Live from Gaza, Eoin Murray, Trócaire

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Haifa and home

"We Arabs in Haifa are used by the Israeli government - in the last war we were used as human shields." I am standing atop of Haifa staring down at the magnificently perfect Bahi International Centre and below it the city and port area. Talking to me is Amir Makhoul, from Ittijah Association. The street we are standing on is the one you would have seen in the news broadcasts - this time a week ago it was an international news centre.

Upon arrival in Haifa I knew very little about the city: that it was the teaching home of persecuted Israeli Professor Ilan Pape, that it was a city of co-existence between Arabs and Jews, and that it had more then a few of Hizb Allah's rockets reign on it during the most recent conflict.

"Well, yes it is true that Pape teaches here" laughs Amir, pushing aside the fact that shortly before hand we had been examining destroyed shell of a building less then two minutes from his office. [The destroyed building, ironically, belonged to the newspaper of the Communist party. In Lebanon their counterparts were among the first to support Hizb Allah in the conflict with Israel.]

"But the Tourism Board present this as a city where Arabs and Jews live in harmony together - in fact there are substantial ethnic and class divisions and widespread discrimination against us."

Our panorama of Haifa is magnificent - one can see the old downtown area, where the Palestinians live, as well as some of the more modern buildings which adorn it. "Why I say we were used as human shields? is because all of the strategic military targets - the port, the military bases - are all around the Palestinian areas, so this is where the rockets were being fired at."

Around 11% of Haifa's population are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, approximately 30,000 people. Half of them are Christians, half Muslims. The city is renowned for its artistic and cultural capital, from both Jews and Arabs. However, the recent war has exacerbated unresolved tensions which have existed in the area since 1948.

For example, Jewish homes, because they are generally newer, tend to comply with Israel's law that each home should have a bomb shelter. Arab homes, elegant stone homes carved in the Ottomon or British era, generally do not. Consequently bomb shelters are provided in the locality.

"It was taking a rocket from south Lebanon from 30 seconds to 1 minute to land in Haifa - how are we supposed to get from our homes or offices and run to a bomb shelter five minutes away in this time?" Amir asks, his long arms stretched out, providing a human frame for the city below.

"In Nazereth, the largest Palestinian town in Israel, they do not even have an early warning system as they do in every other town. This is just one example of the institutionalised discrimination against Arabs inside Israel."

Over the course of the war in Lebanon numerous Israeli casualties - Arabs or Jews - were civilians. This is a direct result of Hizb Allah's policy of indiscriminately firing rockets into northern Israel, in contravention of International Humanitarian Law. In Lebanon they overwhelming number of casualties were civilians. Now, on all sides, most people expect a return to war.

The Hebrew news this morning vox-popped Israelis in Tel Aviv who all expect another war - "Olmert's government is weak; we lost the war [opinion polls state that a vast majority feel the war was lost]; the army didn't prepare properly." These are the kind of comments being made by those Israelis who supported the war [generally, Jewish-Israelis].

On the other side Arabs often supported Hizb Allah's attacks, even though they were equally under target. This apparently confused stance has escalated tensions and divisions in towns such as Haifa. Of course many observers perceive that years of discrimination are simply coming to the surface.

...Today is my last day in this part of the world. A more difficult and more troubled period then I, or most others, have ever seen.

The difficulty of Gaza, where in the two days before the Qana massacre happened in Lebanon, the same number were killed in Gaza; Gaza, where the EU ensures that Palestinians are unable to move by preventing the opening of the Rafah crossing into Egypt; Gaza, where the humanitarian situation, combined with the ongoing arrests of Government ministers, is producing a collapsed entity which is bursting at the seams with negative, angry, attitudes.

The fact that I barely made it to the West Bank, where Israel continues to construct its Wall and expand its illegal settlements is an illustration of how deep the troubles are in this region and that, in turn, illustrates how urgent is the need for substantial action.

The time for talking tough is over.


At 2:39 AM, Blogger john said...


Congratulations on the blog. Its both informative and entertaining to read. I read some famous Journalist say that real reporting isn't being with those who fire the bombs, its being where they land.

What do you do for Trocaire in Gaza? And who long do to plan to stay there?


At 6:30 AM, Blogger Eoin Murray said...

Dear Johnm,

Thanks for kind comments - I was just visiting Gaza. I am Trocaire's Palestine Programme officer and we support a human rights programme there to try and build long term, justice peace and stability in the region. On this trp I was looking to see where else we can contribute to the humanitarian crisis.

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