It's like a new Nakba
By Eva Bartlett at Feb 11, 2009
*the emergency tent camp named Karama (”Dignity”) set up in the Ezbet Abed Rabbo region, for the 350 families with houses completely destroyed and the 700 families with houses badly damaged. The 55 tents available are obviously insufficient for the number of families, the size of the tents insufficient for the size of families, many of which have over 7 members.
They are in tents again, 61 years later.
The same year that stage one of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine finished, the UN, in December 1948, proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document speaking of the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings, including words like justice, peace, and freedom, all of which have systematically been denied to the Palestinians in the decades since.
The Declaration stated our human equality and entitlements are not obstructed by things like “religion, political or other opinion, the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs,” which thus must have meant the newly-exiled refugees of Palestine were perhaps deserving of the tenets of the Declaration, which include:
-the right to education
-the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services
-the right to a nationality
-the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
-the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
And which stipulated:
-No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, these fundamentals rights have been consistently denied, by the occupation of both areas and by the military acts wages against the Palestinian population.
*newly-set up emergency tent area in Ezbet Abed Rabbo
Dignity: a state of being worthy of esteem, respect, honour.
Palestinians continue to be denied dignity: from their lack of credibility to world leaders, to said leaders’ disdain and disinterest in Palestinians’ humanity, to the selective, and fatal, blindness of the media, to the relentless attacks on Gaza -the worst of which, the last, has left 4,000 houses completely destroyed, more than 20,000 severely damaged, and an estimated 50, 800 homeless, according to UN figures -dignity is a state not offered in any of the negotiations.
Bombed and menaced out of their homes en masse during Israel’s latest 3 weeks of attacks on Gaza, many were already refugees (and children of refugees) from being run out of their homes in ‘48.
Every aspect of their current existence is of dignity denied: They are homeless. Many have only the clothes they wore when being forced out by invading Israeli soldiers or the threat of Israeli bombing. Their plans and dreams and memories are erased, burned, disintegrated, or irrelevant and impossible in the face of rebuilding.
Dignity is also being able to provide for your children, to cook for them, to give them sweets and toys even, to have a home, to have possessions, to possess the right to move freely, to be heard, to be acknowledged with the right to exist, to not be a number -a number of the dead, of the injured, of the homeless, of the imprisoned -to actually have a name and a story and a life with possibilities for a good future.
Almost as bad as being actively denied these things, Palestinians are denied even the true narration of their history -from their 1948 Nakba (”disaster”) to Israel’s murderous attacks starting December 27th. Palestinians “alleged” that: …an F-16 missile bombed their house; Israeli soldiers fired point-blank on a mother/baby/father/son…clearly unarmed, perhaps waving a white flag; Israeli soldiers used them as human shields; Israeli soldiers ransacked their houses, stole valuables; they were abducted, interrogated and beaten. It’s all allegations when the Palestinian narrative is whispered.
Their narratives live on, very present, although the global media has moved on.
Survivors of the wider Ezbet Abed Rabbo area, east of Jabalilya, were terrorized during the attacks, with 350 houses utterly destroyed, and another 700 ravaged to the point of being seriously damaged, many uninhabitable.
On a plot of land where olive and fruit trees once flourished, until bulldozed by Israeli forces, a government camp with 55 tents has been set up to accommodate a portion of the newly-homeless, which are estimated to be near 4,000 in the Ezbet Abed Rabbo area alone. Three corrugated-tin shanty-toilets serve the women in the camp, another 3 on the other side for the men. Washing facilities are yet unavailable, camp residents having to impose on friends and relatives for these private acts.
*broken home of Souad and Mahmoud Abed Rabbo, seen from their new emergency shelter.
Outside of tent #33, Souad Abed Rabbo laments the substandard conditions in which her family now exists. “We came here 4 days ago,” she said, pointing less than 50 metres away to the jagged A-frame shell of a home which had been theirs. “Four families lived in that house, nearly 40 people. Now we have to stay here. There’s no water, and in the 4 days we’ve been here we’ve only received one food parcel, with rice, tahini, canned meat, sugar. We don’t have a gas cooker, and it is hard to make a fire all of the time, especially as it’s very windy these days. We’ve only received 4 mattresses but our family is large, this is not enough. It’s so cold at night, and we don’t have any of our blankets, our warm clothes. We lost everything, and the Israeli soldiers completely destroyed our house.”
Inside an administrative tent, clean but nonetheless filled with flies in the midday heat, men at makeshift table-desks register the newly displaced, distributing some of the aid which has trickled in. “Each family has received 2,000 Euros from a Turkish organization, and $ 4,000 from the government,” Monir Naow, an administrator, explains. The sum is paltry given that families have lost homes, land, and possessions valuing far more than the hand-out. The money will not be enough to re-build, but the building materials are not available anyway.
Immediate needs are the priority, including food and clothing. Naow says that there are over 170 trucks awaiting entry at the Erez crossing, with others still at the Rafah and Kerem Abu Salem crossings.
“Some of the UN supplies are getting in,” he says, “but not all. And aid sent by the Arab Union of Doctors (AUD) is not getting in at all. There is food aid, milk, blankets, and diapers, all of which people here desperately need.”
Worse than vitally needed aid inexplicably being barred entry to Gaza is the fact that vital hospital equipment, like dialysis machines and CT scanners, is not being allowed in by Egyptian authorities. “Even wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs, of which there is a massive need, are being held up at Rafah,” Naow explains.
Sadly, some the aid that has come in includes powdered milk with only a few months shelf-life before expiration. “Instead of throwing these supplies away, as they certainly can’t sell them, they throw them at us and say how generous they are,” says Naow of the AUD which provided the children’s age-specific cans of milk. According to the administrators, there have already been cases of children becoming sick from the milk: 5 children with diarrhea due to the spoiled milk, Naow explains.
While the worst of the strikes have stopped and people are trying to continue with their lives, most in the camp do not feel safe. “Two days ago there was tank shelling on an open agricultural field in the area,” says Naow. The sound of the surveillance drones, also capable of dropping missiles, can still be heard, a sound associated with death which children and adults alike cannot forget.
There is also the problem of endurance: many feel that any home they rebuild will simply be bombed anew by Israeli warplanes or tanks. Many also worry that they will be forced to live for a long period in such basic and inadequate conditions like the crowded tent camps, particularly when the building materials needed for more permanent solutions are still barred from Gaza, the siege on Gaza still in full swing.
The administration at the camp are volunteers, many from the area, many of whom have suffered their own tragedies but are now working to help their neighbours get by. Monir Naow is one such man: the Israeli missile which hit his house killed his 80 year old father, a brother, a nephew and one other family member.
“The social relationships in our area are better than ever before, there is much solidarity here, even though every one has suffered. Many of the people who still have intact houses have taken in other families.”
Administrators recognize the need for therapy in addition to material aid. Two shifts, morning and afternoon, of psycho-social workers are available at tents in the camp for traumatized residents to consult. “From the first day we set up the tents, we have focused on organizing activities for children,” Naow explains, adding that this has been in coordination with Save the Children, the Red Crescent and a local organization, Friends of Jabaliya. “We don’t have any special space for them, and the activities are very basic, but they are some relief from the fear and uncertainty the children have experienced in the last months.”
*Karama camp, Ezbet Abed Rabbo
*food aid: milk which will expire in July. “We have many which will expire in May,” a camp administrator said.
The one kilometer walk through the wasteland of greater Ezbet Abed Rabbo, where the houses had been more spaced apart, with more trees and potential for farming, reveals the same extent of destruction as in the inner areas of Ezbet Abed Rabbo.
“They killed my cows, chickens, trees, they killed everything,” a man is telling an international who has stopped to survey the disaster of a farm. His house gapes, the rot of chickens and dead cows poisons the air.
Destroyed houses adorn either side of the path leading to the Jebal al Reis tent camp. Impossibly, one staircase stands narrow and tall amidst the heap of blocks formerly at its level.
Issa Hamouda describes the conditions in this tent camp. “There are 110 tents for 830 registered people. Of these, 487 have had their homes completely destroyed. We have no way of providing enough tents for that many people, nor for the extensive needs of the people who’ve had all their belongings destroyed.”
Hamouda explains that similar to the Karama camp, with no other options many families have been adopted by relatives and neighbours. “What we have received in basic aid is not sufficient for the people here. My own house was destroyed. My family has 19 people, 9 of whom are under the age of 7. We’ve received two mattresses, this isn’t enough.”
“How do Qassam rockets justify the disproportionate bombs, the amputees, the people burned alive, the use of banned weapons?” he asks. Hamouda, not surprisingly, has lost someone in the weeks of Israeli attacks: “My son was inside our house when it was destroyed. He is dead.”
He says the words echoing on the lips of Palestinians all over Gaza and the West Bank under occupation: “we just want stability, the right to live like any other people in the world.”
As for international involvement and aid, Hamouda highlights the need not for a band-aid therapy of cleaning up after Israel’s repeated attacks and destruction left, but to go to the root of the problem, the occupation, the denial of Palestinians’ rights, including existence, the prisoners…the need for political support and implementation of international law which would have Palestinians living with justice. And dignity.
Yet, one other interpretation of dignity is the manner in which a person carries herself/himself: of poise and self-respect. That is the dignity which resounds with the Palestinians, as through the violations of every one of their rights, they continue in dignity.
*bulldozed fruit and olive trees
*Jebal al Reis tent camp
see: The occupied Palestinian territories: Dignity Denied [Throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, in the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank, Palestinians continuously face hardship in simply going about their lives; they are prevented from doing what makes up the daily fabric of most people's existence]