by David Halpin | Information Clearing House | 2 November 2004
11/02/04 "ICH" The sea was warm. A kingfisher perched momentarily atop a rusting reinforcing rod with a tiny fish in its bill. Its iridescent beauty was a glistening tear drop on the face of this weeping land. Strings of boats were streaming out of the harbour with the powerful mother ship towing the tiddlers astern. The Prophet in action. Later they would become the long skein of lights lying 5 kilometres from shore all night. They strayed no further mind you because the sea is also occupied in addition to the land and the air.
I am here to advance the work of the charity I founded with the voyage of the Dove and the Dolphin in February last year. The second object of this charity is ‘to relieve poverty, distress and hardship among the Palestinian people and to promote the welfare of Palestinian children’. I was also here to be a witness and to stand with my Palestinian brothers and sisters. I wanted to see this part of Palestine again 2004 years since the birth of the Christ 80 miles away and in the 56th year of the nakba (catastrophe – literally the story of the falling down).
I entered through the Erez ‘crossing’ 5 days ago. The place was deserted apart from Nabil Sha’ath, a Palestinian Authority minister plus his wife and little girl. After passing the rifles I was put through the ‘milking machines’ as the Palestinians call them. This is a series of turnstiles and automated gates designed to ‘process’ up to 120,000 folk who went north each day to work before the second intifada ( shaking loose the chains). Thence followed a very lonely walk down the 300 metre long concrete tunnel. I was welcomed on the one hand by a smiling Yousef, the taxi driver, and on the other by a ‘blimp’ at 1000 ft with its suspended camera and a circling ‘drone’ higher up (?armed or for surveillance). We drove through Beit Hanoun, Beit Jahlia and Jabalya and scenes of devastation that would match World War battlegrounds. In this land though there was no opposing force but flea bite Kalashnikovs and a few RPG’s only. Dozens upon dozens of homes and businesses had been raized in these last few weeks. Later I saw the human wreckage that survived.
Gaza has slid further towards anarchy since I visited in September last year. Side arms were being worn by some and one night the porter carried a Kalashnikov in the hotel where I was the sole guest. I sat with Dr Iyyad Sarraj one night in his garden under the early moon. He is prominent in Palestine and he has concentrated his skills that were partly learnt at the Royal Maudsley Hospital into caring for the psychological scars caused by devils from without. Automatic rifle fire crackled in a nearby street for an hour at least. He told me this was probably between the Musa Arafat and Dahlan factions. I said it would be music to Likud and that it was the natural spawn of a 56 yr old occupation. Overhead a drone circled but its note was lower; it was probably a different machine and carried a rocket or two in its womb.
I returned to Jabalya which first arose as a refugee camp in 1948 when people were being swept southwards by terror and killing. I filmed a tense and angry populace wading through sewage in the town centre where the central food market sits. Degradation was being heaped on loss and pain. The foul drainage has to cope with an enlarging and hemmed in population but it was likely that the ‘incursions’ had stopped the sewage pumps in downing the power poles and lines. Only those who have forked tongues would use the word ‘incursion’.
What these people witnessed were massive military assaults by the most advanced tanks backed up by Apache helicopters above and Caterpillar D9 armoured bulldozers behind. The tank columns entered the Gaza strip at Zeitoun. Over 50 were counted. I later interviewed a father of six who had spent 4 days cowering in his bedroom. He described the fears and deprivations of his own and other families. His own substantial house remained standing alone whilst others and the mosque were rubble. The pillars had been buckled by the D9. Perhaps the driver had heard the apologist for My Lai, General Colin Powell and Secretary of State, calling for ‘restraint’. 130 folk died in these invasions. 500 were injured and 250 were judged as having a likely permanent disability. 40% of the latter group were children ie under 18 years of age.
I will describe only one of the children I saw in the Shifa and Al Wafah hospitals.
One girl of thirteen in whom shrapnel (recall the origin of the word) had penetrated by her right hip and then ploughed through vessels and gut into a sacro-iliac joint. She had had her tummy opened thrice in the thirteen days since injury. Her mother was pleased that Allah had preserved her life but it was ebbing I thought. If she survived she would have a numb and lifeless leg due to a sciatic nerve injury at its root. Others were certainly surviving but with gross disabilities.
The heartless cynics at home say ‘it will get a lot worse before it gets better’. But it will not be involving them – directly. The US servant Kofi Annan murmurs some honeyed words of disapproval. On arrival back here I learn that the zealot Blair has told Israel that it has no better friend than Britain. And where do the indigenous peoples of the Holy land and of the Balfour Declaration fit into that hierarchy of friendship Mr Blair?
All I know is that if Israel obeyed just one of the dozens of UN resolutions it has flouted then these people would heave a sigh of relief and get on with life in the 22% of historic Palestine remaining to them, the lion’s share having gone to the Zionist dream. Resolution 242 requires withdrawal to the Green Line of 1967 as well as from the many dozens of illegal settlements. Must there be a crescendo of suffering, an Armageddon, before the master retreats?
David Halpin FRCS E-mail