Live from Gaza, Eoin Murray, Trócaire

Monday, August 14, 2006

Les Damnes de la Terre

When Franz Fanon published his groundbreaking work on the Algerian experience one of the things he was able to highlight was the chaos that erupted accross many levels throughout Algerian society - the violent relationship with the French settlers, the intense violence which, later, consumed Algerian society itself - the comprehensive breakdown of social cohesian.

Fanon's book was also interpreted by many as a call to arms - if that is the case then I can, once again, testify, after today's events, why such violence is nothing other then repugnant and tragic for all the victims.

Almost at the same time as I was posting this morning a Home-made rocket was fired from northern Gaza into southern Israel - injuring 1 Israeli civilian. Shortly after, I find myself with Dr. Bandali Siar, Director of [Trocaire partner] Caritas Jerusalem's Gaza operation.

We are in a mobile medical clinic going to visit the victims of Israel's incursion into al Maghazi camp in the middle area of Gaza. En route the car buzzes with information and chatter. He tells me that al Jazeera is reporting that 4800 rockets were fired from inside south Lebanon, indiscriminately into civilian areas in northern Israel.

Just as I am asking the Dr. if he believes that there will be an escalation in Israeli violence in Gaza - his phone rings and he hears news of an extra-judicial execution by the Israeli military in northern Gaza. I later hear that three were killed.

Throughout the day the Caritas team - a doctor, a medical technician and two volunteer nurses - talk constantly of the renewed closure imposed at the Rafah crossing point. It is, literally, an inescapable feature of life in the largest prison in the world. Everyone has family members stuck outside - running out of money, wondering when they will get back to their homes.

We hear stories that of the 1600 people who passed in the two-day opening of the crossing around 1000 of them were business men connected to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Whether or not such reports are true - what is clear is that many hundreds of urgent humanitarian cases trying to cross in and out were not given prioirty, a shameful volation of international law which priviliges humanitarian access.

We arrive in al Mughazi Camp - during a three day incursion, three weeks ago, there were 20 killed and 200 injured.[Over 160 have been killed in the last month in Gaza. Hundreds of the injuries resulted in amputations. Caritas is conducting visits as part of a new project in the impoverished, isolated area. We visit the homes of six families who suffered from a scabies outbreak in a tight-knit series of streets. Then we move onto the harder cases - the direct victims of violence from the incursion.

Let us call him Ismail. Sixteen. He limps into the room, his doting mother close behind him. He sits and lifts his jalabiya (a long dress-like pajama worn commonly by people in the Arab and Muslim world). His legs are pockmarked by hundreds of small cuts and bandaged heavily around the thighs. One of the nurses cuts open the bandages on his left leg. Two gaping gashes appear – each an inch and a half long and at least a quarter of an inch deep. Ismail says "after I last went to the hospital it began to burn and turned a strange colour."

Dr. Bandali explains that the wounds were infected in the hospital as a result of not being cleaned properly. He cleans the wound, Ismail barely winces as the brown disinfectant runs deep into his legs.

I suppose he has known greater pain than this – the moment the shrapnel from the rocket peppered his lower and upper body.

His other thigh is now exposed but the flesh that glares out at me is a strong red. Dr. Bandali is happy – "it is healthy" he tells me, withouta hint of irony that such a wound could be "healthy."

Over the course of the morning we visit many other of the walking - hobbling, blinded - wounded. Children and adults alike - victims of terrible violence.

There is, occasionally, relief from the violence of Gaza. I sat in the early evening with friends - smoking a Shisha pipe (a traditional Arabic/Turkish instrument which billows sweet apple flavoured tabacco; likened by a journalist friend here to a "cigarette with a hoover attached") From feet away I can feel the warm strength of the sea - but despite this the beach is almost empty.

The relief from violence is, ultimately, a false sense of security - two Israeli gunboats sail rapidly up and down the horizon. Their stated aim is to stop gun-running from Israel or the transportation of those who want to attack Israeli civilians in their cafes or bars.

But their presence forms part of the policy of collective punishment imposed on Palestinians - at the moment no fisherman are allowed into any part of the sea. As we sit and watch, the sand fills our shoes, we see one or two brave fishermen pushng tiny rafts into the sea; they are risking their lives for a few Shekels. Their choice is between this or being unable to feed their families.

The red sun pours into the horizon as we head to our car.

As we drive along the sea road towards Gaza my phone begins to ring and buzz. Two people have been kidnapped. The report was, initially, that one of them was Irish. The BBC's Alan Johnston is now reporting that it is two FOX news journalists, from New Zealand and the USA.

As of yet no one knows who is responsible or how the HAMAS government will react. [though they have already condemned it strongly as "Un-Palestinian" and called for immediate release - in the past HAMAS have been heavily involved in negotiations to free people who were kidnapped; but this time the responsibility for law and order lies with them.] More violence. More victims.


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