Will Palestine see real solidarity in 2014?

23 December 2013

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Palestinians have been “prevented from building a nation.”   (Ashraf Amra / APA images)

Last year I took part in a TV program on RT about the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood at the United Nations.

During this talk show, Raanan Gissin — an adviser to Ariel Sharon when he was prime minister — recommended that the Palestinians should build their own nation, instead of turning to other countries “including Iran” for help.

I recalled this debate when I heard that 2014 had been named as the UN’s “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.”

Living in Gaza, I can’t be expected to know everything that happens in occupied East Jerusalem and the wider West Bank. I can’t, therefore, gauge what progress has been made there in building a Palestinian state. But I have heard that Israel is continuing to steal Palestinian land by expanding its settlements.

I was born and raised in Maghazi refugee camp here in Gaza. When I was growing up, houses in Gaza’s refugee camps were very modest, most of them having asbestos-tiled roofs. The roads were narrow and mostly unpaved.

My own house — located in the center of the camp — was the same until 1991, when part of the house was rebuilt with cement and steel. It was a happy moment for me and my family.

Maghazi’s population has increased steadily over the years and is now around 35,000, including both refugees and the area’s other inhabitants. Yet the power supply to the camp has been the same for three decades. The same can be said for many other places in Gaza.

It was only recently that the main street leading into the camp was rebuilt and had street lights placed along part of it. That was thanks to a donation from Qatar.

Wanting to “show off”

I was 13-years-old when the first intifada broke out in 1987. Despite the unrest, I was determined to keep our house looking well. A 20-year-old neighbor, Ibrahim, approached me once when I was cleaning the front door.

Ibrahim said that maybe I wanted to “show off” for a representative of the UN’s secretary-general, who was scheduled to visit soon.

“Yes, I do,” I replied. “Why not? The world needs to know that we are a nation.”

I still believe that today. So when I think of what Raanan Gissin said, I am reminded that we, Palestinians, have deep historical roots. We are determined to build our nation.

Leave us alone

The best advice that Gissin could give would be for Israel to leave us alone, to lift the blockade it has imposed on Gaza and to stop building settlements in the West Bank.

The truth is that we have been prevented from building a nation. In 1993, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank took over control of their own municipal affairs for the first time since 1948, thanks to an agreement between Israel and the PLO. It was seen as a remarkable achievement for the Palestinians.

In Gaza, the Palestinian Authority established an international airport and began work on a seaport. Israel began destroying our infrastructure after the second intifada erupted in 2000. Twelve years ago, the airport was reduced to rubble by Israeli tanks and bulldozers.

In 2004, a power generation plant was opened in Gaza. Yet in 2006, it was bombed by Israeli warplanes. The damage has been lasting. The power crisis we face today has meant that I am writing this article with the help of electricity stored on a battery.

The UN has given us only limited help to build our nation. Its main activities here have involved distributing food aid and constructing and repairing schools and clinics and the homes of impoverished refugees.

Only recently UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, announced that it will expand a small health clinic for Maghazi. The expansion is long overdue.

Every year since 1948, the UN has marked 29 November as the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Now we are going to have a whole year of solidarity.

Will the solidarity be real? Or will we just get more words and no real action?

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.