Gaza overwhelmed / UPDATE 4, 2014

January 1, 2014
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items on the Gaza emergency, following a repeat notice of the Gaza drinking water petition:
To sign the Thirsting for Justice petition, ‘Gaza to run out of drinking water by 2016′, for presentation to the EU, click here. Started on September 26th the number of signatures had crept up to 8,731 by Sunday November 17th, to 8,886 by by December 1st, 9,715 by December 29th and 9,837 by January 12th. They hope to reach 100,000 to present it to EU leaders. 

What you can do:
1) give to the JfJfP appeal (see below)
2) use social media to circulate this posting/appeal
3) Press your MP and MEP for an emergency debate and the FCO to persuade the states of Israel and Egypt and the PA to ensure the people of Gaza have sufficient fuel for their basic needs.
4) Join the Saturday Protest Vigil: Cast Lead 5 Years On, UPDATE 3

1) JfJfP: Gaza emergency appeal, urgent message to all JfJfP signatories and supporters, including appeal from AIC;
2) Guardian: Time to end Israel’s Gaza blockade, letter calling for end of Israel’s blockade UPDATE
3) Palestine Pulse: Winter storm causes humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza;
4) Palestine Chronicle: Open Christmas Letter to Pope Francis on Gaza, an appeal from Vacy Vlazna to Pope Francis to intervene in Gaza;
5) OCHA: Gaza and Bedouin emergency: situation overview, a comprehensive and detailed analysis on who has been affected by the winter storm and how in the context of existing deprivation;
6) AP: Winter storm causes deaths, destruction in Middle East, brief news update;

from InterPress Service and International Solidarity Movement, January 18, 2014

Gaza Loses an Underground Lifeline

By Khaled Alashqar, IPS /
January 11, 2014

GAZA CITY – The border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip used to buzz with activity until a few months back as traders brought in an array of Egyptian goods – from food supplies to raw material – through hundreds of tunnels.

But these underground structures, located 40 km from here, between Rafah in Gaza and Sinai in Egypt, have fallen silent.

Things came to a grinding halt after the Egyptian army came to power in Cairo. Calling them a security threat, it launched a systematic military campaign against the tunnels, destroying them, along with the houses under which they were built on its side of the border.

For people in Gaza, home to 1.7 million people, the closure of the tunnels has choked a lifeline. Thousands of tunnel operators, traders and workers have been hard hit.

“Never before have we faced this kind of pressure from the Egyptian army and, it seems, things are going to get worse,” said Abu Nabil, a Gaza resident who gave only his nickname for security reasons. He had operated a tunnel on the Palestinian side since 2007.

Nabil said more than 90 percent of the passages, most of which are privately operated, have been destroyed by the Egyptian military, completely paralyzing trade through the tunnels.

He used to employ 20 workers in his tunnel. They would transport goods, food supplies, electronic equipment and construction material from Egypt to Gaza. Now these employees – among an estimated 20,000 tunnel workers – are jobless.

The tunnel area stretches more than eight kilometers along the border. It’s not open to the public, except with permission from the ruling Hamas party in Gaza. It is monitored by Hamas security forces on the Palestinian side.

While the Egyptian army has established a buffer zone of 500 meters along the border and set up security checkpoints, operators are trying to find a way out. Nabil is trying to extend the length of his tunnel so that it can bypass the buffer zone.

But problems are set to persist as, for the Egyptian authorities, the tunnel trade is illegal.

Egyptian military spokesperson Colonel Ahmed Mohammad told IPS: “The tunnels are used to smuggle militants and radical groups that threaten Egyptian national security. They should be destroyed.”

The authorities in Egypt also point out that goods sent into Gaza through the tunnel do not carry a legal stamp or tax.

But it’s a different story in Gaza, where the Hamas government recognizes the tunnel trade.

Alaa Alrafati, minister of economy in the Hamas government, told IPS that the closure of tunnels was causing a loss of 230 million dollars every month and suffocating around 1,000 factories and industrial units that were dependent on raw material coming through the tunnels.

Alrafati said the authorities in Egypt and Gaza needed to come to an understanding.

“The government in Gaza is prepared to close down all tunnels on the Palestinian side if an official alternative route can be made available with Egypt to address Gaza’s need for commercial goods and construction material,” he said.

He said Hamas government leaders “are interested in developing relations with Egypt.”

The tunnels flourished as they were free of restrictions and represented a way out of the Israeli siege on Gaza. Some studies indicate that the tunnel trade was worth one billion dollars a year.

Professor Sameer Abu-Mdalla, dean of the economics faculty at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told IPS that the total number of tunnels before 2006 was 60, but following a blockade by Israel in 2007 and the closure of border crossings, the number mushroomed to about 1,000.

He said the tunnels helped meet 60 percent of Gaza’s needs for raw materials and other goods.

Abu-Mdalla said destruction of the tunnels could push the unemployment rate up in the Gaza Strip.

He said the Hamas government had legitimized the tunnel trade and introduced guidelines and taxes. Hence, 15 percent of the government budget came from the tunnels and other related sources.

He pointed out some negative aspects as well, however.

“For example, the tunnels did not generate development in Gaza and led to the emergence of around 800 millionaires who used the income from operating tunnels for money laundering.”

The tunnels were allegedly also a conduit for Palestinian militant groups to smuggle weapons into Gaza for use against Israel. Besides, illegal drugs were being smuggled into the small and crowded territory through them, it was alleged.

With the closure of the tunnels, however, it’s the common people of Gaza who are paying the price. Be it poverty, unemployment or isolation, it has worsened their life in every way.

Gaza’s economy shattered by Israeli siege

January 15, 2014

A recent report by the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Gaza says the Israeli authorities have closed Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) checkpoint, the Gaza Strip’s only commercial crossing, for 150 days, 41% of working days, during 2013. The reports points out that the continued closure of the commercial crossing constitutes a violation of the ceasefire agreements reached in November 2012 after the Israeli “Operation Pillar of Defense” military offensive.Normally Israel keep the commercial crossing open 22 days per month, says the report, closing it on Fridays and Saturdays. but The crossing was closed also during the Jewish holidays for “security reasons.’” According to the report, in 2013, 55,833, 1,578 fewer truckloads of goods entered Gaza than in 2012. Israel allowed the export of 187 truckloads of goods from the Gaza Strip to European markets, compared to 234 truckloads, mostly agricultural products, 2012.

The report also describes the impact of the Egyptian closure of the tunnels since July 2013. This closure caused huge economic losses over the past six months as a direct result of the interruption of economic activities and a fall in production, resulting in a decline of 60% of gross domestic product. Unemployment exceeded 39% at the end of 2013.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ report on the Gaza Strip’s crossings from 1st-30th November 2013 documents the impact of the ongoing Israeli siege imposed on Palestinians, affecting their economy and social condition. While Israel claims to have eased the blockade, the Gaza Strip has a lack of services, fuel and building materials. According to PCHR’s statistics, the materials Israel has allowed to enter don not meet the needs of Gaza Strip’s population. In November, Israel closed Karm Abu Salem crossing for ten days, 30.3% of the total period. Most imports are consumable. The entry of various raw materials continues to be prohibited, with the exception of very limited types imported under complicated procedures.

Israel has continued to impose a near-total ban on exports to markets in the West Bank, Israel and other countries, excluding limited amounts of agricultural products. Exceptionally, during the month of November, Israel allowed the exportation of 20 truckloads carrying agricultural products, including mints, garlic, basil, strawberries and flowers.

Here we come to a crucial point. Israel allows that minimum exports of Palestinian products only to European and non-European markets, not to the West Bank. Why does Israel not allow Palestinians from Gaza to market their products in the West Bank, within Palestine?

It appears that on the one hand, this practice is part of the collective punishment of the blockade which aims to not allow any economic growth in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, Israel wants to protect its own market and sell its product in the occupied territories.

“We face many difficulties, mainly due to the closure of the crossing,” a farmer in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, said. ”Generally exports take place twice a week. Sometimes we had to freeze strawberries, due to the closure. There are no exports to the West Bank. They are not allowed.” The use of the term “export” to refer to the marketing of Gaza products in the West Bank, as if speaking about two different countries, shows the division caused by the barriers of the pccupation and its practices that have separated a population. “There is no international law in Gaza,” the farmer said. The farmers have to face not only the expenses of transportation, but also the costs of labor and the packaging. According another farmer in Beit Lahiya, a 2.5 kilogram crate for strawberries costs to twelve shekels, about three euros. They receive 25 shekels, or 5.25 euros, then earn 13 in profit.

Abu Sami. (Photo by Rosa Schiano)Abu Sami. (Photo by Rosa Schiano)

“In 1967, Beit Lahia has begun to grow strawberries,” Abu Sami, a farmer in Beit Lahiya, said. ”Here, before the arrival of the Palestinian Authority, we marketed our products as Israeli products through the Israeli company Agrexco. As Israeli products, not Palestinian products. Subsequently, the European countries called on Israel to allow the Palestinians to market their products as Palestinian and without taxes. Here we export many kinds of agricultural products such as beans, green zucchini, strawberries and many kinds of vegetables. We focus on the cash crop and flowers. After the siege, since 2006-2007, Israel closed the crossings and we could not export anymore. The European Union has called on Israel to allow the Palestinians to export their crops as Palestinian crops, but we should sell our products through Israeli companies.” He showed the cardboard box used to export strawberries, on which was printed the brand name of the Palestinian cooperative and the logo of the Israeli company Arava Export Growers.

“The Paris Agreement has tied the Palestinian economy to the Israeli economy,” Abu Sami continued. “Most Palestinian products go to Europe, and some to Russia. We asked to sell our products in the West Bank, but the Israeli authorities have refused. They told us, ‘this is a political decision.’”

Israeli companies also receive 6% from the exports of Palestinian products. ”The farmers here have lost a lot,” Abu Sami said. “Before 2005, we were planting approximately 2500 dunums. Now it’s only 700. We started planting herbs in Khan Younis and Rafah, green pepper, cherry tomato. At this time, the cost of strawberries in Europe is too low. We stopped the exports.” There will be meetings in the coming days, and the farmers will decide what to over the next few weeks. The cost of material is high. Farmers can not earn anything from the exports allowed to Europe. The more profitable market in the West Bank is closed to them.

The Paris Protocol, an agreement on economic relations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, was signed on 29th April 1994 as part of Oslo Agreements. It has made the Palestinian economy a prisoner of Israel, in both the productive sector and the trade of goods. Imports and exports are under complete control of Israel, which determines quantity, documents, customs, taxes and time.

Due to the ban on exports, the economic growth of the Gaza Strip is even more difficult. The economic growth could be possible not only with the resumption of exports to foreign markets, but especially through economic and trade exchanges with the West Bank.

UPDATE 3: Gaza still suffering from flood

By AIC, Photos by Ryan Rodrick Beiler
January 05, 2014

Weeks after record-setting winter storms hit the Middle East, the Gaza Strip was still struggling to cope with severe flooding of homes and businesses. Gaza City residents reported that local government officials were initially slow to respond to floodwaters that rose in just six to 12 hours. Civil defense forces had few available resources due to the Israeli seige, but also showed little evidence of advanced planning. Instead, most immediate assistance was provided by community members who organized fishing boats and other makeshift watercraft to rescue people from their homes.

Only two people are reported to have died in the storms, with others only suffering light injuries, but the UN estimates more than 10,000 were displaced, finding shelter in schools, police stations and relatives’ homes. Locals estimated that it would take nearly two weeks from the time of the storm to completely pump out the remaining floodwaters, allow residents to return to their homes.

Saturday Protest Vigil: Cast Lead 5 Years On

REMINDER: THIS SATURDAY [January 18th, 2014 ]

We will always remember!

Protest vigil – 5 years on from the end of Israel’s 2008/9 massacre in Gaza

Saturday 18 January 2014

12noon to 2pm

Opposite the Israeli Embassy in London, Kensington High Street, W8 5NP London (exit High Street Kensington Underground station – turn right and walk for 3 minutes).

End Israeli Attacks – End the Siege on Gaza

Join us to protest for justice for the victims of Israel’s massacre and against the ongoing siege on Gaza.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Palestinian Forum in Brittain
British Muslim Initiative
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Stop the War Coalition
Jews for Justice for Palestinians
Friends of Al-Aqsa UK
Liberal Democrats Friends of Palestine
War on Want
Unite the Union
Public and Commercial Services Union
Amos Trust

Support this event, join and share, spread the word, bring your friends and family, and please let us know if you can volunteer on the day!!

Facebook event:

More info:

Workers begin cleanup where floodwaters collapsed a portion of the Israeli border wall at the Erez Crossing.

Gaza residents endure even longer than usual delays as Israeli officials failed to establish alternative procedures to allow passage through the storm-damaged Erez Crossing terminal.

In the Al Nafaq area of Gaza City, floodwaters remained high days after the storm due to lack of electricity to run pumps and other limitations due to the Israeli siege.

Gaza emergency appeal: urgent message to all JfJfP signatories and supporters

JfJfP has received this urgent message for help (see below) from the Alternative Information Centre (AIC) which is based in Beit Sahour, Bethlehem. The email from AIC contains a heart-rending call that they themselves have received from Gaza about the desperate situation produced by the floods.

For more information on the floods, For more information on the floods, see these posts on the JfJfP website:
Crisis management will not make Gaza liveable and Darkness and sewage cover Gaza (before the recent storm and new flooding) as well as the rest of this posting.

This natural catastrophe has been compounded by the political issue of the blockade of Gaza, which has kept out fuel and the means to maintain Gazan infrastructure. The JfJfP Exec continues to maintain our stance that in the long term the only solution – rather than aid from the international community, which only perpetuates the situation and absolves Israel from responsibility – is the political solution of the complete and permanent lifting of the siege and the achievement of a just peace with the entire Palestinian people. Nonetheless, the floods are in themselves a natural disaster and the Gazans are in immense need of immediate short-term humanitarian aid. So we are putting out this urgent appeal to our signatories and supporters to give what you can to help the people of Gaza.

We recommend that you donate to the Gaza appeal of the British Shalom-Salaam Trust, our sister organisation. To do this, please go to where the various ways of sending funds to BSST are explained. BSST needs to know that your gift is for Gaza, so if you choose an electronic method of donation, please email to say that you have made a donation for Gaza.

or you could give to the the Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) appeal:

A fund that has been set up in Gaza itself is now closed, but click on this link to see a message from Gaza activists and photos taken by Majed Abu Salama.

Also see Majed’s latest tweets.

with many thanks from the JfJfP Executive.

Rescue workers use a fishing boat to move a family to safety. Photo by Khalil Hamra / AP


Dear all,

Since the grave humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is worsening, due to the freezing temperatures, shortage of fuel, electricity and the water flooding, hundreds of Palestinian are forcibly leaving their houses, seeking shelters in the schools.

They lost all their belongs, so they need OUR HELP!!!

On Tuesday morning a group of humanitarian workers {from the West Bank] will travel to Gaza and they want to bring clothes, blankets, shoes to the Strip, so we are making a collecting point in the AIC.

Please help us, come and bring any kind of clean warm clothes.

We received the call from Majed Abu Salame:

Are we really in the 2014 ?! It is #Gaza and we are back with history and ages.
I saw photos and was not able to go to visit many areas but i just came back from filming and taking photos in so many refugees areas, and I am now sick, everything is looking very old,cold, ugly, dusty ,sad, dark and I was just crying seeing people who left their homes with nothing except their clothes and their IDs, their homes are drowning because of sewage and water rains, Children are freezing, I was trying to touch their hands and feet, I am not sure if they feel their hands and legs at all, Iam so angry to see them not able to shower or change their clothes because they have nothing.

Guys I am appealing to you for an urgent help which some activists from Gaza can organize to buy some basic needs for this emergency like winter clothes, nylons, shoes , and other clothes which can protect them from the freezing weather. Can you help to send some donation soon, I mean now!?

Time to end Israel’s Gaza blockade

Letter to Guardian
Published 27/2 December 2013

Today marks five years since the Israeli military launched missile and ground attacks on Gaza, which Israel named Operation Cast Lead. According to the UN, 1,383 Palestinians died as a result, including 333 children.

And what of the survivors? For the 1.7 million living in the tiny Gaza Strip, life has become increasingly desperate because of Israel’s continuing blockade, backed by Egypt and with no effective challenge from governments around the world. The blockade has brought electricity cuts of 16 hours a day, which means the only street lights visible at night have been those from Israel’s nearby towns. The electricity shortages have severely affected almost all essential services, including health, water, sanitation and schooling. With waste plants not operating, Palestinian children have been wading through freezing sewage to attend school. The terrible floods in Gaza brought the promise of increased electricity supplies for a few weeks, but the international community must demand that supply is constant and permanent.

This blockade has also resulted in unacceptable limits on personal freedom. Most Palestinians are prevented from travelling outside Gaza, an area of 139 sq miles: about the same size, but much more densely populated, as Newcastle. It is deplorable for us to allow this continuing collective punishment against Palestinians in Gaza. We urge the UK government to take immediate action to bring an end to the blockade on Gaza.
Baroness Blackstone, Peter Bottomley MP, Richard Burden MP, Martin Caton MP, Katy Clark MP, Michael Connarty MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Alex Cunningham MP, Lord Dubs, Mark Durkan MP, Lord Dykes, John Hemming MP, Julian Huppert MP, Lord Hylton, Hugh Lanning, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Lord Judd, Caroline Lucas MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, George Mudie MP, Grahame Morris MP, Sandra Osborne MP, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, Rt Hon Dame Joan Ruddock MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Baroness Tonge, Yasmin Qureshi MP, David Ward MP, Mike Weir MP

Civil defence workers and local women in Gaza pull a boat to a family that must be moved to safety. Photo by Reuters.

Winter storm causes humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza

By Rasha Abou Jalal, translated by Sami-Joe Abboud, Palestine Pulse / Al Monitor
December 16, 2013

GAZA CITY — Two members of the civil defence forces in Gaza City helped citizens who had been displaced from their homes because of rain to cross a flooded road. They used the metal frame of an old refrigerator stuffed with cork as a boat for transportation, after almost all of the relief machinery and equipment stopped working due to the fuel and electricity crises racking the Gaza Strip.

A wave of extreme low pressure hit Palestinian territories on Dec. 10, amid cold winds that continued for several days.

Heavy rain caused a major humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip, flooding hundreds of houses in various provinces and neighborhoods, injuring dozens of people and closing a number of main and side streets.

According to the Ministry of Information in Gaza, 4,000 families were forced to leave their homes due to the extreme cold, and the government has offered in-kind assistance for 3,000 families.

Speaking to the Palestinian news agency Al-Rai, the information ministry’s Director-General Salamah Maarouf said that the government opened 13 shelters across the Gaza Strip, housing 1,183 families consisting of 5,000 people.

According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, 98 citizens were wounded, mostly in the towns of Khan Younis and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, as a state of emergency was announced by the ministry to cope with the extreme cold.

A spokesman for the ministry, Ashraf al-Qodra, told Al-Monitor that four citizens were seriously injured and that the rest of the injuries ranged between moderate and slight.

The residential areas adjacent to districts flooded with rainwater and located near sewage treatment pumps were the areas most affected by the deteriorating humanitarian situation. Their inhabitants were forced to completely evacuate their homes and resort to shelters and neighboring schools, after their houses were flooded with rainwater and sewage.

Workers use heavy lifting equipment and fishing boats to rescue people trapped in higher storeys. Photo by Khalil Hamra /AP

Amjad al-Attar, who lives next to an area flooded with rainwater in the neighborhood of Sheikh Radwan in Gaza City, said that the water coming from various regions kept filling the sewage system until it overflowed and caused a flood. The waters flooded the houses, damaged furniture and destroyed buildings.

Attar, who lives in a tin-roofed house with a sand floor that was mostly blown down by severe winds, had a harsh night after he was forced to flee with his children to a nearby school. “I woke up to the screams of my children, who almost drowned in the water that flooded our house. The waters nearly pulled them toward the sewage basin. I rushed to save them and was surprised to see that the water level had risen to about 150 cm [nearly 6 feet],” he told Al-Monitor.

The same scene that took place in the Sheikh Radwan basin was repeated in different areas, including the Abu Rashid basin, north of the Gaza Strip, and Wadi al-Salka basin in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, in addition to most of the residential areas adjoining sewage pumps. This led to sewage flooding these areas and forcing dozens of families to evacuate their houses.

Farida Abu Kweik, 82, spoke to Al-Monitor while she tried to help her son recover what remained of the furniture in their house adjoining the Abu Rashid basin, which flooded and displaced dozens of families. “Tens of millions of dollars were sent as aid to the Palestinian people in Gaza, but they were spent by the government to develop recreational and tourist areas. Wouldn’t it have been better if this money was invested in the building of more resilient infrastructure works, better sewage systems, and safer housing for poor and destitute families?” she said.

The director of the civil defence force’s public relations office, Muhammad al-Maidanah, reported that dozens of houses were flooded due to torrential rains, in addition to a number of main and side streets.

“The situation is catastrophic. Trees were uprooted; flying billboards and tin panels struck a number of citizens, wounding and breaking their bones. Water flooded hundreds of houses, while hundreds of cars became submerged in streets swamped with rainwater,” Maidanah told Al-Monitor.

He explained that all of Gaza Strip’s provinces met a similar fate, and pointed out that the province of Rafah, (at the extreme southern end of the Strip) was the hardest hit by the atmospheric low pressure area.

Rafah Mayor Subhi Abu Radwan stated to the local Safa news agency, “The Joint Operations Committee dealt with approximately 1,200 citizen reports in the city alone since the low pressure area arrived.” He said 44 of those reports involved flooded houses.

Local authorities faced the emergencies caused by the atmospheric low pressure area with primitive tools and minimal capabilities, due to the Israeli blockade that restricted imports of heavy equipment into Gaza, as well as the fuel shortage that put most available machinery out of service.

The head of civil defence, Youssef al-Zahar, told the Hamas-owned Al Aqsa satellite channel on Dec. 12, that the blockade and fuel crisis have exacerbated dangers and diminished the government and municipalities’ chances of adequately tackling the catastrophe. “The most we can do is erect sand berms in front of citizen’s homes to prevent water from flooding in,” Zahar said. He said this was the only option available for rescue and relief crews, in light of the blockade and lack of equipment.

Gaza Interior Minister Fathi Hamad also appealed to international organizations, as well as Arab and Muslim countries to save Gaza from this real humanitarian disaster. In a news conference held on Dec. 11 and attended by Al-Monitor, he said: “We are using dilapidated, primitive equipment to try and reach, save, and transport people to safe areas, where they would be safe from drowning. Yet, great difficulties stand in our way.”

Exacerbating the magnitude of suffering at this difficult time in the lives of Gazans was the fact that power outages had reached 30 consecutive hours in many provinces of the Strip.

In statements published by the local Al Quds newspaper on Dec. 12, the public relations officer at the electric distribution company tasked with delivering power to the provinces, Jamal al-Dirdasawi, said that malfunctions crashed the three main power lines coming from the Israeli side to feed northern areas of the Strip and some neighbourhoods of northern Gaza City. A fourth line which supplied eastern Khan Yunis with electricity also went down, in addition to the line coming from Egypt. He appealed to all parties to save the Gaza Strip from a real disaster, as the limited amount of available electric power was being exhausted.

Pope Francis: his first words on the proper place of the Catholic church being with the poor sparked hope among millions including Palestinians, who hope he will use his authority to address their poverty of things material and spiritual.

Open Christmas Letter to Pope Francis on Gaza

By Vacy Vlazna, Palestine Chronicle
December 18, 2013

Your Holiness,

In desperation, in December a campaign was launched appealing to you to help release the suffering people of Gaza from the genocidal strangulation of the Israeli seven year blockade.

There is no world leader other than yourself who possesses the moral strength, the political freedom and the spiritual imperative to help Gaza. There is noone of global influence to whom the Gazans can turn except Your Holiness.
Through your words and actions, we see the same star that heralded the advent of Gandhi, of Mandela, of Jesus. It’s light – the spiritual simplicity of love for the human family, for the oppressed, for the poor, is again penetrating human hearts and consciences.

It shone bright when you went to Lampedusa, the refugee purgatory, drawing world attention to the “globalization of indifference”.

We are a society that has forgotten the experience of weeping, of “suffering with”: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!…..We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business…..Herod sowed death in order to defend his own well-being, his own soap bubble. And this continues to repeat itself. (Lampedusa Homile.)

Today’s Israeli Herods have systematically made Gaza a hell on earth by imposing a blockade in violation of international law that has made Gaza an open air concentration camp imprisoning 1.7 million innocent people, half of whom are children.
As the world makes merry this festive season, the people of Gaza have deliberately been deprived of fuel by Israel for two months: they suffer in freezing temperatures, with no electricity, no light, no heat, scarcity of food, no essential services, when the waste water treatment plant stopped functioning sewage flooded the streets- then kicking families while they are down so low, Israel opened dams east of Gaza drowning hope and the last vestiges of normal life.

Police distribute bread by boats to people whose houses were flooded, Gaza, December 14, 2013. Photo by Reuters

Imagine truly if this Christmas you were were in Gaza, ‘suffering with” Gazan families, and you have no place to run, can’t get medical help for your hungry and cold children, can’t cook, clean their clothes, keep them dry, warm, safe, happy.

Meanwhile the Christian kings of the ‘free world’, Obama, Cameron, Merkel, Hollande, Abbott will attend Christmas mass under a blaze of cameras and their own cruel hypocrisy in full knowledge that the Gaza humanitarian disaster, unlike the Philippines, is man-made. Herod-made. Nor they will lift a finger to bring the gifts of justice, compassion and love to Gaza’s immiserated manger.

Speaking of ‘manger’, doesn’t it strike you as bizarre and unChristian that Christians have for decades overlooked or tolerated that Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Divine Child, is in illegal occupied territory and surrounded by the illegal Annexation/Apartheid wall enforced by the Israeli military?

And speaking of Palestine’s military occupier, unconscionably, Israeli Herods sow death to raise the profits of Israel’s armament juggernaut. In his recent shocking documentary, The Lab, Yotam Feldman exposes how Palestinians have been dehumanised as sacrificial guinea pigs:

I think the main product Israelis are selling, especially in the last decade, is experience… the testing of the products, the experience is the main thing they [customers] are coming to buy. They want the missile that was shot in the last operation in Gaza or the rifle that was used in the last West Bank incursion.

Inevitably, the profits soared in 2009/10 after surgical strikes by F16s, attack helicopters drones, and phosphorous bombs slaughtered 1400 Gazans, one third of whom were children and again in November 2012. The blood and the weeping never dries up in the Gazan soul.

The blockade of Gaza is the crime of the 21st century and is integral to Israel’s 65 years of war crimes, crimes against humanity, apartheid polices, state terrorism and illegal colonisation perpetrated against the indigenous people of Palestine. Gaza/Palestine is also the great lament in the sacred heart of humanity. It is crying out. Will you respond? Please.

In your Lampedusa homily, you pose two questions that call our spirit to live in solidarity with the poor, with the oppressed, “Adam, where are you?” “Where is the blood of your brother?”. These questions are versions of the quintessential question, Who am I?

And in this instance who is Pope Francis? Whose shoes do you step into – The Fisherman’s or caesar’s?
The signs of your papacy are hope-filled.

The 1968 film, The Shoes of the Fisherman, based on Morris West’s novel, portrays a spiritually pragmatic pope of profound compassion who sells off the Vatican treasures to alleviate the lethal poverty of Communist China.

The film also drew inspiration from the Archbishop of Venice, the beloved Albino Luciani, who later became, for a shimmer of time and light, Pope John Paul I. Over the years, Luciani had condemned “the hypocrisy of the Vatican treasures”. (White Light, Dark Night, p144, Lucien Gregoire)

Of Luciani and Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), Gregoire writes,

During the twenty years they served as bishop and cardinal, each of their countries suffered from an immense orphan problem – about two million in each country. During that time Wojtyla built and dedicated fifty-three churches and not a single orphanage. Luciani, on the other hand, built and dedicated forty-four orphanages and not a single church.

(p 141)

Like Luciani, you, Pope Francis, mingle with your flock and criticise the ‘idolatry of money’ and the ‘new tyranny’ of capitalism.

Unlike the ultraconservative John Paul II and Benedict, who between them destroyed Latin American liberation theology and plunged the Church into the dark ages of Opus Dei fascism, you are rebuilding the church as a ‘house of joy’ and taking a path never travelled by previous popes.

Gandhi fasted and marched with humility for justice. Mandela, with humility, sacrificed 27 years for justice. So when you see the glittering lights of the Christmas tree in St Peter’s Square, may you reflect on the wretched darkness in Gaza and know that peace on earth doesn’t exist without peace in Gaza and all of Palestine. Peace for Palestinians is your and our business.

Gaza doesn’t need Vatican treasures, it needs liberation to live fully and humanly.

We, who respect justice and human dignity, have just lost the presence of Mandela but, Inch’Allah and God Willing, we have gained you, Pope Francis.

Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.

Gaza and Bedouin emergency: situation overview

December 14, 2013

A winter storm, among the strongest recorded in recent decades, hit the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) on 11 December. It has been characterized by strong winds, heavy rains, low temperatures and, in some areas, heavy snowfall, and has generated humanitarian needs in multiple locations. The storm is exacerbating the already poor humanitarian situation for large segments of the population, particularly those living in the Gaza Strip and in herding communities located across Area C of the West Bank.

A herder near Nablus begins to move his sheep out of the snow. Photo by Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty Images

In the Gaza Strip, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated in recent months due to an acute fuel and energy crisis, and the long standing restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip. The fuel and energy crisis has included the shutdown of the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) on 1 November, triggering increased power outages, from 12, to 16 hours, a day. The situation was worsened due to damage sustained by electricity feeder lines from Egypt and Israel on 12 December. Although the lines were repaired by the end of 13 December, the storm has continued to result in damage to the electricity distribution network. The most essential services have been supplied with emergency fuel to operate back-up generators. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah announced the purchase of 450,000 litres of industrial fuel, designated for the GPP, through a USD 10 million donation from Qatar. The donated fuel is slated for entry to Gaza on 15 December through the Kerem Shalom crossing, and eventually, will allow for the partial resumption of operations at the GPP. The Israeli authorities have also announced an extension of the operating hours of the crossing to 12 hours per day.

The water and sewage infrastructure in the Gaza Strip was overstretched and partially non-operational prior to the storm. As of 21:00, 14 December, several water storm lagoons and pumping stations across Gaza city have overflowed, flooding extensive residential areas. The number of affected people is being currently assessed. The Gaza Municipality declared a state of emergency and requested families to evacuate the affected areas. Heavy flooding has occurred across Gaza since 12 December, resulting in the displacement of approximately 10,000 people to temporary shelters and relatives’ homes. This figure is expected to increase. While the Israeli authorities supplied Gaza with four mobile water pumps, another five pumps are urgently needed.

On 13 December, the Erez Crossing with Israel was flooded and rendered inaccessible. Medical evacuations to hospitals in the West Bank and Israel will be temporarily carried out through Kerem Shalom Crossing, normally used for goods. Initial reports indicate that one infant died as a result of the cold and nearly 100 were injured in storm-related accidents.

Over 20 per cent of greenhouses and 10 per cent of open fields crops in Gaza have been flooded or damaged, further undermining vulnerable livelihoods. Food insecurity remains high in Gaza (57 per cent) and thus the impact on food prices and access to food for vulnerable people will need to be closely monitored in the coming days.

In the West Bank, the impact has been of concern as well, characterized by a lack of access to multiple areas. The governorates most affected by the snow, reaching over one metre in some places, are Nablus, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron. Other areas in the northern West Bank (Salfit, in particular) have been affected by heavy rainfall, which has caused flooding and damage to homes. Electricity outages have been widespread, including 80 per cent of Ramallah City during the first day of the storm, among many other areas. UNRWA is closely monitoring the situation in the 19 refugee camps in the West Bank, with several instances of flooding and domestic fires, requiring evacuation or assistance being reported. Emergency Psychosocial Support Teams have been responding to hundreds of calls for assistance, however, the number of families and children reached has been limited due to access constraints and power shortfalls.

The lack of adequate planning and inability to obtain building permits has contributed to the precarious nature of housing and animal shelters in many herder communities in Area C of the West Bank, compounding the impact of the extreme weather; several herding communities had their structures demolished one day before the storm hit, prompting the UN Humanitarian Coordinator to call again for a halt to demolitions due to their humanitarian impact. This population has been also affected by significant livestock losses due to the storm and it is anticipated that further losses will occur due to the spreading of diseases.

Humanitarian Needs and Response

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Gaza Strip
As of 21:00, 14 December, several water storm lagoons and pumping stations across Gaza city had overflowed, flooding extensive residential areas (the number of affected people is being currently assessed); a few water pumps and generators were rendered non-operational. The Municipality declared a state of emergency and requested families to evacuate the following affected areas:

● Sheik Radwan Storm Water lagoon: the flooded area is estimated to 4km2 and around three metres deep. Pumping from Sheik Radwan lagoon towards the sea is taking place 24 hours a day with a capacity of (700-1,000) m3 per hour.

● Al Manara Storm Water pump station generator (200 kilo volt ampere – KVA) and the Sewage PS5 generator (650 KVA) overflowed and are non-operational; size of affected area is being currently assessed.

● Az Zaiton and Asqula areas: the flooded area is estimated to be 3km2 and around 1.5 metres deep.

● Sewage Pumping Station 7B, including its 1100 KVA generator, was flooded; the station is now operating on a stand-by generator, 800 KVA,located on the roof of the station.

● American Friendship lagoon (Tofah) Area: the flooded area is estimated to be 1km2 and around 0.5 metre deep.
Al Malalha area: the flooded area is estimated to be 1km2. The area is being drained 24 hours by Municipality suction trucks, in addition to a mobile pump with a capacity of 70-100 m3 per hour.

The situation in Khan Yunis has also reached a critical stage; as of 20:00 hours, 14 December, Al Amal pond, a 500,000 m2, over 5 metre deep pond for rainwater collection, is expected to overflow, putting 20,000 people at risk of displacement.

Many homes across the Gaza Strip have been affected by the collapse of cesspits, which lead to further flooding, mixed with sewage.

West Bank
Flooding of residential areas due to the limited capacity of sewage systems has been widespread, however, it is estimated that they have not required the evacuation of people.

The Old City of Hebron has been flooded, affecting hundreds of shops; the lack of adequate infrastructure has been compounded by the presence of roadblocks, placed by Israeli forces to control Palestinian pedestrian movement in the area, impeding the flow of storm water.

The Israeli authorities, in coordination with UNSCO, facilitated the access of four mobile pumps to the CMWU, which are now operational in Gaza City, Khan Yunis and Rafah.

On 12 December, UNRWA and the ICRC provided some 64,000 litres of fuel to water and sewage installations to operate generators and prevent further flooding. UNRWA is currently distributing an additional 20,000 litres.
Gaza municipality, along with the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA), is currently supporting the evacuation of families from flooded areas.

Efforts continue to obtain five additional mobile pumps with a capacity of 200 m3 per hour from outside Gaza. The four pumps already supplied are smaller than the requested size.
Additional fuel support to operate stand-by generators.

Shelter and NFIs [Non food items]
In the Gaza Strip, as of 21:00 hours, 14 December, approximately 10,000 persons have been evacuated from their homes as a result of flooding. The most affected areas are North Gaza and Gaza City where over 1,500 houses suffered damage due to water entering houses, damaging furniture and electricity networks. Some houses had their roof sheets blown off due to heavy winds. Those displaced or trapped in their flooded homes require a range of NFIs.

Thousands of homes and shelters in the West Bank sustained damage, however, the precise scope of the phenomenon remains unclear, in part due to the lack of access to extensive areas; in the Hebron Governorate, at least 300 people have been displaced in herding and Bedouin communities.

In Gaza, as of 21:00 hours, 14 December, emergency shelter has been provided to 1,129 displaced families (5,246 individuals), who were evacuated to 10 government schools, one UNRWA school, and three community centers, while the remaining families sought refuge with relatives.

In Gaza, PRCS, Islamic Relief-Pal, Save the Children, MoSA and UNRWA have distributed a total of 2,042 plastic and tarpaulin sheets, 926 blankets, 1,208 mattresses, 18 mats, 8 gas stoves, 6 kitchen sets and 174 cleaning and hygiene kits, to those displaced or affected by floodings.

In the West Bank, PRCS teams reached approximately 100 affected families and provided them with hundreds of plastic sheets, mattresses, blankets, heaters, and kitchen kits. UNRWA distributed 116 blankets, 19 food parcels, 6 kitchen kits, and 3 heaters in 19 refugee camps.

Child Protection partners are supporting the distribution of NFIs to the most affected communities in Gaza and the West Bank and providing psychosocial support, where possible.

Shelter repairs are being carried out by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and other local partners across the oPt.

In Gaza, 800 mattresses and blankets to families who moved in with their relatives, as well as 700 plastic and tarpaulin sheets to fortify shelters in Al Moghraga area of Gaza City, are needed. Access to some areas remains difficult and boats have to be used to reach families that remained in their shelters.

Approximately 30 families living in ten Bedouin communities in the northern Jordan Valley require emergency assistance.
The PRCS reported that their NFI stocks are running low and are liaising with the ICRC to replenish them, mainly plastic sheeting and tarpaulin.

The longstanding shortages of cooking gas continue.

Food security
In the West Bank, WFP, UNRWA and the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) received dozens of food assistance requests for affected families, the majority of whom come from herding communities in Tubas, Jericho and Hebron governorates.

The MoSA in Gaza is preparing a request for WFP to provide emergency food assistance to displaced families who continue to take emergency shelter in public buildings.

Due to the adverse weather conditions, as well as an UNRWA strike in the West Bank, regular food distribution cycles have been suspended and are expected to resume over the course of next week.

In Gaza, at the request of the MoSA, WFP provided assistance to 794 families heavily affected by the storm, through a weekly family ration of ready to eat food.

The PRCS and the MoSA distributed at least 490 bread packs on 13 December.


In the West Bank, UNRWA distributed food parcels to over 30 refugee families affected by floods and damaged shelters. WFP provided in kind food assistance to 8 families and food vouchers to 20 families in Massafer Yatta in southern Hebron. Food assistance (in kind and via vouchers) to an additional 200 families, mostly in herding communities in Tubas, Jericho and Hebron, is being prepared.

The main constraint faced currently in the West Bank is the closure of roads due to the accumulation of snow, especially in Hebron Governorate, impeding the conduct of needs assessments.

Urgent funding for WFP’s regular caseload is required to address critical shortfalls, as of January 2014. In particular, donor support will be required for the food pipeline that supports the MoSA food distributions and vouchers in Gaza and the West Bank.


In Gaza, it is estimated that the agricultural damages are mainly in northern Gaza, with 390 dunum of greenhouses and 2,100 dunums of open field planted with vegetables were damaged and in need of repair (over 10 per cent of greenhouses and field crops).

According to PARC’s initial assessment, 50 animal pens were damaged, and 120,000 chicks and 200 heads of livestock died as a result of the weather.

In the West Bank, preliminary reports of damages to the livestock sector are emerging from Hebron, Bethlehem and Salfit. Bedouin and herding communities seem to be the most affected. Herders are expected to face increasing livestock fatalities and morbidity in the coming weeks.

Decrease in milk production among ewes in the current lambing season is expected across the oPt, as well as high risk of diarrhoea among small lambs aged up to a month and a half. The situation could have significant implications to the 27,000 livestock owners in the West Bank and nearly 6,300 in Gaza, that possess around 973,000 heads of small ruminants, cattle and poultry.

Assistance is expected to reach affected areas during the coming week. Food Security members active in agriculture are looking at two emergency responses: provision of fodder and powder milk to affected herders in the West Bank, and rehabilitation of greenhouses in Gaza.

Due to difficulty in access, no emergency response to date has been provided to farmers and herders.

Rescue and evacuation to hospitals: Civil defense led the rescue of affected people and the PRCS provided the ambulance services.

Ministry of Health announced the emergency at its hospitals. Hospitals in the West Bank are working normally and providing health services to the urgent cases they receive.

According to PRCS, 24 injuries as a result of road accidents were referred to hospitals. The ambulance crews and emergency response teams provided first aid and transportation to hospitals for 90 cases for chronic patients (Heart disease, kidney dialysis) and child birth.

Lack of access of ambulance services, due to the road closures by snow and the low capacity in opening the roads outside the main cities.

All schools across the oPt have closed and classes suspended until further notice
17 schools in the Gaza Strip have been turned into emergency shelters
Five schools in the Gaza Strip have been flooded; no reports about school damage in the West Bank

Response and Gaps
In the Gaza Strip key UN and governmental organizations have been involved in monitoring the situation and coordinating responses: UNRWA has set up an operations room; the CMWU is following on up on WASH needs and requirements, including with Israel, with the support of UNSCO; the MoSa is coordinating the needs assessments and distribution of food and NFIs with various actors in the food security sector. OCHA has been liaising with all the above bodies to facilitate their efforts.

The Israeli Ministry of Defence (COGAT) called for a meeting with key international donors and diplomats on 14 December to discuss potential measures to address the current crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The overall response coordination in the West Bank has been led by the various Governorate offices, along with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the Palestinian Civil Defense. Cluster and sector leads have been working closely with their counterparts in key ministries and field coordination has been ongoing between the national and international partners, with the support of OCHA, to optimize existing capacities and avoid overlaps.

OCHA has also established an inter-agency online database, to track needs and response at the community level. Clusters coordinators and governmental counterparts are feeding information into this system.

The Humanitarian Country Team held an extraordinary meeting on 14 December, led by the Humanitarian Coordinator, James Rawley, focusing on the assessment and response to the extreme weather. The Inter-Cluster Coordination Group would be meeting in the coming days to continue coordinating assessments and response.

Ongoing needs assessments by various humanitarian actors, aimed at identifying the scope of interventions and funding required to address the impacts of the storm, will continue during the coming days.

The 2013 Consolidated Appeal (CAP) is 63 per cent funded. However, funding has been uneven across Sectors and Clusters. Key sectors for the current response, such as WASH and Agriculture have received low funding, with only 31 and 42 per cent of requested funds met, respectively. Protection Cluster projects received 63 per cent funding; however, of these, none of the nine shelter-related projects received full funding, and four received zero funding.

Since the 2013 CAP is due to expire in two weeks, OCHA will coordinate a joint review of projects included in the 2014 Strategic Response Plan of the Humanitarian Program Cycle (HPC) to highlight to donors those to be prioritized to meet the emerging needs from the storm, as well as those projects requiring revision. OCHA has also encouraged partners to consider applying to the Emergency Response Fund (ERF), which provides rapid funding to NGOs and UN agencies to support humanitarian activities in emergencies. So far no application has been submitted.

Below: no amount of snow can conceal The Wall. Photo Ma’an images

Winter storm causes deaths, destruction in Middle East

December 16, 2013

At least four people were reported dead as the torrential rain and snow began to subside Saturday after hammering Israel, the Palestinian territories and other nations for three days.

Hundreds of Gaza Strip families were forced to evacuate their homes in boats and rafts as heavy flooding rose to second-story levels during the heaviest winter storm to hit the region in decades.

In a rare appeal, Hamas authorities in Gaza requested assistance from Israel, via the United Nations. Israel opened the Kerem Shalom crossing to Gaza to allow gas for heating and other humanitarian aid into the Strip, as well as pumps to clear flooded areas.

According to Israeli military officials, an Israeli-Palestinian command centre was also set up to coordinate power, traffic control and other systems affected by the weather in the West Bank.

In Lebanon, a makeshift bucket brigade hauled 14 pails of mud and slush from the tent that Um Mahmoud shares with a dozen other Syrian refugees in a ramshackle settlement here in the Bekaa Valley, now blanketed with snow that lends an alpine sheen to the rugged stretch that extends to the Syrian border.

The weekend’s blizzard was but a preview, with the muddy quagmire that is the aftermath certain to be seen again.(AP)

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