My Last Visit to Gaza-17 April 2009
I thought I would be mentally ready to go back into the Gaza strip so that I could be more effective in helping the children on the front line and to get on with a fact-finding mission to further assess the situation. Previously I had succeeded in visiting Gaza in early December 2008, and at that time and from what I saw, I realised that urgent attention was needed to help the psychological disorders of the children who were, and still are, suffering from stress from the two-year siege in an area that has suffered greatly under its 42-year occupation.
Gaza is still the world’s biggest prison camp: the borders are closed and the people have no freedom of movement. They rely on meagre handouts which the United Nations distribute when a few lorries are allowed to go through the borders, but these are not enough. Nothing else is allowed in through the gates to the 1.5million inhabitants in a stretch of land smaller than the Isle of Wight. This is among the most densely populated areas on earth where some 60% of the people are aged 20 or younger.
Coincidentally, as the Israeli forces launched a 22-day offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on the 27th December, that very same day I was returning back home to England to start up an appeal. Since the recent bombings, resulting in the almost total devastation of this tiny enclave, this need has been exacerbated and it is more important than ever that we progress with this work in order that the children of the area can at least look forward to a brighter future. Some 1417 people were killed in the raids, including 926 civilians, while over 5000 were injured, some 45% of whom were children.
I finally managed to get back into Gaza with the British convoy that left here on the 14th January with 230 British people and over one million pounds worth of aid. The convoy was taking in blankets, sleeping bags, medicines and toys for children, and so much more. The money and aid was raised within a few weeks and then we travelled over 5000 miles to our destination. The convoy was over 3 miles long and many other countries joined us as we went through Europe and the Middle EastEast. Before leaving the Gaza Strip all the trucks and ambulances were left behind for the locals to use.
Without taking sides or getting into the politics of the situation, one thing is clear and that is that the children who have lived through or been maimed in the quagmire of hatred, on both sides, are the ones who are suffering the most.
The people on the convoy are just like you and me: Muslims, Christians, and other believers. The feeling that these people shared with me was from the bottom of their hearts; it simply didn’t matter about religion or culture or even about politics.
It is simply a crisis, an emergency situation where humanitarian action needs to take place and fast. It is about people caring about other people whose needs are greater than ours, letting the people in Gaza know that they haven’t been forgotten, showing love, understanding, and brotherhood from their fellow man.
On my return to the region, I quickly realised that nothing could have prepared me for what I was going to witness. Once I arrived there, and after consultations with administrators of clinics and hospitals, it became clear to me that there were a large number of traumatised orphans with little hope for the future, having had their families wiped out.
Previously, I had met and befriended a policeman and his family, only to find that on my return, this father of three had been killed on the very first day of the conflict, leaving his wife and three children with little idea of how they will survive in the future.
Similar stories are heard throughout the Gaza Strip, no-one has been spared from the pain and suffering – the very fabric of their culture and existence has been destroyed. However, despite the ongoing siege and the suffering that the Palestinian people are still experiencing, their resilience and depth of spirituality shines through in their determination to re-build their lives.
It is with this aim in mind that we need to help the children with their psychological long-term damage and post-war traumas from which they are still suffering. Our intention is to have a team of local professional child counsellors who will not only help the children, but will also work closely with their immediate families.
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