Anyone in prison needs a visitor. I spent eight days in late April inside the world’s “largest outdoor prison.”
Gaza – the ancient meaning of the name is “treasure” – is a part of Palestine, 25 miles long and averaging six miles wide, with a coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. About 1.6 million people live in Gaza, with 1.3 million of those people registered with the United Nations as “refugees.”
They are ignored by the world and isolated from the rest of Palestine (West Bank), and every aspect of their daily lives is determined by Israeli military, political and economic domination. There is a “de facto” government, Hamas, that is more concerned with its own self-interests than the welfare of the Gazan citizens. I visited the prison with a small delegation from Physicians for Social Responsibility.
When Israel was given land in Palestine, in 1948, there already was a population of nearly 1 million Palestinian Arabs living on the same land. Many of those people fled to Gaza, as refugees in their own country. Some stayed to try to work out a form of coexistence in a place now called the West Bank.
The results have been overwhelming Israeli military actions, illegal detentions and imprisonment, and the colonization by Israel of Palestinian land, often called “settlements.” Those actions taken by Israel violate international law and human morality.
In 2005 Israel withdrew its Gaza settlers. To the world this seemed like a step in the right direction. However, the motivation of the withdrawal was:
• There is little potable water in Gaza, so why stay?
• The settlers were causing a lot of trouble for Israel, so they were removed.
• With no settlers, Gaza could be used as a live-fire practice shooting range for the Israeli Defense Forces.
I spent my time as a mental health worker, talking with psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and especially to families and individuals directly affected by the trauma of war. The electricity is cut off at any time, affecting homes, hospitals, schools and clinics, and terrifying the children who live in constant fear of no food or medicines and of more bombs and soldiers. In the 2009 war, more than 300 children were killed and more than 260 schools were destroyed in the 22-day devastation.
In Gaza, there is the constant threat of disaster, an exhausting oppression of the human spirit. Yet even from Gaza, from the prison, without anger, comes a voice to the United States, to the world: Treat us with humanity, with fairness, and we will thrive on our own strengths.