The irony is almost beyond belief. Since the capture of an Israeli soldier, the Gaza Strip has been subjected to a large-scale military operation, what Israel calls “Summer Rain”. Because Israel bombed the power plant, and the area needs electricity to pump water, most of Gaza now has almost no access to drinking water. In the heat of summer, rain would be a blessing far more welcome than the ongoing bombings.
I am already starting to lose track of days and nights, of how many bombs have dropped. Since the main power plant was destroyed, we have had to live with no electricity. What we do get is patchy, and barely enough to recharge our cellphones and laptops so that we do not lose all touch with each other and with the outside world.
As a physician, I fear for our patients. Twenty-two hospitals have no electricity. They have to rely on generators, but the generators need fuel. We have enough fuel to last a few days at most, because the borders are sealed so no fuel can get in. The shortage of power threatens the lives of patients on life-support machines and children in intensive care, as well as renal dialysis patients and others. Hundreds of operations have been postponed. The pharmacies were already nearly empty because of Israeli border closures and the cut-off of international aid. What little supplies were left have gone bad in the absence of refrigeration.
Food too is spoiling without refrigeration, and supplies are low. West Bank farmers threw away truckloads of spoiled fruit after sitting for days and then being denied Israeli permission to enter Gaza. Children grow hungry as we watch the food that could nourish them thrown into the garbage instead. More than 30 000 children suffer from malnutrition, and this number will increase as diarrhoea spreads because of the limited supply of clean water and food contamination.
As a mother, I fear for the children. I see the effects of the relentless sonic booms and artillery shelling on my 13-year-old daughter. She is restless, panicked and afraid to go out, yet frustrated because she can’t see her friends. When Israeli fighter planes fly by day and night, the sound is terrifying. My daughter usually jumps into bed with me, shivering with fear. Then both of us end up crouching on the floor. My heart races, yet I try to pacify my daughter, to make her feel safe. But when the bombs sound, I flinch and scream. My daughter feels my fear and knows that we need to pacify each other. I am a doctor, a mature, middle-aged woman, but with the sonic booming, I become hysterical.
This aggression will leave psychological scars on the children for years to come. Instilling fear, anger and loss in them will not bring peace and security to Israelis. Ostensibly, this bombing campaign started because of the soldier’s capture. To the outside world it might seem like an easy decision for Palestinians: let the soldier go, and the siege will end. Yet for Gazans, even in the face of this brutal violence, another decision comes, not with ease, but with resolve. He is one soldier who was captured in a military operation.
Today, several hundred Palestinian children and women are locked in Israeli prisons. They deserve their freedom no less than he does. Their families mourn their absence no less than his family does. So while Gazans endure Israel’s rainstorm, most want the soldier held — not harmed — until the women and children are released.
Most Gazans also believe Israel’s latest assault was pre-planned, that the soldier’s capture is merely a trigger. Israel dropped thousands of shells on Gaza, killing women, children and old people, long before his capture. This time, Israel attacked Gaza within hours of a national consensus accord signed by Fatah and Hamas, which could have led to negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. That would have pushed Israel to give up control of Palestinian land and resources. Gazans believe that the goal of Israel’s military campaign is the destruction of both our elected government and our infrastructure, and with it our will to secure our national rights.
Though we do not now live with ease, we live with resolve. Until the world pressures Israel to recognise our rights in our land, and to pursue a peace that brings freedom and security to Israelis and Palestinians, we both will continue to pay the price.
Mona El-Farra is a human rights advocate in the Gaza Strip