School gets underway in Gaza …sort of

Last week in Gaza, half a million children went back to school after a summer of war. The academic year started late; among other things, authorities had to check buildings for unexploded ordnance and scrub schools that had been used to shelter hundreds of thousands of displaced families. With dozens of schools still sheltering people, destroyed or simply too damaged to use, classrooms are more overcrowded than usual.

Children in Gaza have experienced three wars between Israel and Hamas over the past six years. This summer’s seven-week conflict was the longest and most destructive, with the highest number of people killed, injured and displaced from their homes. In a territory that measures only 25 miles in length and 7 in width at its broadest point, civilians have not been able to escape the fighting. As a result, children comprise a quarter of the total Palestinian dead.

School authorities decided to start this school year differently. For at least the first week — longer in some schools — academics were put on hold. Instead, visiting therapists or the school’s own teachers led children in art, drama and other creative activities like play therapy.

Therapist Mohmmad Kahloot said it helps him to see kids smiling again. “When they overcome such a catastrophe and smile, this gives us relief,” he said. “This gives us hope for tomorrow.”

His colleagues say after this summer, even the therapists in Gaza need therapy. So do parents.

The psychologist acknowledged that the stress of conflict can show up in different ways, and encouraged parents and families to try to put the war behind them.

That may be most difficult for families who have no home to return to. More than 50,000 people are still living in 19 United Nations-run schools.

[NPR]

No improvement in Gaza humanitarian crisis

Children play amongst Gaza rubbleCNN reports that 92 people in Gaza have been killed since a ceasefire ended five days ago, adding to the more than 2,100 that have died.

Other effects of the violence, which began in early July: The United Nations, which runs many schools in Gaza, said 500,000 children were unable to begin classes. A spokesman for the Palestinian ministry of education said more than 100 government-run schools are closed while others are being used as shelters.

Most of the blockaded enclave has been without power for 18 hours a day since Israel attacked the territory’s sole power plant on July 29. The damage is said to take up to a year to fix.

People in Gaza also face a shortage of water, with reports indicating that various diseases are spreading among the population that has been displaced due to the Israeli war. According to reports, the displaced Palestinians living in UN-run schools struggle for access to water.

Monzer Shoblak, an official from the local water board, said that the damage from Israel’s month-long offensive against Gaza meant that Gaza was pumping 50 percent less water.

On Sunday, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said it may take months to repair the damage Israel inflicted on Gaza’s infrastructure.

She also said that 97 UN installations, including health centers and schools, were damaged in the Israeli war.

Hamas is urging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to go before the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israeli leaders for war crimes. The Palestinians are not currently under the jurisdiction of the ICC, but would be if they sign the court’s Rome Statute, the treaty that established the court. Back in May, a group of 17 human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, signed a letter to Abbas encouraging him to join the ICC.

The United States and Israel and some other nations have pressured Abbas not to take this step, arguing that it would harm peace talks.

Gaza misery heightened by latest war

For the more than 1.8 million people squeezed into Gaza, a territory about twice the size of Washington DC, chaos has always infringed on the daily rhythms of life.

But the latest conflict with neighboring Israel has compounded the misery of many. Since Israel began Operation Protective Edge against Hamas on July 8, about 520,000 people in the small, impoverished territory have been displaced by the conflict, according to the United Nations. That is 29% of the territory’s inhabitants!

The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza, an already crowded and impoverished territory.

And after Gaza’s only power plant was hit, residents are without electricity. Without refrigeration. Without water pumps and sewage systems.

At the main hospital, already stretched by weeks of fighting that left close to 1,900 people dead and thousands wounded, a pair of mega-generators powered crucial life-support equipment.

“We cannot supply electricity to hospitals or water pumps or sewage treatment or for domestic use,” Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority in Gaza said. “People have to pump the water to the residential tanks but don’t have electricity.”

Jamal Derdsawoi, a representative of Gaza’s electric company, pointed at Israel. “By attacking the power plant and cutting the electricity, they’re killing the civilian life in Gaza,” he said.

The United Nations has said that a deliberate strike on the plant would be a violation of humanitarian law.

[CNN]

The Norm in Gaza

Excerpts of an opinion piece by eminent political philosopher Noam Chomsky:

On July 17, Malaysian Airlines MH17 was shot down in Eastern Ukraine, killing 298 civilians. President Obama denounced it as an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.” His UN Ambassador thundered that “we must stop at nothing to determine who is responsible and to bring them to justice.”

With the Israeli attack on Gaza in July [which to date has killed nearly 1800], President Obama spoke out of his “strong condemnation of rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel by the militant group Hamas,” while “also expressing ‘growing concern’ about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza,” but without condemnation. The Senate filled that gap, voting unanimously to support Israeli actions in Gaza.

This is the norm.

[Another part of] the norm in Gaza is described in detail by the heroic Norwegian trauma surgeon Mads Gilbert, who has worked in Gaza’s main hospital, and just before this latest Israeli onslaught, submitted a report on the Gaza health sector to UNRWA, the UN Agency that tries desperately, on a shoestring, to care for refugees.

“At least 57 % of Gaza households are food insecure and about 80 % are now aid recipients,” Gilbert reports. “Food insecurity and rising poverty also mean that most residents cannot meet their daily caloric requirements, while over 90 % of the water in Gaza has been deemed unfit for human consumption,” a situation that is becoming even worse as Israel again attacks water and sewage systems, leaving over a million people with even more severe disruption of the barest necessity of life.

Gilbert reports that “Palestinian children in Gaza are suffering immensely. A large proportion are affected by the man-made malnourishment regime caused by the Israeli imposed blockage. Prevalence of anaemia in children under 2yrs of age in Gaza is at 72.8%, while prevalence of wasting, stunting, underweight have been documented at 34.3%, 31.4%, 31.45% respectively.”

Another norm for Gaza: For the past 14 years, Israel has killed more than two Palestinian children a week.

The distinguished human rights lawyer Raji Sourani, who has remained in Gaza through years of terror, reports that “The most common sentence I heard when people began to talk about ceasefire: everybody says it’s better for all of us to die and not go back to the situation we used to have before this war. We don’t want that again. We have no dignity, no pride; we are just soft targets, and we are very cheap. Either this situation really improves or it is better to just die. I am talking about intellectuals and academics ….ordinary people [are] saying that.”

Similar sentiments have been widely voiced: it is better to die with dignity than to be slowly strangled by the torturer.

Gaza death toll hits 1387 amidst ever worsening humanitarian situation

Israeli airstrikes and shelling continued overnight and into the morning, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 1,395 with 8,100 injured, according to the Ministry of Health. The Israeli military confirmed that 20 “sites” had been hit overnight.

The deaths in the besieged Gaza Strip come on the 24th day of an Israeli assault which has nearly topped the death toll from the 2008-9 Cast Lead, the bloodiest attack on the area in memory when Israel killed 1,400 in 22 days.

Meanwhile, the United States confirmed it had restocked Israel’s supplies of ammunition, hours after finally condemning an Israeli attack on a United Nations school in Gaza that killed 16 people sheltering there.  And the Israeli military has called up 16,000 more reserve soldiers to join its assault of Gaza.

The Pentagon confirmed the Israeli military had requested additional ammunition to restock its dwindling supplies on July 20, with the US Defense Department approving the sale just three days later. Two of the requested munitions came from a little-known stockpile of ammunition stored by the US military on the ground in Israel for emergency use. The War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel is estimated to be worth $1 billion.

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel told his Israeli counterpart that the United States was concerned about the deadly consequences of the spiraling conflict, including a “worsening humanitarian situation” in Gaza, and called for a ceasefire and end to hostilities.

Relations between Israel and its staunch ally the United States have plunged in recent days after John Kerry returned from a mission to the Middle East to try to broker a ceasefire between the Israelis and Hamas militants.

Anonymous Israeli officials have hit out at Kerry’s truce proposal, calling it “a strategic terrorist attack”. Hamas has insisted that any ceasefire include an end to the eight-year Israeli blockade, which has severely crippled the tiny coastal enclave’s economy and led to recurring shortages of basic goods.

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Watch a live broadcast, as Chris Gunness of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, states, “The rights of Palestinians, even their children, are wholesale denied, and it’s appalling,” and then proceeds to break down sobbing uncontrollably, until the camera finally darts away.