Bill Dienst

Breaking the Gaza siege, by boat

This summer, a group of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals will sail directly from international waters into Gaza. We say: Enough already! I will be aboard as the ship’s doctor. The Free Gaza Movement vessels will challenge Israel’s policy of imprisoning over 1.4 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, while saying they are free. Dr. Bill Dienst comments. 

Leaving Las Vegas, or getting out of Gaza

This is the second trip I have made to the Gaza Strip since 2003. I third time, in 2005, I was not permitted to enter. Back in 1985, it was easy to travel from Gaza to Jerusalem and back. In those days, I went back and forth many times. The entrance to Gaza, where a huge grotesque monstrosity of a checkpoint terminal now stands, was then only a few concrete barrels. Palestinian group taxis would weave through the concrete-filled barrels that marked the border and one could easily pass inside or outside, on your way to Gaza City or on your way back to Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. 

Gaza's Father Manuel

Father Manuel runs a school here and is the head of the Christian Affairs Department for the Palestinian Authority. He was born in Birzeit near Ramallah, and lived his entire childhood in the West Bank of Palestine, which was considered under the control of Transjordan prior to 1967. Father Immanuel happened to be on the East Bank of the Jordan River training to be a Roman Catholic priest when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and Sinai in June 1967. As a result of being on the wrong side of the river at the wrong time, he became a refugee. 

Fear Is a Powerful Stimulant (Part 3)

Our mobile health van drives just north of Beit Lahiya where we see a large crowd of people fleeing from the attack. We drive further north toward the village of Um Nasser, located right on the border with Israel, and right underneath the attack helicopters which are hovering about 1000 meters above us. We arrive at the village clinic. Because of the attack helicopters, patients are not showing up to be seen today. I am not as scared as I was on the first night at Hotel Al Deira, though we are in a more dangerous spot. I am strangely getting used to this. 

Fear is a Powerful Stimulant (Part 2)

Last night I again heard the roar of an F-16 fighter jet and then the low thud of air-launched missiles being fired into Beach Camp. I didn�t even bother to look out from my hotel room this time. Rafah, Jabalya and Beit Hanoun were also hit according to local news reports. This morning, we drive by Mr. Alaaki Aqeelan�s apartment in Beach Camp, which was hit last night. The third floor is a shambles and there is concrete rubble on the street. Otherwise, people in the area are going about their daily business. 

Fear is a Powerful Stimulant (Part 1)

Today is a holiday. It is Palestinian Independence Day, commemorating the day in 1988 when Yasser Arafat formally declared a Palestinian State in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Now 18 years later, this holiday seems like some kind of a cruel joke, since Israel still refuses to renounce violence and recognize Palestine’s right to exist. Under Clinton and the Oslo process, the Palestinians were forced to negotiate endlessly while walking backwards. Under Bush, Sharon and Olmert, there have been no negotiations, only unilateralism, arrogant violence, economic starvation and more disaster. 

Rafah Revisited

Yesterday, here in Gaza, I met Scott Kennedy, a former mayor of Santa Cruz, California. He has been traveling in the Middle East and touring the West Bank and Israel. Today Mr. Kennedy is being escorted to visit Rafah, from El Deira Hotel here in Gaza City, by a Palestinian Authority convoy, and I have decided to go along with him. We will also drive through Khan Younis, and through ruins of the former Israeli coastal settlements of Gush Katif, which used take up over a third of the beachfront in the Gaza Strip. We won’t have time to get out of the convoy at these places, however. 

With the Palestine Medical Relief Society in Jenin

I am here in the local Jenin district office of Palestine Medical Relief Society (PMRS) with Dr. Jameel Hamad, the district manager. The City of Jenin has a total population of about 50,000, of which 13,000 live in the Jenin refugee camp. The entire district of Jenin has 300,000 inhabitants. In terms of health care, the main provider of health services until recently has been the Ministry of Health under direction of the Palestinian Authority. It runs the main hospital in Jenin, as well as many primary health care centers in the city. Unfortunately, because of the Israeli/American/EU sanctions, which were the West’s reaction to a democratically elected Hamas majority in the Legislative Counsel, the PA’s health systems are falling apart. Many health care workers have been on strike, because they are not being paid. 

Checkpoint Hassles

Salfit is a very beautiful part of Palestine in spite of all the sadness due to the huge Ariel settlement. Ariel, as well as many other smaller colonies and highways, have now managed to cut all the way across Salfit to the Jordan Valley. The northern West Bank has now been severed from the central West Bank. There are now four smaller, instead of three larger, Bantustans in the West Bank. In total, there are now five Palestinian Bantustans, if you include Gaza. Each is completely surrounded by Israeli checkpoints and with total Israeli control of air and sea space. If this is what is meant as the “Palestinian State” by Bush and Olmert, it is definitely not viable. 

Aftermath of the Beit Hanoun Siege and Massacre

Between the 2nd and 8th of November 2006, the town of Beit Hanoun (population 28,000) was under a siege and blockade by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). Beit Hanoun is located in the Northern Gaza Strip, immediately south of the Apartheid Wall around Gaza and Erez Crossing with Israel. The besieged residents of Beit Hanoun suffered widespread collective punishment, such as a cut off of electricity and water. House to house searches were conducted, and males over the age of 16 years were summarily rounded up, imprisoned and interrogated. Many families were forced to huddle into rooms away from windows because Israeli snipers were on the rooftops killing people.