In Gaza, the Suffering Continues

Ethan Bronner opens his New York Times article about conditions in Gaza one week after Israel’s unilateral ceasefire in rather restrained fashion:

The boys clapped and sang to pulsating music. They played games and shouted. It could have been a group activity at any school in any place, but this was the middle school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza, near where the United Nations says some 40 people were killed by Israeli mortar fire earlier this month.

Saturday was the first day of school since before the war, and 1,000 homeless people had been removed from the building so that classes could begin.

Even then, normal schoolwork had to wait. A team trained in trauma and group activities was running the assembly, and after the singing and clapping, there was a play devoted to how to handle dangerous materials, like shell parts, still in or near homes. Later, each pupil described what had happened to him and to his friends and family in Israel’s 23-day war aimed at stopping Hamas’s rockets.

“They are not ready to learn yet,” said Asem Bajah, an English teacher, as he watched the singing. “And I am not ready to teach.”

Still, this is grittier reality than Daled Amos and Max Boot are ready to accept. Both of them seize on one paragraph in the Bronner piece to show that, really, nothing all that bad happened in Gaza:

You have to wait until the sixth paragraph of an article buried in the middle of the Sunday New York Times before you find out that the Israeli Defense Forces are not quite the barbarians that they have been made out to be. Writes Times correspondent Ethan Bronner from Gaza:

Most of Gaza, especially the capital, Gaza City, remains largely intact. This is not Grozny after the Chechen war or Dresden after World War II. The hospitals are coping; shops are reopening; traffic is becoming a problem once again. Israel has tripled the amount of goods flowing in here since before the war.

Bronner goes on to note that “the areas where Israeli tanks and artillery poured in at the start of the ground war are devastated,” but to judge from the news coverage you would think all of Gaza had been devastated. That is obviously not the case although the picture accompanying the article — of children amid the rubble-gives the opposite impression.

Here is what comes right after the paragraph Boot quotes:

But the areas where Israeli tanks and artillery poured in at the start of the ground war are devastated: Juhr el Dik to the east, Beit Lahiya, El Atatra and sections of Jabaliya to the north, as well as the outer Gaza City neighborhoods of Zeitoun and Toufah.

Homes have been blown up or bulldozed, their squashed furniture visible beneath layers of collapsed concrete. Factories — for paint, dairy products, soft drinks — have been smashed. Schools have 10-foot holes in their walls. Wedding halls are blackened hulks. The American International School, a private institution in northern Gaza, has been destroyed. Mosques are gone.

Moreover, in addition to the buildings that housed Hamas’s main security networks, institutions like the parliament, the main ministries, the central prison and nearly all the police stations are crushed beyond repair.

In some homes, families have been cleaning for five days straight, removing bullet casings, sweeping broken glass, sorting through charred clothing. Since electricity has been lost in most of those areas, the evenings see families gathered around makeshift fires outside, cooking and warming themselves.

In the neighborhood of Zeitoun, where 30 members of an extended family, the Samounis, were killed and homes were bulldozed, survivors can be seen each day using hoes and other crude tools on the piles of rubble and dirt hoping to salvage a few useful or valuable items.

More recent coverage of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza:

Voice of America News, 1/22/09: Almost 1,300 Gazans are dead; thousands are homeless:

The humanitarian crisis is deepening in Gaza, following Israel’s 22-day offensive that Palestinian officials said killed nearly 1,300 people. Now, Israel says it is considering a prisoner swap to win the release of an Israeli soldier held in Gaza, something that could pave the way for the lifting of the blockade against Gaza.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes toured Gaza to begin figuring out ways to channel the massive relief that is needed. He expressed shock at the destruction left by Israel’s 22-day campaign on militants in Gaza.

He said the United Nations wants an investigation into the Israeli bombing of a U.N. compound in which hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid were destroyed.

Food is finding its way back onto markets in Gaza, at much higher prices than before the attack. Residents said their biggest challenge now, after burying the dead, is finding where to live. Thousands of homes were destroyed.

Journalist Mohammed Dawwas, reporting for VOA, said People in Gaza City are struggling to bring their lives back to normal.

“We are talking about people who lost their homes. Where are they going to live? Where are they going to stay? This is the main problem. They have nothing to be sheltered under. There used to be water, electricity. They are still working on that, but we still have problems with these things now.  We have no petrol, no gas, no cooking gas. Nobody has one container of gas to make any food in the house. Nothing at all,” he said.

Food, fuel, other items are being smuggled into Gaza again. [Because Israel has not lifted its economic blockade.]

Ma’an News Agency, 1/24/09: Unless Israel lifts the blockade, the humanitarian crisis will double:

A coalition of international aid agencies urged the Israeli government on Saturday to open the Gaza Strip’s border to allow vital goods into the territory.

After 19 months of blockade and 23 days war, Gazans continue to suffer a lack of food, water, healthcare, fuel and shelter.

“We can’t wait any more,” said Muhammad Ali, an official with Oxfam International, demanding that “all the crossings work at their full capacity.” He said slightest delays of humanitarian access will cause the crisis to double, causing more misery the people of Gaza.

The Independent, 1/26/09: Donald McIntyre writes about the damage to the Palestinian economy:

Israeli forces used aerial bombing, tank shelling and armoured bulldozers to eliminate the productive capacity of some of Gaza’s most important manufacturing plants during their 22 days of military action in the Gaza Strip. The attacks – like those which destroyed at least 4,000 homes, left some residential areas resembling an earthquake zone and more than 50,000 people in temporary shelters at their peak – destroyed or severely damaged 219 factories, Palestinian industrialists say.

Leaders of Gaza’s business community – who have long stayed aloof from the different Palestinian political factions – say that much of the 3 per cent of industry still operating after the 18-month shutdown caused by Israel’s economic siege has now been destroyed.

Chris Gunness, chief spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said that widespread destruction of “civilian economic infrastructure” was a strike “at the heart of the peace process” because “economic stability is an essential component of a durable peace.”

Times Online, 1/24/09: Israel admits that the IDF used white phosphorus in Gaza:

After weeks of denying that it used white phosphorus in the heavily populated Gaza Strip, Israel finally admitted yesterday that the weapon was deployed in its offensive.

The army’s use of white phosphorus – which makes a distinctive shellburst of dozens of smoke trails – was reported first by The Times on January 5, when it was strenuously denied by the army. Now, in the face of mounting evidence and international outcry, Israel has been forced to backtrack on that initial denial. “Yes, phosphorus was used but not in any illegal manner,” Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told The Times. “Some practices could be illegal but we are going into that. The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) is holding an investigation concerning one specific incident.”

The incident in question is thought to be the firing of phosphorus shells at a UN school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on January 17. The weapon is legal if used as a smokescreen in battle but it is banned from deployment in civilian areas. Pictures of the attack show Palestinian medics fleeing as blobs of burning phosphorus rain down on the compound.

Kansas City Star, 1/21/09: White phosphorous burns its victims to the bone, and if breathed, burns human beings from the inside:

White phosphorus is legal under international law if it’s used as a smoke screen to obscure troop movements or other military operations, but it’s highly dangerous if it’s deployed in heavily populated areas, because it can set skin on fire and burn all the way to the bone. Israel has said repeatedly that it used weapons consistent with international laws during its war against the militant Islamic group Hamas.

However, doctors interviewed Wednesday in Gaza said that so many patients had sustained burns consistent with white phosphorus that it appeared that Israeli forces used the chemical in highly populated areas.

At Shifa, the main hospital in Gaza City, doctors said that scores of patients had arrived with unusual burns, dark, foul-smelling splotches that grew deeper and blacker despite being washed with water and saline solution. The burns were so toxic in some patients that even those with relatively minor wounds, which ought to have been treatable, grew ill and died, the doctors said.

“We have never seen this type of injury or the number of such injuries,” said Dr. Nafez Abu Shaaban, the head of the burns unit at Shifa. “These were not usual burns.”

Patients told medics that they’d come into contact with smoking, spongelike wafers of phosphorus, and in some cases, doctors said, victims reached hospitals with wounds still smoking. White phosphorus burns as long as it’s exposed to oxygen, and it can reach temperatures well over 1,000 degrees.

The injuries baffled Gaza’s medical staff, adding to the enormous strain that the war placed on a bare-bones health system. Gaza health officials say that more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, two-fifths of them children and women. Thirteen Israelis died, 10 of them soldiers.

Truthdig, 1/25/09: P.M. Olmert responded to calls for war crimes investigations into the use of white phosphorous as well as other possible violations of international law by Israel in Gaza. As quoted from the original BBC article:

In Israel, Prime Minister Olmert told a weekly cabinet meeting that soldiers who had put their lives on the line for their country need not fear prosecution for war crimes overseas.

“The commanders and soldiers that were sent on the task in Gaza should know that they are safe from any tribunal and that the State of Israel will assist them in this issue and protect them as they protected us with their bodies during the military operation in Gaza,” he said.

Eichmann himself could not have said it better.

Cross-posted at Liberty Street.

2 Responses to “In Gaza, the Suffering Continues”

  1. Alex says:

    Arab apologist, anti-semite

  2. AEWHistory says:

    What bothers me so much is the complete lack of outrage for those whose lives are ruined, who have been terrorized and traumatized, and so on, in southern Israel/Sderot. It is NOT that I am without feeling, sympathy, and/or empathy for the Palestinian plight…. but damnit, why is it acceptable terrorize a whole city with thousands of rockets for years, but not okay to stop it? The Palestinians voted for the government, and if they don’t agree with what Hamas is doing, then they should fight them. Otherwise, they are as culpable as any other people who’ve elected a renegade government. I do not see why the Palestinian people should get a special dispensation here….

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