Thursday, 7 January 2010

Of the 1,300 internationals who entered Egypt via Cairo to proceed to Gaza a selection process was initiated following the intervention of Suzanne Mubarak requesting that those with humanitarian purpose could proceed- 100 only. This caused anger and disagreement amongst the Gaza Freedom March participants many of whom staged protests boycotting those that intended to take the opportunity of going by coach. This proved caustic as messages were conveyed that the people in Gaza wanted all of the participants or none to proceed therefore the nominated group were in a quandary; many were persuaded to disembark from the coaches in Cairo. The old tactics of playing one section off against another were working. Two buses holding around 88 proceeded, those left in El Arish and Cairo held protest demonstrations. In El Arish the protesters were joined by many Egyptians leaving the crowds of bystanders to express their dismay at the obstructions caused by the Egyptian authorities, despite Egypt imposing severe penalties on those who demonstrate. I was chosen as I was taking in humanitarian aid in the form of resources for the Palestine Trauma Centre.

Entered Gaza 2 am 31 12 09.
Freedom March proceeded with approx 1000 Gazans and 60 of the freedom march participants. This proceeded towards the Israeli Erez border. At the first checkpoint approx 400 metres from the Israeli wall the march was stopped. The participants negotiated to proceed to the next checkpoint after which was Israeli controlled. The march, led by orthodox Jews proceeded the next 100 metres and received a message that any further progress would incur military action from the Israeli side in the form of live rounds. We knelt down and called for the borders to opened to lift the siege and for a peaceful end to the blockade.
Friday 1 Jan. Visit the port of Gaza: Fishermen outlined the way in which Israel has restricted movement to 3 km, 8 km inside the international boundary. We witnessed Israeli naval vessels patrolling the horizon.

Preliminary meeting with Palestine Trauma Centre staff to form programme: Saturday visit to PTC, outreach centre and areas affected by bombardment. Sunday teaching and sharing practice session. Monday art project with children and staff.

On return to hotel informed we must all leave Saturday 9am as further time spent in Gaza may affect use of crossing by Palestinians.
Saturday negotiated with representative and Hamas to have until 3 pm before leaving.
Rapid visit to PTC and devastated areas in north and east of Gaza and outreach centres.

  • Palestine Trauma Centre. Briefing. 45,000 referrals since attack, and 400 referrals a week. Serious lack of qualified staff: 5 psychiatrists 3 in admin posts but practising due to massive caseload, 1 child psychiatrist.
    Symptoms and diagnoses: fainting attacks, dissociative disorders, emotional amnaesia, hearing voices, visual hallucinations, complete freezing, panic attacks and panic disorder. PTSD.
    No anti-psychotic medication to treat these disorders available.
    Tertiary phenomenon; Addiction to Tramadol by young people following treatment -at catastrophic levels amongst youth.
    PTC follows holistic model of psycho-social intervention with trained staff of psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists using play, verbal interventions and art and music.
    Visit to north and east Gaza to witness devastation following the attacks. Attacks started at 11.30 am on Saturday 27th December 2009, Jewish Sabbath. First hit school with children at 11am at exam time children in playground. Police station hit killing 100, factories, cemetery and residential areas killing several hundred people in first day.
    Visit to north Gaza which experiences frequent Israeli incursions. Visit to hill overlooking Gaza city from which Israeli tanks shelled the city. House which was hit by phosphorous shell and burnt out which was being used as classroom for children affected by the bombardment. The group of children were with PTC staff member singing and chanting to improve their psychological strength and social cohesion and process some of the trauma they experienced.
    Visited empty building with children drawing their experiences and sharing this mutually and being praised for their courage.
    Following official instructions and much fruitless negotiations with government representative returned to Cairo after being stopped again by police.At 2am we were told to return to el Arish: we got out of the bus in protest and began walking towards Cairo, some flagged down a massive lorry which stopped and took us on board. The plain clothes police caught up and created a road block stopping any further procedure. Eventually allowed us to continue to Cairo by minibus with security services and armed military escort arriving at 4 am.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Gazans and Internationals march in Solidarity to end the siege

Two coaches arrived in Gaza city at 1 O'clock in the morning after long delays picking up a small group of extra people from Al Arish. The Egyptian authorites had been obstructive to the last creating delays and confusion and giving incorrect and misleading information. Arguments had divided many of the Gaza Freedom March participants as some chanted "All go or no-one goes. Everyone or no-one!"The Spanish contingent were particullarly vociferous in their dismay that only a small proportion of the 1,300 would be allowed to proceed.
31st December. We took a speedy coach trip through the city in which we witnessed the effects of the Israeli bombardment which hit schools as it commenced at 1130 AM, in which the children were in the playground and most were killed and many injured, cemeteries and factories were hit many of which still show the missile holes. We then passed an area which held some 3,000 homes which was raised to the ground by the bombardment; the surviving members are now living in a ramshackle encampment consisting of plastic sheets and scraps of corrugated metal.
About 1,000 Gazans assembled with Palestinian flags and banners in the brilliant sunshine calling for an end to the siege which is strangulating this narrow strip of land and crippling the economy, these were joined by the majority of the GFM participants. With banners fluttering and the speakers blaring the marched proceeded noisily in the direction of the Israeli Erez crossing. Gazan security forces stopped the march at the Gaza border checkpoint about 400 metres from the separation wall. Following passionate speeches calling for an end to these crimes against the Gazan people the marchers called to move forward towards the Israeli zone another 100 metres on and we were told that the Israelis had sent a message that they would take military action against us and open fire if we proceeded further. The marchers called out in resounding chants for the borders to be opened, the siege to be lifted and to stop these crimes against humanity.