The CEPR led a delegation of 13 European Parliamentarians to the Gaza Strip via Egypt on July 22-27, 2011. The CEPR delegation met with UN officials, women's groups, NGOs, politicians, students, hospitals and small businesses.
Click here to view the full photo gallery: GAZA DELEGATION - JULY 2011
The CEPR led a delegation of 13 prominent European Parliamentarians to the Gaza Strip that arrived in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, July 22, and entered Gaza via the Rafah Crossing Point on Sunday, July 24. The majority of the parliamentarians were from the United Kingdom, including Scotland, as well as one Member of the European Parliament from Lithuania.
In Gaza, the CEPR delegation was greeted at a press conference with the Chairman and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) at the Rafah crossing. The delegation first visited an association for the families of Palestinian prisoners; then was briefed by Sebastien Trieves, Deputy-Director of Field Operations in Gaza for UNRWA.
On Sunday evening, Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyyeh, addressed the delegation with a speech followed by an exchange of views on the situation in Gaza and the position of Hamas regarding the broader peace process, the two-state solution and Palestinian reconciliation.
On Monday, July 25, the delegation met with a group of women led by Mrs. Abeer Barakat, from different organizations, such as Save the Children and the United Nations, to hear about women's rights and the role of women in political and civil life in Gaza. The delegation then met with Raymond Dolphin from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) who desribed the buffer zones between Gaza and Israel, the sea limits imposed by Israel, and how the tunnels make the Israeli siege ineffective and plays into hands of hard-liners.
The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) hosted a meeting as well and presented the problems of nitrate and chlorine contamination, the diminshing level of the aquifers, and the constant pressure of meeting the needs of a rapidly growing population expected to reach 2.8 million by 2025 - the Gaza Strip is already the most densely populated area in the world.
After a tour of the small museum where historic artifacts from Gaza are on display, a lunch was hosted at the adjacent al-Mat'haf hotel where the delegation met with Jamal al-Khoudary who is an independent politician and presidential candidate for the upcoming elections.
In the afternoon, the delegation met their counterparts at the Gazan Parliament (repaired since being bombed in the 2008-09 Gaza War). The meeting addressed the Palestinian bid for UN membership in September 2011. The Palestinians were dubious of changes that UN membership would have on the ground, but who were encouraged by the number of countries voicing support for Palestinian statehood. 40 Palestinian parliamentarians are still detained by Israel.
At a meeting with Palestinian and international NGOs, humanitarian aid, international law, and the Goldstone report were main themes. The NGOs also explained how they were unable to work with Israeli NGOs due to the closure and increasing distrust between associations. Raji Sourani, Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) chaired the meeting that also included representatives from the agricultural sector. The NGOs expressed support for the ongoing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
In the evening, the CEPR delegation met with the head of the committee for national reconciliation, Ashraf Jumaa, who is also a Fatah member of the PLC from Rafah. Having recently returned from Istanbul, Turkey, where Fatah and Hamas held their third meeting for reconciliaton, he explained that the main issues remaining included the creation of a national unity government, sharing security, the PLO structure, upcoming elections, and public civil reconciliation between the Palestinian people, not only between politicians.
Ashraf Jumaa also explained that the Fatah position is that reconciliation needs to be respected by international community; however, there is substantial pressure from the international community to keep Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister. Hamas rejects Fayyad, but does not object to postponing a national unity government until September with elections to be held in June 2012. Ashraf Jumaa concluded: "If we can't control the peace, then we can't control anything."
On Tuesday, July 26, the European delegates met with small and medium enterprises (SME) with whom they learned that unemployment reaches 50% of Gazans, of 2.800 factories about half do not function due to destruction. The direct cost of damage is estimated at 184 million dollars, with indirect costs reaching 1 billion. The industrial sector consists of 30% of the Palestinian economy. Before the 2008-09 Gaza War, there were 135.000 SME workers, now there are only 15.000 employed.
A visit to the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City with the Minister of Health, Bassem Naem, revealed a large power supply deficiency that affects kidney dialisis machines, for example; every time the power goes down, the machines have to be unplugged from patients, the blood cleaned and then restarting. There is also a severe lack of funding, lack of training due to lack of travel, a lack of spare parts and of specialists.
Israel's preoccupation with 'dual-use' material that could be used potentially for civilian and military purposes prohibits the import of any radio-therapy drugs for cancer patients. Israel also demands that patients requiring emergency treatment outside of Gaza, being transported to East Jerusalem, inform on the security situation with the Strip before receiving treatment.
500 Palestinians have died in the last 3 years simply because of a lack of medication - children and cancer patients are most at risk.
These are some of the places and facts that the CEPR delegation of European parliamentarians visited and learned about during their visit to the Gaza Strip in July 2011. The CEPR is grateful to these respected politicians for their willingness to join this delegation and to experience the Palestinian predicament.
To view the photo essay, click here: CEPR Delegation to the Gaza Strip - July 2011
To read the full report, click here: GAZA - The Realities of International Isolation