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On October 29, 2007, the Palestine-Israel Journal invited the public to an open discussion in an attempt to raise questions not often discussed in Israeli public discourse about Gaza and Sderot.
At the Kibbutz Movement headquarters in Tel Aviv, over 180 people gathered to hear Dr. Eyad Sarraj, director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Center; Nomika Zion, a resident of the Urban Kibbutz Mivgan in Sderot; Um Haithem, a resident of Beit Hanoun in Gaza; Amira Hass of Haaretz; and Prof. Kenneth Mann, legal advisor to Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. The discussion was held in Hebrew and moderated by journalist Anat Saragusti.
Following opening remarks by PIJ Co-Editor Hillel Schenker, Dr. Sarraj made a moving statement by phone from the Gaza Strip, expressing his hopes that "your meeting tonight is productive and improves the lives of those in Gaza with peace, respect [for] human dignity, security and equality." He shared the grim situation in Gaza: For example, since the Israeli-imposed closures began on June 12, 2007, as few as 12 items deemed to be basic necessities have been allowed into Gaza; among the items no longer permitted are salt, cleaning supplies and cement. He reported that Israeli F-16s were flying overhead as he spoke. "The siege is heightening and this opens opportunities for extremist ideologies to flourish on both sides," he said, stressing that the situation cannot be resolved unilaterally, through violence. "This land belongs to those of us on both sides who want to live in peace, security and dignity."
Zion spoke of her "continued empathy for the Gazans." After "seven years of being on the frontlines," Sderot is in deep crisis. The city council is practically defunct, and people rely on the work and social services provided by NGOs. There are 700 youth-at-risk suffering from post-traumatic stress due to continued Qassam rocket attacks. Approximately 10% of the population - the wealthier residents - have left the city.
Um Haithem described her family's struggle to survive under siege in Gaza. One of her daughter's school friends had been killed that day as a result of an Israeli attack. Gaza feels like a "big prison without humane conditions, without sanitary conditions and [with] electricity for only two to three hours a day," Um Haithem said. City employees are unpaid; "with rubbish throughout the streets, people are dying of newly surfacing diseases, she said." Israeli drones flying overhead produce a constant state of fear and anxiety. The children are no longer children but are plagued by chronic nightmares and show signs of depression. They go to bed fearing middle-of-the-night intrusions by soldiers, the sound of bombs dropping and artillery firing. Wheat, flour and milk are not always available.
Hass lived in Gaza for several years as Haaretz's Gaza correspondent, the only Israeli journalist to do so. She methodically debunked the Israeli government's claimed that the closure and siege of Gaza was a response to the continued launching of Qassams. She believed that the continuation of Israeli violence in Gaza is an extension of the disengagement, and the political policy of separating Gaza from the West Bank, a process that she claims started in 1991 and not in 2005. This policy towards Gaza was later used in the West Bank, with the network of checkpoints, road blocks, gates and special settler-only roads. If these tactics continue, the West Bank will gradually become a group of smaller Bantustans. Disengagement created for the Israeli government "a model for Gaza, but not a model for peace," she said. Suggesting that the situation in Gaza will continue to worsen, Hass said that "the boiling point has not been reached yet."
Mann focused on Israel's responsibility for the well-being and security of Gaza. He said that between 1967 and 2005, it was accepted by all, including the Israeli government, that according to international law pertaining to occupied territories, Israel was responsible for the well-being of Gaza's residents. After the disengagement, the Israeli government claimed that it was no longer an occupying power and therefore no longer under this obligation. However, in post-disengagement Gaza, Israel continues to maintain "intensive, effective" control using technological and military means, which amounts to occupation even without the presence of soldiers. "Who can do what in Gaza is determined by Israel," Mann said. By cutting electricity and fuel supplies, and stopping the import and export of basic and other goods, the Israeli government is using collective punishment, he said.


For a detailed report of the event and the full statement by Dr. Sarraj, please go to: www.pij.org/events.php.

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