19 August 2011
CNEWA’s Regional Director for Palestine-Israel, Sami El-Yousef, describes his recent trip to Gaza, contrasting it in vivid detail to his previous visit.
As I recall my last visit to Gaza in March 2011, it was extremely tense for me; on 24 March, the day before we went, 50 Qassam rockets were launched into southern Israel. Upon our arrival, Israeli warplanes had already bombed several locations including one of Gaza’s electric generators near our hotel. Upon arriving at the hotel, the clerk gave us a customary warning:
“There may be shelling tonight by the Israeli army… if you hear loud explosions during the night, there is no need to panic and come running down to the reception area in your pajamas. Stay calm in your rooms and you will be all right!”
If we were not alarmed at that point, he gave us a good reason to worry. As we continued visiting the institutions later that day, everyone thought we were crazy to visit Gaza during “active wartime” and advised us to leave as soon as the Erez Crossing opens the following morning. Everyone expected an Israeli incursion; should that happen, the border would close and we would be stuck in Gaza until calm returns.
Not surprisingly, the next night was a sleepless one for me as I envisioned all of the “what if” scenarios. Moreover, Israeli F16 warplanes hovered in the skies and the occasional sound of shelling shook windows and caused widespread power outages. …
By noon, we made our way to Erez, bid goodbye to our driver and walked the lonely one-kilometer path inside the Erez terminal. Along the way, one more huge blast shook the whole building. All I could think of was the suffering of the brave people in Gaza and, in particular, the small Christian community that was left there. As we were driving to Jerusalem, I started to think of plans for a return visit as a show of solidarity.
That visit finally happened in July. After two attempts over a three-month period to secure a permit to reach Gaza, it was not until 18 July when we were told that the permit was ready and valid for the next two days. ... The memories of the last visit were vivid, and I was expecting to see the same scenes.
Once in Gaza, it was very clear that the most obvious effects of the war were no longer visible. Buildings shelled during the war of December 2008 that remained in ruins have since been knocked down and bulldozers were busily clearing in preparation for reconstruction. The streets were much cleaner and some were paved with recycled materials or laid with bricks. Four new shopping malls were opened and a series of chalets were constructed on Gaza beaches. Finally, we could not help but notice the number of brand new cars on the road. This is not the same Gaza I visited in March 2011!
Though my reflections are rather personal, I will attach a report generated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs published this month, which highlights the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. After all, I do not want anyone to think that there is an economic boom going on in Gaza as a result of my account!
I was very happy to observe that Gaza is finally starting the long recovery from the war and public services are restored and open. In fact, Gaza’s beaches were full of people enjoying a dip in the Mediterranean. It was also a pleasant sight to see small children on the beach playing and swimming instead of collecting rubble from destroyed buildings.
Read the rest of the report here.
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank