The next morning, the same van picks us up at 8:15 and we are driven to Khan Younis and its nearby refugee camp in the mid-south of the Gaza strip. We enter a municipal building and meet the mayor of Khan Younis, along with some other officials. Speeches, and a film. The first of several to come, one as disturbing and saddening and difficult to watch as the next. Somehow watching a film about Palestinian suffering in the midst of people who are affected is different. The most interesting speech, and the one that gets a lot of questions, there and later in the van, is by an engineer, Azzam. He apologizes not being ‘terribly intellectual’ (by now I’ve understood that being ‘intellectual’ is a high compliment here). However, not only does he seem to be a very knowledgeable person, but his domain is water and waste water management, two very central, and very problematic areas for Khan Younis, and Gaza in general. He tells us about the coastal aquifers that is in danger of being irreversibly damaged over the next years. I had read some things about this in a recent UN report entitled Gaza in 2020. A livable place? (Here is a quote from a Global Research article concerning water consumption in the area: “The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for minimal water consumption of 100 liters per capita per day; .. Palestinians average 50 -70 liters…. Israeli capita usage averages 400 l/d and Israel settlers in the Palestinian Occupied Territories average 800 l/c/d. Thus, Israelis average almost five times more water consumption than Palestinians.”)
Photos: Philippe Prévost
By now we have realised that cameras are going to be everywhere – hardly surprising, given that Chomsky is part of our group. I spot one from the German ARD – a sidekick of their Tel Aviv branch. I would really be interested in their coverage of Gaza.
We return to the van and are driven around some more. I had imagined walking around, and talking to some people on the street. But we only see them from the van, and take photos from the van. Children, and sometimes adults wave. It feels strange to be looking at them from inside the air conditioned van.
Next we visit a hospital. It has one floor, but it was supposed to already have been built up to five or six floors a few years ago. But building materials ran out in the wake of the siege imposed in 2007, and it for now it remains with one floor. We are shown a film about the 2008-2009 bombing of Gaza by the Israeli forces. We’ve all seen the images, but again, it’s very different indeed to watch them here. (I remember how Harper had called these massacres a “measured response” by Israel.) More speeches. One from a surgeon that rattles us. As he speaks, he becomes increasingly emotional, but no one blames him. He talks about operating on someone and have the drip run out, on people being in pain and the hospital having run out of pain medication. Of operating when the lights go out. (Here is a video clip of his address, uploaded by Verena Stresing.) We in Canada complain about waiting times and shortages of doctors, but these things pale in comparison to what people have to live with here. We take so many things for granted that clearly people here cannot. Criteria of what are basic human needs are relative to what part of the world you live in. We are shown a bare looking outpatient ward (photo P. Prévost) and briefly get to meet a couple of doctors and nurses. (On shortage of medication, see this 2012 WHO report.)
We now drive to a waste water facility close to the coast. It regularly overflows and contaminates the area around, the ground water, and the sea. On the way there, not far, we had seen an olive tree plantation whose trees looked unhealthy and pretty dried out.
Then comes an invitation to a beautiful seaside restaurant that has only recently opened, where we are served a copious lunch. Many plates are returned with food left over. We are hungry and grateful for the kind hospitality. But somehow it does not feel right to be eating so much, and drinking so much water and soft drinks, when a few miles up the road children are lacking in safe water and being chronically malnourished.
A man tells us: “Israelis are very smart. They do not let us starve, they feed us just enough to survive, but not to live well and be healthy.’
A few days days ago it was reported in the media that in a document from January 2008, Israel alotted 2,279 calories per day to Gazans (apparently following WHO guidelines). The Star reports further that Israel ‘broke down the calorie allocation by various food groups, and in minute details. It said that males aged 11 to 50 required 316.05 grams of meat per day, and women in the same age group needed 190.47 grams of flour. The analysis also included adjustments for locally grown farm products as well as an assessment of the kinds of food imports that would be needed to sustain the population. What is this – calorie alottment guidelines like for exotic animals in a zoo?!
Apart from insufficient and unsustainable water supply, inappropriate waste-water and waste management, another theme keeps popping up: the tunnels. Gazans are a resilient people and manage amazing feats under the siege. But to do so they rely on illegal smuggling through tunnels. They do not want this. They do not want to be forced to something illegal just in order to accomplish things that are taken for granted elsewhere in the world, such as renovate a house in ruins, or build a new one, or repair windows. Moreover, the tunnel trade creates an unequal distribution of wealth, as trader enrich themselves, while the rest of the population struggles from having to pay dearly for anything that comes through the tunnels. And there is no legal and non-corrupt way to tax these services and have the population at large benefit from the trade.