On October 29, 2007, the Palestine-Israel Journal invited the
public to an open discussion in an attempt to raise questions not
often discussed in Israeli public discourse about Gaza and
At the Kibbutz Movement headquarters in Tel Aviv, over 180 people
gathered to hear Dr. Eyad Sarraj, director of the Gaza Community
Mental Health Center; Nomika Zion, a resident of the Urban Kibbutz
Mivgan in Sderot; Um Haithem, a resident of Beit Hanoun in Gaza;
Amira Hass of Haaretz; and Prof. Kenneth Mann, legal advisor to
Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. The discussion was
held in Hebrew and moderated by journalist Anat Saragusti.
Following opening remarks by PIJ Co-Editor Hillel Schenker, Dr.
Sarraj made a moving statement by phone from the Gaza Strip,
expressing his hopes that "your meeting tonight is productive and
improves the lives of those in Gaza with peace, respect [for] human
dignity, security and equality." He shared the grim situation in
Gaza: For example, since the Israeli-imposed closures began on June
12, 2007, as few as 12 items deemed to be basic necessities have
been allowed into Gaza; among the items no longer permitted are
salt, cleaning supplies and cement. He reported that Israeli F-16s
were flying overhead as he spoke. "The siege is heightening and
this opens opportunities for extremist ideologies to flourish on
both sides," he said, stressing that the situation cannot be
resolved unilaterally, through violence. "This land belongs to
those of us on both sides who want to live in peace, security and
Zion spoke of her "continued empathy for the Gazans." After "seven
years of being on the frontlines," Sderot is in deep crisis. The
city council is practically defunct, and people rely on the work
and social services provided by NGOs. There are 700 youth-at-risk
suffering from post-traumatic stress due to continued Qassam rocket
attacks. Approximately 10% of the population - the wealthier
residents - have left the city.
Um Haithem described her family's struggle to survive under siege
in Gaza. One of her daughter's school friends had been killed that
day as a result of an Israeli attack. Gaza feels like a "big prison
without humane conditions, without sanitary conditions and [with]
electricity for only two to three hours a day," Um Haithem said.
City employees are unpaid; "with rubbish throughout the streets,
people are dying of newly surfacing diseases, she said." Israeli
drones flying overhead produce a constant state of fear and
anxiety. The children are no longer children but are plagued by
chronic nightmares and show signs of depression. They go to bed
fearing middle-of-the-night intrusions by soldiers, the sound of
bombs dropping and artillery firing. Wheat, flour and milk are not
Hass lived in Gaza for several years as Haaretz's Gaza
correspondent, the only Israeli journalist to do so. She
methodically debunked the Israeli government's claimed that the
closure and siege of Gaza was a response to the continued launching
of Qassams. She believed that the continuation of Israeli violence
in Gaza is an extension of the disengagement, and the political
policy of separating Gaza from the West Bank, a process that she
claims started in 1991 and not in 2005. This policy towards Gaza
was later used in the West Bank, with the network of checkpoints,
road blocks, gates and special settler-only roads. If these tactics
continue, the West Bank will gradually become a group of smaller
Bantustans. Disengagement created for the Israeli government "a
model for Gaza, but not a model for peace," she said. Suggesting
that the situation in Gaza will continue to worsen, Hass said that
"the boiling point has not been reached yet."
Mann focused on Israel's responsibility for the well-being and
security of Gaza. He said that between 1967 and 2005, it was
accepted by all, including the Israeli government, that according
to international law pertaining to occupied territories, Israel was
responsible for the well-being of Gaza's residents. After the
disengagement, the Israeli government claimed that it was no longer
an occupying power and therefore no longer under this obligation.
However, in post-disengagement Gaza, Israel continues to maintain
"intensive, effective" control using technological and military
means, which amounts to occupation even without the presence of
soldiers. "Who can do what in Gaza is determined by Israel," Mann
said. By cutting electricity and fuel supplies, and stopping the
import and export of basic and other goods, the Israeli government
is using collective punishment, he said.
For a detailed report of the event and the full statement by Dr.
Sarraj, please go to: www.pij.org/events.php.