“We have been living a man-made disaster actually for the past 62 years,” said Palestinian parliamentarian Jamal al-Khudari, a chairman of the Gaza-based Committee to Break the Siege. “We would like to send out a message of solidarity to the people of Haiti, who are now facing a natural disaster. Despite the harsh conditions Gaza people live under here — the Israeli blockade and military actions — people here sent symbolic assistance to their brothers and sisters in Haiti.”
The committee collected a a symbolic amount of food and some cash donations for earthquake-stricken Haiti, where tens of thousands have been killed and countless others were injured and displaced.
Here in Gaza, the Israeli occupation’s measures — including the blockade that has been imposed for more than two and a half years now — have had their own devastating impact.
“As a humanitarian worker here, I can say that it has been really amazing to see that some needy people including women and children wanting to deliver food, toys, clothes and cash to disaster-affected people in Haiti. The scene in front of the office for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza was really amazing,” Gaza City resident Hussam al-Madhoun told The Electronic Intifada.
However, for some in Gaza, the lack of attention paid by the “international community” to their plight leaves a bitter taste.
Fatima al-Helou, a mother of three children, expressed her full solidarity for those currently suffering in the impoverished island but added, “I think that the world that is now supporting the Haiti region, should also help Gazans get rid of a three-year-old Israeli siege on Gaza. Humanity cannot be divided. I definitely sympathize with those currently suffering in Haiti, but I also call upon the international community to help me, for I am suffering as well.”
Since June 2007, Israel has enforced a nearly hermetic closure of Gaza’s border crossings, preventing the free movement of both people and goods, only opening the border intermittently. According to international aid agencies, Israel has allowed only 42 trucks of raw building materials into the coastal enclave during 2009, despite that several thousand homes, governmental buildings, schools and mosques were destroyed during Israel’s attack on Gaza last winter. More than 1,400 were killed and thousands more were injured during the three-week-long attack.
Israel’s siege has had a devastating impact on Gaza’s economy. Ninety-five percent of local industries in the region have been forced to shut down, the unemployment rate has risen to more than 60 percent, while more than 80 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 residents are dependent on food aid.
Despite Gaza’s own dire situation, there are those anxious to show their solidarity and empathy with Haiti.
Yaser al-Yazji, a lawyer with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, said, “We hope to collect [donations] as best as we can to help the people of Haiti. We do feel sad for the people of Haiti as they have been killed or displaced, the way we are being affected by the Israeli occupation. As earthquakes kill or displace thousands of people, the Israeli occupation does the same to us.”
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.