of the products the tunnels are used for.
That is all but finished. We have watched from afar as bombing of the tunnels has taken place, IDF war planes strafing the area, causing whatever collateral damage they deem acceptable. Gaza Strip energy officials have also blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months, and they also blamed the (Fatah-led) Palestinian Authority for charging exorbitant taxes on fuel, making prices too high for Gaza Strip authorities to afford.
“To endure” is the secret of life for many. The suffering of Gaza is a daily occurrence, but it cannot go on forever. The Palestinians deserve better than this, and it demeans all of humanity to allow it to continue.
There is little to no chance of rain for the next ten days. If only that would be enough time for this deluge of tragedy and unrest to pass, once and for all.
WATCH THE VIDEOS OF THE FLOODING OF GAZA:
Want to Help?To extend a helping hand to those affected by the Disaster in Gaza, please CLICK HERE to DONATE (via PayPal, moneygram, Western Union and IBAN [PS08JOR005160023052870369006]) Monies collected will go toward the purchase of in-kind materials such as blankets, food and basic needs to help families during their time of need.
Bonnie King has been Publisher of Salem-News.com since August '04. She is a photographer and video producer, writer, editor and mother, which she considers her greatest position. Bonnie has served in a number of positions in the broadcast industry; TV Production Manager at KVWB (Las Vegas WB) and Producer/Director for the TV series "Hot Wheels in Las Vegas", posts as TV Promotion Director for KYMA (NBC), and KFBT (Ind.), Asst. Marketing Director (SUPERSHOPPER MAGAZINE), Director/Co-Host (Coast Entertainment Show), Radio Promotion Director (KBCH/KCRF), and Newspapers In Education/Circulation Sales Manager (STATESMAN JOURNAL NEWSPAPER).
Bonnie has a depth of understanding that reaches further than just behind the scenes, and that thoroughness is demonstrated in the perseverance to correctly present each story with the wit and wisdom necessary to compel and captivate viewers and readers alike. An lifetime activist for just causes, she continues to strive to present facts that support Truth, Justice and Peace, as we are in the world to change the world for the better. "TJP"
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