[HCCN] an account of Gaza

Judy Robbins jrobbins at mainecoastmail.com
Tue Feb 3 19:44:51 EST 2009

Aid worker: Gaza an "apocalypse"
Mel Frykberg, The Electronic Intifada, 3 February 2009

RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - As fears rise of renewed  
violence in Gaza, Elena Qleibo, a French-Costa Rican aid worker from  
Oxfam, gives IPS a first-hand account of surviving Israel's three- 
week bombardment of Gaza.

Excerpts from her account:

I was attending a meeting at Gaza City municipality on 27 December  
when suddenly the meeting was interrupted by heavy booming sounds  
coming from a short distance away.

Plumes of smoke were rising from a number of bombed areas surrounding  
the building I was in. I and a number of colleagues rushed outside to  
try and establish what was happening.

Mayhem and confusion reigned as shocked Gazans realized they were  
coming under a sustained attack from warships off the coast and  
aerial bombardments from fighter jets circling the skies above. Later  
on as I tried to gather more information from people in my  
neighborhood, many appeared in a state of incomprehension at the  
ferocity of the assault.

I am a cultural anthropologist, and first decided to make Gaza City  
my home in 2004 after living and working in the occupied Palestinian  
territories for a number of years. My first visit to Gaza was in 1987  
during the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

During my years in Gaza I witnessed a lot of violence and upheaval  
during previous Israeli military attacks but never before had I seen  
devastation on this scale.

When Hamas took over Gaza in July 2007, I was forced to spend many  
nights on my apartment floor as gunfights erupted in the streets  
below, but the bloodshed and destruction was a fraction of what I  
recently witnessed.

During the early days of the campaign, I was dreadfully worried about  
the people who would inevitably be killed and maimed as I watched the  
bombs raining down around me on densely populated neighborhoods.

As the nightmarish days of Israel's military operation turned into  
weeks, I tried to spend a fair amount of time in my apartment and  
only ventured outdoors during the daily three-hour lull period in  
order to try and coordinate the delivery of emergency food and aid  
packages to the wounded, starving and dying Gazans who were trapped  
in their homes.

Sometimes I wasn't sure which was safer, remaining indoors to avoid  
being bombed in the streets or leaving my apartment to seek shelter  
elsewhere in the event my building was bombed.

One day as I was looking out my apartment window I saw fast moving  
plumes of what at first appeared to be smoke coming from Israeli  
planes in the skies over Gaza City. At first I thought they might be  
tear gas but then realized this was very unlikely as the trails were  
coming down way too quickly.

As the "smoke" blew my way it had a very acrid and rancid smell, I  
then realized it might be a chemical weapon which could cause serious  
injuries. I quickly closed my windows and curtains and hid in the  
inner rooms of my apartment. Fortunately the wind then blew the fumes  
away. I later found out that these were phosphorous bombs.

The scale of devastation and destruction became evident towards the  
end of Israel's military assault, codenamed Operation Cast Lead.  
During the first days of the ceasefire, my mind wandered back to my  
first visit in Gaza when I had been overwhelmed at the beauty and  
potential of the place.

It was summer 1987 and I had just returned from a refreshing morning  
swim in a turquoise, clean sea lapping on a deserted powdery beach. I  
picked some white sea lilies before joining a family of close friends  
for a delicious breakfast of fresh green figs.

The family began to prepare lunch, which we later ate in the orchard.  
Gaza was full of fruit trees back then. One of the most poignant  
memories I have is the almost suffocating fragrance of orchards of  
orange blossoms when I first passed through Beit Hanoun, in northern  
Gaza, on my way to Gaza city.

As I look at what remains of Gaza now an apocalypse would describe  
the situation accurately. Much of Beit Hanoun's trees, orchards and  
greenery had already been leveled or uprooted during previous Israeli  
incursions. But now the foliage and orchards are only a memory.

People are mostly exhausted and bereft of hope. But the head of one  
agricultural association that I visited voiced cautious optimism that  
he might be able to export two million flower buds that were stored  
in refrigerators and had miraculously survived destruction.

I traveled to Beit Lahiya, also in northern Gaza, recently to visit  
some of Oxfam's beneficiaries. The strawberry fields, chicken farms  
and cow pastures were gone. The stench of dead and decaying animals  
was choking.

Amongst the mountains of rubble that remained of homes, flattened  
either by F-16s or Merkava tanks, people were gingerly picking their  
way through, trying to salvage a few family items and attempting to  
clean away the debris.

Other residents were too numb to do anything, and just sat around in  
groups drinking tea. Even the dogs looked stunned, and instead of  
barking at us as they usually do when we pass, they just stared at us.

The worst hit areas appeared in one area of Jabaliya refugee camp on  
the outskirts of Gaza City. It used to be a nice neighborhood with  
double-storey homes and neatly paved roads. Two houses remain. Some  
people sat in tents while others sat on what remained of their homes.

Approximately 50,000 Gazans were displaced during the fighting. The  
UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) told me several days ago  
that about 14,000 people had tried to return home only to find there  
was nothing to return to.

These people are staying in temporary shelters as UNRWA and the World  
Food Programme (WFP) tries to bring a semblance of normality back to  
their shattered lives by providing temporary shelter, food and water.  
Schools that were damaged are being repainted and rebuilt in a bid to  
provide a less traumatic environment for children.

The destruction is overwhelming to the point where it is sometimes  
hard to know where to begin after basic necessities have been provided.

Aid is slowly coming in but a lot more is needed. I feel very grim  
about the future. There are so many people, breadwinners in  
particular, who are amputees and seriously maimed. They will forever  
be aid-dependent and unable to live normal lives or support their  

All rights reserved, IPS - Inter Press Service (2009). Total or  
partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.

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