‘Peace has two parents: Freedom and Justice’

MAP CEO Aimee Shalan writes on the situation in Gaza, amid the most dangerous escalation since 2014:

Three people in Gaza were killed by Israeli airstrikes last night, including a 23-year-old, pregnant mother and her toddler daughter.

At least seven others were reportedly injured in the strikes that rained down throughout the night, across the whole of Gaza. Water-wells were also struck, impacting the already scarce fresh water supply for tens of thousands.

Several Israelis were also said to have been injured by rockets fired from Gaza.

These airstrikes come at a time of acute crisis in Gaza. Yesterday, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Mr Jamie McGoldrick, called on Israel to immediately allow the entry of UN-purchased fuel – describing the restriction of emergency fuel as “a dangerous practice, with grave consequences to the rights of people in Gaza.”

“It is unacceptable,” Mr Goldrick went on to say, “that Palestinians in Gaza are repeatedly deprived of the most basic elements of a dignified life.”

Critical health services have been reducing operations and five hospitals are at risk of closing in the coming two days, due to Israel’s restriction of emergency fuel supplies.

And now more airstrikes. There are fears that another major military offensive is in the offing.

Fikr Shalltoot, MAP’s Director of Programmes in Gaza said, “I believe two million people in Gaza were deprived of sleep last night and experienced a sort of earthquake. These strikes caused great damage to some municipality property, including water wells, water pumps, cars and recreational spaces.”

Two million people, living under occupation, closure and blockade and the threat of military action. Two thirds are children.

Last night, a photograph was circulating on Twitter reportedly taken by a father of his daughter sleeping under a plastic chair “to protect herself from the falling bombs.”

Working in the humanitarian sector, I’ve had the privilege of visiting Gaza for well over a decade, while Palestinian friends from Gaza here in the UK have been unable to return home due to the closure – missing family weddings, births and even parent’s funerals.

During this time, everyone I’ve met in Gaza, young and old, have simply wanted the life and fundamental freedoms enjoyed by others around the world.

Over the years, I’ve met students dreaming of a better future; families living in makeshift tents or school rooms, their homes destroyed, relatives killed; doctors trying to figure out how to ration fuel to keep services going; nurses struggling to keep babies alive in intensive care units when emergency generators fail and medical workers who have come under attack while trying to carry out their work.

This is the context in which the ‘Great Return’ demonstrations began on 30 March, during which more people have been injured by Israeli forces than during the major military offensive on Gaza in 2014. It is why, five months on, despite at least 153 people killed and 17,259 people injured – people continue to protest.

The closure and blockade of Gaza has been labelled “collective punishment” by the UN Secretary General, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory and by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Collective punishment is prohibited under international law and the international community’s ongoing lack of political will to do anything about it in the Palestinian context is quite frankly shocking.

Today, 9 August 2018, not only marks an escalation in violence it is also the anniversary of the death of celebrated Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish.  A few months before he died, Darwish wrote the following words:

Peace has two parents: Freedom and Justice. And occupation is the natural begetter of violence.  Here, on this slice of historic Palestine, two generations of Palestinians have been born and raised under occupation. They have never known another – normal – life. Their memories are filled with images of hell. They see their tomorrows slipping out of their reach. And though it seems to them that everything outside this reality is heaven, yet they do not want to go to that heaven. They stay, because they are afflicted with hope.”

Today, 10 years on and as the situation in Gaza escalates yet again, the international community has a duty to ensure the health and dignity of Palestinians; to turn hope from an affliction into a reality by upholding international law, releasing Gaza from the blockade and delivering freedom and justice.