A month after the ceasefire, the CMEC Chairman Hugo Swire MP and Adam Holloway MP, visited the Gaza Strip and Ashkelon to see what life was like for Israelis and Palestinians after the recent conflict. During their visit to Ashkelon they witnessed the damage to the city’s infrastructure from rockets fired from Gaza. They also spoke with residents of Ashkelon about the 10-second rocket warning system and how their lives are affected by the rockets.
Despite a day’s delay at the Erez crossing the delegates were finally given clearance by the Israeli Defence Forces to enter Gaza where they began an intensive programme hosted by the United Nations Works and Relief Agency, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.
First the group visited Abed Rabbo in Northern Gaza that was almost entirely razed to the ground during the 22 day conflict. Here they spoke to a number of residents about the human cost of the war that left 13 Israelis and 1,300 Palestinians dead. Notable among these was Mr Khaled Mohammed, who recounted to the delegates the story of the death of his daughters at the hands of the Israeli army, and how he was prevented from taking his injured family members to hospital. His story was also reported by Donald MacIntyre in the Independent shortly after the ceasefire and can be read here.
Mr Swire and Mr Holloway also visited the site of the American International School attacked during the last night of Operation Cast Lead and one of 240 schools damaged by the IDF. After the visit Hugo Swire MP commented, “this school provided an education for the children of Gaza’s educated elite and its strong ties to the USA meant it even used an American curriculum. How on earth could it have been targeted as ‘infrastructure of terror’?”.
Next the delegates drove through an industrial zone where they witnessed the widespread damage to businesses including the only cement factory in the Palestinian territories which is now totally dysfunctional. Many of the businessmen had strong commercial links with Israel and both practiced and promoted trade with their Israeli partners.
The delegates met with John Ging, Director of UNWRA Gaza, in the UN compound that was also attacked during the conflict ruined thousands of pounds worth of aid supplies from Western donors. Mr Ging briefed the MPs on the emergency relief efforts which are being hindered by Israel’s border closures that restrict the immediate delivery of vital medical and food supplies. The group were told that approximately 14,000 Palestinian homes were damaged or destroyed and the displaced now live in tents and rely on the food distributions of UNWRA and other NGOs.
The MPs took time to meet with civil society representatives who stated clearly that their main priority was for Israel to open the crossing points. “We do not need aid, we have businessmen, engineers, doctors and professors, we need job opportunities not hand outs from the West. If the crossings are opened it will generate trade and employment. We need the international community to push Israel to lift the embargo. We are living in an open air prison”.
Adam Holloway MP, said after the visit:
“In my previous life as a soldier but mainly as a TV reporter, I spent quite a bit of time in the darker corners of Europe and the Middle East. I was really rather taken aback at the ferocity of the assault on Gaza, and the grip on its people by Hamas. I do not know what Israel was supposed to have done otherwise in the face of Hamas, but it was probably not that. And now we have the perfect incubator of extremism: a people cut off by Israel and Egypt, who do not seem to blame Hamas for the carnage wrought by Israel, a deliberately destroyed infrastructure, zero jobs, Hamas food parcels and an underfunded UN. ”