Wednesday 22 November 2017

'Nowhere to run' in this burning inferno that is Gaza

People look at a crater on the ground and damaged buildings, that witnesses said was caused by an Israeli air strike, in the Zeitoun neighbourhood in Gaza City
People look at a crater on the ground and damaged buildings, that witnesses said was caused by an Israeli air strike, in the Zeitoun neighbourhood in Gaza City
A Palestinian man is reflected in a mirror as he inspects his house, which witnesses said was hit in an Israeli air strike, in Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip
Palestinian protesters hurl stones towards Israeli soldiers during a demonstration at the Beit Fourik checkpoint near the West Bank of Nablus against the Israeli military action in Gaza
Sixteen day-old Palestinian Anous al-Attar cries as he is held by his mother Emad, 23, at a UN school where the family is taking refuge in Gaza City, Gaza Strip
A girl looks through the window of a minibus as her family prepares to leave the Beit Hanoun neighbourhood in Gaza City
A Palestinian boy holds a representation of a rocket as supporters of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement chant slogans against the Israeli military action in Gaza
An Israeli soldier aims his weapon during clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron following a protest against the Israeli military action in Gaza
A Palestinian boy holds a toy gun as supporters of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement chant slogans against the Israeli military action in Gaza, during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Jenin

Shona Murray

Entering Gaza is no mean feat in itself. As an enclave region, part of the Palestinian Territories, it is under naval, air and land blockade imposed by the Israeli government since 2007. In order to reach the Gaza strip, journalists require consent of the Israeli government first, in order to be issued with an Israeli press card, and then require permission by the Hamas authorities in Gaza, for access inside.

The Israeli government press office, in my experience, has been obliging in securing this passage. Upon entering the Gaza strip, each journalist is normally required to present their bone fides to the Hamas administration. Last week was the first time that the Hamas administration was not in situ. So heavy was the artillery shelling at the Israeli/Gaza border, that it was too dangerous for any of their civil servants to operate.

It was a taste of the days ahead, where shelling from the ground, sea and air were omnipresent, constant, yet unpredictable.

It took a while - nearly three hours - for safe passage from the military buffer zone at the Gaza border to Gaza city.

After just a short time it was possible to distinguish the difference between incoming artillery fire, outgoing rockets and F16 shelling - such was the intensity and frequency of fire from both sides.

For those who have not visited Gaza, but because of this latest conflict are aware of the basic constraints under which its denizens live, it cannot be overstated how densely populated the strip is. Some 1.8 million people exist in 'refugee camps' created as far back as the creation of the Israeli state.

They are not refugee camps like one imagines in Jordan, the Democratic Republic of Congo or other countries which provide shelter from those fleeing, but cities and neighbourhoods, on normal days bustling with families, neighbours and a bright young people - around 50pc of Gazans are under 18.

Upon entering Gaza, it is breathtaking seeing the sheer depth of irreparable destruction that has occurred in the last few weeks.

Literally, a burning inferno is laid before your eyes: bombed buildings, apartment blocks, industrial centres, hardware shops, beauty salons - everything you can imagine in a tight, highly populated community; no longer standing, but its ashes still alight.

Inside Gaza city, people are distraught and beyond despair. Life under siege means no prospects for the future. Through no fault of your own, you are subject to a blockade imposed by a foreign state; punished because of the actions of the local government.

The UN in Gaza is a lifeline for its people. It provides basic food requirements - flour, oil, water - to more than 50pc of the people, and among other things has provided schooling to children, offering, education, with the hope that eventually their horizons might exist 
outside the 25km long, 7km wide strip that limits them so.

These days up to 100 people live inside each classroom.

Much worse, UN schools have become a target for the Israeli Defence Force which claims its military action - which has claimed the lives of scores of people in various UN schools in Gaza - is morally and legally sound, because of the presence of Hamas militants, who themselves are showing little regard for the lives of their fellow Palestinians - knowing the likelihood of a strike against them.

A mantra exists among all Palestinians who live in the strip: "There is nowhere to run in Gaza."

Ahead of a bombing campaign, the IDF warns inhabitants of a targeted town to leave their buildings, theoretically giving them a chance to save themselves.

To the UN they fled. The one trustworthy authority amidst disingenuous political rhetoric and life threatening military action; yet even this safe zone is not to be trusted now.

Irish Independent

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