Gaza City– On February 23, 2008, three Palestinian men picnicking in a field in the northern Gaza Strip were killed Saturday by an Israeli tank missile. The Israeli military confirmed the cross-border attack near the city of Beit Hanoun but claimed it targeted Palestinian militants on their way to fire mortar shells at Israel. Israel frequently carries out missile strikes and raids against militants in the the Gaza Strip believing this will end the near-daily rocket fire, which has killed 12 Israelis in the last seven years. According to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group Israeli missiles have killed 137 Palestinians in Gaza last year, 28 were civilians and since January, 79 were killed by the Israeli military.
John Holmes, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs wrapped up a five day trip to Israel and occupied Palestine on February 18, 2008. Holmes told reporters in Jerusalem of his shock by the "grim and miserable" situation in the Gaza Strip, and called for the opening of crossing points and condemned the rocket attacks on Sderot.
"The conditions in Gaza are grim and miserable and are not in accordance with the standards of human dignity…These victims here are innocent civilians. There is no time to lose in putting an end to this vicious circle of violence."
He expressed concern about the quality and availability of water and food, especially amongst children and disagreed with Israeli policy to cut back on power and fuel supplies to Gaza, calling Israel's measures "collectively penalize an entire population" and that the medical sector is "teetering on the edge of viability" and "private industry has more or less collapsed."
On February 24, 2008, I phoned Guss, a civil engineer in Gaza City who informed me, "Lately we have been receiving two days of electricity for about 12 hours a day, but on the third day we are without any power. Most all the gas stations have been closed for the last three days because they are out of gas…The children go to school but they are not cheerful. You can see it in their eyes something is very wrong. When the boys play, they play war games and fight each other pretending to be Hamas or Israelis. They make weapons out of sticks of wood and are getting more aggressive. The girls spend their time helping their mothers and doing housework. When they draw pictures they are always pictures of war. They are forbidden happiness, they are afraid of the dark and parents are loosing patience and yelling instead of talking…Yesterday all over Gaza City people peacefully demonstrated against the siege but we are feeling like nobody is listening. Every action requires reaction not words and inaction."
On February 24, 2008, I received an email from Jerusalem, sent by Reverend Bob and Maurine Tobin who are leaders for SABEEL's [Arabic for THE WAY] Feb. 28-March 7th's reality tour through the West Bank and Israel to mark and commemorate:
• 90 years since the Balfour Declaration
• 60 years since the Nakba and the founding of the state of Israel
• 40 years of Occupation
• 25 years since Sabra/Shatila
• 20 years since the First Intifada
• 5 years of the Apartheid Wall
The Tobin's wrote:
[We] spent Wednesday in Gaza…Please keep the people of Gaza in your prayers as Israel is preparing to launch a wide scale ground operation there…Collective punishment on this scale is truly beyond comprehension…
…We went to visit Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday, 20 February, our first visit in almost a year…The first thing that struck us was the near emptiness of the huge Israeli “terminal” that one passes through – we saw no one else entering and passed only one emaciated man in a wheelchair seeking to exit. He is apparently one of the very few to obtain a permit for medical care, while more than 80 have died in the past few weeks while trying to exit for health reasons. We made our way through the endless gates and turnstiles and then waited in the cement enclosure until a huge metal door finally slid open and let us enter the long tunnel that leads to “no man’s land.”