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Witnessing the Truth of Gaza

BLAUVELT, NY – July 10, 2009 -- Sister Ceil Lavan, OP (Blauvelt) was part of a 13-member delegation that traveled to the Gaza Strip.  Ten days and many experiences later, she and the other members of the delegation sponsored by CodePink: Women for Peace,  have newfound compassion for, and awareness about, the people of Gaza.

The U.S. delegation included people of Muslim, Jewish and Christian faith, journalists, young adults, and former Christian Peacemaker Team workers, and International Solidarity Movement (ISM) workers. They had different connections to the Middle East, but all wanted to witness first hand what was happening in Gaza, show their solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people and bring support and supplies for the traumatized children of Gaza. 

Ceil Laven (left) listens to reports of bombings

On May 23rd, Ceil was with the group who left the United States and entered the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian border at Rafah. Just getting over the border was difficult.  Each individual in a delegation must be approved by the Egyptian government and many are turned away.  The group visited the Children’s Life Center in Rafah.

Farming and fishing are two of the main sources of work in Gaza and a primary source of food for the Palestinians.  These have become even more essential during the blockade, as food and supplies are scarce, as are medicine and medical equipment, building construction supplies, electicity, fuel and clean water.  Although some supplies are smuggled in through tunnels that connect to Egypt, they are limited and very expensive and apparently taxed by the elected government, Hamas.

The Israeli occupation of Gaza has caused innocent civilian Palestinian men, women and children great suffering as their homes, schools, hospitals, governmental buildings, mosques, and police stations have been destroyed by bombs or bulldozers.  Their olive trees and citrus groves plowed under, their wheat fields burned, and their fishing boats destroyed.  They asked the CodePink delegation to tell Americans that they are not terrorists; they are ordinary citizens like us. And now in this “time of peace” following the Dec. 27 – Jan. 18 Israeli attack on Gaza, Israeli soldiers use speed boats to routinely fire at the Palestinian fishermen. This has increasingly limited the Palestinian fishing area in the Mediterranean Sea. There is  habitual firing at Palestinian farmers, and the amount of land allowed for farming within Palestine is being curtailed.

The delegation went to the area of Gaza City, where they witnessed more of the same destruction they had seen in Rafah.  They spoke with Majd Abdullah who held up a live mine left at the site of his destroyed home.  He had been a taxi driver and used to support his extended family with the income he raised.  After his cabs were destroyed, he lost hope. One delegation member asked him why he held a live mine and he replied, “What’s the difference?” 

FarahThey also encountered Farah, a little girl whose home was hit with a white phosphorous bomb. Most of her family members, including her mother, were killed by the recent Israeli attack. Farah was severely burned by white phosphorous. The delegation saw a remnant of white phospherous on the ground at a home they visited. When a man rubbed it with a stick on the ground, it ignited! The white phosphorous had been there since the Dec/Jan atack and it was still burning.

“Can you imagine what that does to the skin of Palestinian children and adults burned with it?” Ceil asked. “It continues to burn - right down to the bone.”   Even though white phosphorous is being used by the Israelis on the Palestinian people, it is illegal to use on civilians under International Law.  The delegation is arranging for Farah to leave Gaza to get the medical treatment she needs.

“Although Gaza is half-way around the world, there is much that can be done by Americans to help the situation,” said Ceil.   Ceil suggested that US citizens should pressure the US government to reduce or restrict military aid to Israel until they comply with human rights and International  law related to their treatment of the Palestinians. 

“Telling the truth about the inhuman treatment of the people in Gaza is critical to changing the policies that keep them in poverty and oppression,” Ceil said. “The US provides most of the arms and equipment Israel is using, we have to speak out for the Palestinians.”

For more information, contact John Ging at UNRWA,  the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is a relief and human development agency, providing education, healthcare, social services and emergency aid to over 4.6 million refugees living in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic.

Contact CODEPINK if you are interested in being part of a future delegation.

Related Links:

UNRWA,  the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

CodePink: Women for Peace

Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt, NY

United Nations News Center on the Middle East

Israel and the Occupied Territories:
The place of the fence/wall in international law (Amnesty International)

A good source: Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, by Phyllis Bennis