Published on Thursday, June 18, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
This week, a former President and now citizen activist, came to Gaza as other citizen activists have, to witness and speak about the destruction of Gaza. On June 16, 2009, former President Jimmy Carter spoke in unflinchingly blunt terms of devastating damage caused by the 22 day Israeli military assault on Gaza and the failure of the international community to help the citizens of Gaza after the military destruction of homes, government offices and industries.
Upon seeing the destruction of the American International School (one of seven schools completely destroyed in Gaza and 87 other schools severely damaged), Carter said "I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been wreaked against your people," adding that he felt partly responsible because the school had been "deliberately destroyed by bombs from F-16s made in my country."
I was in Gaza the week before President Carter arrived, my third trip to Gaza in three months. Organized by CODEPINK: Women for Peace, we took 66 persons from ten nations and 18 American states to Gaza through the Rafah, Egypt border crossing in late May. Three additional groups totaling 73 persons led by delegates from CODEPINK's March, 2009 International Women's Day 60 person delegation also entered Gaza in late May through the Rafah, Egypt crossing. CODEPINK also took 45 persons in early June from three nations to Israel, in an unsuccessful attempt to cross into Gaza via the Erez, Israel border crossing.
In the three past three months, we have witnessed the destruction of much of Gaza and the silence of the international community to the pleas for assistance in the reconstruction of the homes of over 50,000 persons made homeless by the 22 day Israeli military attack on Gaza.
We have also witnessed the effects of the two year siege/blockade/quarantine by the international community on Gaza, collective punishment for the election of Hamas in 2006 as the government of Gaza.
For three months we have met the same residents of the Jabalyia area each day sitting in the wreckage that was their homes-waiting for help-and none has come, despite the pledges from many countries.
During his one day visit to Gaza, President Carter spoke strongly about the international blockade on Gaza and about arbitrary prohibitions by the Israeli government that have made travel into and out of Gaza by Palestinians virtually impossible, banned the import of all but basic goods and prevented reconstruction since Israel's three-week attack on Gaza ended in January, two days before President Obama's inauguration.
Carter said, "Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than human beings." He added, "Never before in history has a large community been savaged by bombs and missiles and then deprived of the means to repair itself. The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, Cairo, Washington, and throughout the international community," Carter said.
1.5 million people live in the tiny area (25 miles long and 5 miles wide) of Gaza, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Carter said, "This abuse must cease. The crimes must be investigated. The wall must be brought down, and the basic right of freedom must come to you."
In the same speech to graduates of a human rights curriculum sponsored by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, President Carter referred to a CODEPINK delegation that had tried to enter Gaza with playground equipment through the Israeli Erez border crossing but were turned back.
Carter said, "Last week, a group of Israelis and Americans tried to cross into Gaza through Erez, bringing toys and children's playground equipment - slides, swings, kites, and magic castles for your children. They were stopped at the gate and prevented from coming. I understand even paper and crayons are treated as 'security hazards' and not permitted to enter Gaza. I sought an explanation for this policy in Israel, but did not receive a satisfactory answer - because there is none...."
CODEPINK's delegation in late May that entered Gaza through the Rafah, Egypt crossing was successful in breaking the blockade and brought three sets of playground equipment and toys and a variety of educational materials to the kids of Gaza.
Carter, as a private citizen not as a government envoy, met with senior members of Hamas, the political, economic and militant group that won sufficient Parliamentary seats in 2006 elections to gain control of the Palestinian Parliamentary Council. Hamas is labeled a terrorist group for having fired thousands of unguided rockets into Israel over the past 5 years.
According to research done by Israeli human rights group B'Tselem (click here ) from in the 5 and one-half years from June 2004 to the end of Operation Cast Lead, on 17 January 2009, 19 Israelis, including four minors and two soldiers, were killed in Israel by rockets and mortars fired by Palestinians.