Keith Taylor, the new Green Party MEP who took over from Caroline Lucas when she became an MP, is currently touring the Middle East to see how the Green Party can input into the peace process. Excellent stuff, he seems to be playing a very positive role.
It was a groggy crew that were checking out of the hotel just six hours later, and our tribulations were only just beginning. When we got to Rafah (the only crossing into Gaza) it took us four hours to get through the border. Mind you we were the lucky ones. For Palestinians a wait of two or three days in the full glare of the sun and 35+ degree temperatures is commonplace. The Egyptians are not doing Palestinians any favours. Someone told me Egypt has 31,000 staff in its Security team, and a lot of them seem to have been at Rafah, shuffling papers about as if it were a new Olympic sport with the deliberate intent of delay and obfuscation.
I have never seen people treated quite as badly as the Palestinians were, and felt quite helpless that I couldn’t intervene.
Our entrance into Gaza was heralded by the sights of a territory under siege; public services not working, high unemployment and high poverty. The rubbish was piling up in the streets, in the rivers and on the beach. Just as hot as Cairo, the air was heavy and thick.
Our first meeting of the day was with a Palestinian prisoners families group. They told us of their husbands, brothers and sons incarcerated in Israeli jails, of harsh sentences on flimsy evidence and of refusals to allow families to visit their loved ones. Many of the families carried pictures of those imprisoned, and others momentos. One man even brought the blood spattered clothes his son was arrested in.
The girl in the picture below is cared for by her grandmother after losing her mother to illness. She hasn’t seen her father for six years, and the Israelis say she is a threat to security and won’t grant her permission to see her father.
Next we visited UNWRE, the UN agency for refugees, and spoke with the Acting Director there. UNWRE provide lifeline services to Palestinians. Education for 400,000 with 9,000 teachers, healthcare to 951,000 via 20 health centers, micro finance and rental assistance, 10,000 new homes and 1,000 new schools.
We heard about unemployment standing at 45%, that 29% of agricultural land lay within restricted military areas. We heard that Israel had prohibited exports from Palestine and imposed a long standing blockade which is strangling the economy. And what’s more, we heard that UNWRE funding was under threat and they faced having to cut back on the services they deliver, starting this October.
Our final meeting was with the Prime Minister of Gaza, who briefed us on the current situation in Gaza. He spoke passionately about his belief that peace is the only way that a settlement will be reached with Israel and within Gaza and the West Bank. He called for the lifting of the siege so that the economy can start working again.
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