Early Sunday AM at home. Got back yesterday evening. It is 9 hours later in my body, but most importantly it is 9 hours later now in Gaza. That means 4 PM in Gaza. Now there is a face on that hour, and what all our new friends are doing at this time. The clinics are ending their day, people are heading home. Just as we do on every work day. It looks so different in that life in Gaza is SO inherently harder than is my life here. But, I am overall amazed at how really similar we are. What it has meant for me to go there is that there is a face on this place where we are told terrorists abound. Sure, there are some "bad" people everywhere, but my impressions from Gaza are so totally the opposite of the "terrorist" narrative.
From the people of Gaza--There is such a yearning for peace and justice. I NEVER once heard of the desire to wipe Israel out or to claim back all of the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. I heard of the desire to find a partner in Israel with whom there could be honest negotiations for justice and from that would be the sweetest peace. EVERYONE is so ready for that. Every Palestinian in Gaza can tell you the exact place where their, or their parents', or their grandparents' villages were located. It is so true that many still have keys to the homes they can never go back to. They can all tell of the Naqba, and of the "darkest days" of Operation Cast Lead, and on and on. And yet, there is not a pervasive bitterness--yes, there is a healthy anger. Wouldn't we all feel that way if we were driven from our land, then treated to occupation, bombings, ongoing war and sealed borders? Some sort of just compensation is needed. The siege, occupation and imprisonment of the Palestinians has to stop.
One important focus was on the pressing issues of the environment. As we heard from a wonderful hydrologist and environmental scientist, Iyad Abureineh, on our last afternoon, "The Israelis can put up all the separation walls they want, but we all live in the same environment and, given the misuse of the water and natural resources, Palestinians and Israelis alike will be the losers in this battle." Another toxicologist who talked to us in Gaza said the same, "Insects, microbes, water and air pollution does not know any Green Line or siege. We all live in the same toxic mess."
What they said is so true, but again, there is imbalance in power and in access to the very limited and precious resources. From the Oslo Accords, Palestinians must get Israeli approval for every water and sewage treatment project, and the layers and delays in this process make projects almost impossible to complete. In contrast, the Settlements get the fast track to permits and approval. The inequity in resource use and allocation is unbelievable. For example, many days, Palestinian villages and towns (In both Gaza and Bethlehem, we experienced this)have no running water for hours. On the West Bank, 98% of the water is controlled by Israel and runs unimpeded to the Settlements. The average Israeli household uses 4 times the amount of water than does a Palestinian household.
Pollution from Israeli factories and untreated waste discharge from towns in the Negev is discharged into the tributaries flowing west from The Jordan River which then flows toward Wadi Gaza, the main fresh water source that goes from east to west through central Gaza. The result is that daily huge amounts of raw sewage flow through this river (the stench is disgusting) and are dumped straight into the Mediterranean Sea.
I am home and had many hours on the flights and airport delays to think about telling this story. I divided my trip into 3 themes that I will write more about in the coming days and will also speak about. My themes are: 1. Health issues and health care delivery; 2. Human Rights Issues; 3. Visions for the Future (from those we met, not from me!!). I think I will write about each of these separately and, of course there is so much overlap.
So, home , but far from done with this trip! It has been profound and so important. IF anyone in Gaza is reading this--my heart shouts out to you in gratefulness, peace and most loving friendship. And to all here in the US, let's re-double our efforts to work for Peace and Justice.
P.S. Dr Mustafa Barghouti told us that the Palestinians will be starting a targeted and very focused boycott of one Israeli product that all of us can join in with. As soon as they announce what that product is, we can add that to our BDS strategy.