The CEPR led its largest delegation yet to the Gaza Strip on Monday, November 21, 2011. The delegation consisted of international politicians and activists from Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the Arab world. The following is a summary of the intense days visiting and touring the Gaza Strip.
The CEPR led its largest delegation yet to the Gaza Strip between November 20-25, 2011. The delegation consisted of international politicians and activists from Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the Arab world. The following is a summary of the intense days spent visting and touring Gaza.
Part of the delegation outside Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh (center), office heaquarters.
To view more photos of the CEPR delegation in November 2011, click here: The Gaza Strip
The delegates arrived in the capital of Egypt on Sunday and prepared for the trip across the Sinai Peninsula the following day. On Monday, November 21, two buses departed from Cairo early in the morning to cross the northern Sinai. Due to the transitional period in Egypt, there were many military checkpoints along the highway that slowed down the convoy. By dusk, the delegation reached the Rafah crossing and after a couple of hours of bureaucratic procedures the delegates were welcomed on the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing at a press conference with the Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, Dr. Ahmed Baher.
On Tuesday, November 22, the delegation split into separate groups to maximize meeting time with Palestinian counterparts. The Latin America, Asian, European and Arab buses went to different meetings with local NGOs, such as the Assalama Charitable Society in Gaza that provides a support network for injured and maimed Palestinians. Clare Short, former UK Secretary of State at the Department for International Development (DfID) said:
"We salute you, especially the women, for keeping your families and lives together. The dignity with which you carry your injuries is a lesson for all of us to learn from."
Testimonies of Palestinian prisoners released in return for the Israeli soldier.
The different groups then met for the highlight of the day at the old Palestinian Parliament building - since the new one had been hit badly by Israel in the December 2008-January 2009 war on Gaza - for the ceremony of the international declaration to end the siege of Gaza. Many speakers from different parts of the world addressed the large audience of Palestinians. Closing the ceremony, the Palestinian Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh said:
"There is no excuse now for prolonging the siege of 1.5 million people. [...] We are proud that Gaza is the cradle of declarations against sieges and the repression of peoples around the world."
PM Haniyeh also said that the Palestinian situation is a political issue; the humanitarian disaster is a man-made side-effect. During an official reception at the Prime Minister's offices the following day, Haniyeh reiterated that the Palestinians had been willing to go to the 1967 lines with Israel but that Israel had overstepped by far the boundaries with the proliferation of Jewish settlements.
Delegates listening to the address by PM Haniyeh explaining the Palestinian perspective.
PM Haniyeh clarified many points to the international delegation including the current inter-Palestinian rift. He said that this is an "incidental division - not the norm" and that Palestine was united historically and geographically before. He emphasized that "reunification will occur" and that the "wheel of reconciliation is moving". The 2006 election was not accepted Haniyeh continued, but Hamas remains "open to political diversity".
Following the reception and exchange with PM Haniyeh, the delegation had the opportunity to visit al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The lack of electricity and erratic generators causes sudden interruptions which can be fatal for liver dialysis patients that need recurrent blood transfusions. The lack of medication is also fatal for cancer patients that are denied the proper treatment because of Israeli security concerns about 'radioactive' material.
Despite the Israeli siege, one country in particular has been very active in assisting with the reconstruction of Gaza. The Qatar Red Crescent within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Program for the Reconstruction of Gaza has been actively rebuilding Al-Shifa's Special Surgery building with the Islamic Development Bank. The new al-Shifa building should be finished in 2012.
Palestinian boats docked in the Gaza City port.
The Qatar Charity has also been involved in the construction of 250 housing units in the Gaza City port for the Palestinian fishermen there. Turkey also dedicated a tower to the 9 civilians who were killed by Israel in international waters onboard the Mavi Marmara in May 2010. The latest flotilla ship detained by Israel was in November 2011 onboard was Irish Member of the European Parliament, Paul Murphy, who joined the CEPR delegation to Gaza.
The different groups of the delegation also met with the University College of Applied Sciences (UCAS) that is leading the Gaza Strip in the highest education standards, as well as with women's groups that explained the situation of women within Palestinian society and politics, plus a tour of the Jabalya refugee camp and most unexpectedly a tour of an archaelogical site where an ancient church once stood - now the mosaics are becoming visible.
Archaelogical excavation of ancient church mosaics in central Gaza.