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First days in Gaza

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Day three in Gaza:

Well it is Monday, March 9, and it seems we have been in Gaza forever. My hotel overlooks the sea. I hear the sounds of the waves and it is so lovely -- like any resort but Gaza is not a resort -- it is a prison. We hear the same message everyday from all of the people we meet. We don't need your humanitarian aid -- we need a just peace. We need an end to the occupation. We need our children to grow up free and with a future. The people of Gaza want you to go to your governments and tell them that you will not tolerate seeing an entire population being held hostage.

I traveled north of Gaza City today to a community center. We saw children playing in the gymnasium and teenagers playing ping pong. We were not in a shelter although during the invasion there were people living here. Now there is a family -- we met with the father so that he could tell his story. He had an apartment for his family -- eight children and his wife. He has not worked in a few years. So many people here are dependent on humanitarian aid. The apartment building was destroyed and left he and his family homeless. He told of the children screaming and crying and their terror. They don't want to go to a shelter because the family will have to be separated -- male and female. He insisted that they stay in this community centre and they slept for many days in the auditorium. Now they have been given two rooms and a bathroom. They have had to fight for water...they have only the clothes on their backs. He has not changed his clothes since before the massacre. This is an educated and soft spoken gentleman. We went to the rooms and met his wife and daughters. It is not the way anyone should have to live. Discretely, I shook his hand and handed him $50 of the money friends had given me to help whoever I felt needed it.

We had lunch today with UNRWA and met John Ging, director of operations. He is a very dedicated and out spokn representative He said that this is struggle for truth and justice. He said that the Palestinian people have not forgotten their civility. He told us that they have hope but there is more extremism now but the general population is resisting. He also said that aid is not the first thing the people need but that it is truth and justice. He did talk about the aid that cannot get into Gaza and is waiting in warehouses in Al-Arish.

Later in the afternoon we met with representatives from the Gaza Community Mental Health Program. They talked to us about the ongoing trauma for the people of Gaza. Children can't sleep at night and when they do experience nightmares and night terrors. These children no longer believe that their parents can protect them or can provide the essentials for daily living. Every person in Gaza including the mental health professionals have experienced this horror and still they must continue to live in this prison.

This is an entire population that was targeted with white phosphorus and that had to face a full scale military onslaught. We were told that now the International Community must help Israel to heal their trauma of the holocaust. The Palestinians are victims of the victims. It is our responsibility now to put pressure, constant pressure on our governments. The end of the siege is the first step to healing the mental health issues in Gaza. An end to occupation and a just peace.

Day two in Gaza:

It is International Women's Day. This is a day for solidarity for women all over the world. After breakfast this morning, we went by bus to various community centres that are receiving funding from the UNRWA. In the bus on the way to Gaa Al Qureen Development Association one of our guides told us about the recent destruction of Gaza by the Israeli government. She said that they want to destroy everything -- old men, women and children -- even the stones. I am so disgusted by the damage that I see. 1500 homes destroyed, the Al Quds hospital, the ministry buildings -- everything reduced to rubble. How can an army with bombs, helicopters and tanks invade a community -- where children are playing in the playgrounds, walking to school, sleeping soundly in their homes? What mentality can kill the innocent without remorse?

At the community centre we were met by all the women that use this centre. They had put a lot of thought and preparation into our visit. Three of us went to each centre. At Gaa All Qureen they sang, danced and performed a play for us. The women are learning a lot about their rights as women and this centre is very important to each of them. Many of the women have been very isolated for some time. Many are not educated -- this is a very rural community and the centres have given them a place to be together and to learn about their rights as women. They have a room with exercise equipment and a room with computers. Mothers and daughters are coming for lessons together. Some said they were realizing their dreams. The program today was set up so that each woman in our group had an opportunity to meet with a group of Palestinian women and ask them questions and to answer theirs. The women asked me questions about women's rights in Canada and about my opinion on women's rights in general. There was personal sharing on both sides and tears on mine. Domestic abuse is a problem in Gaza -- men are out of work and they are frustrated by the hopelessness here. The workshops sponsored by UNRWA are impacting both men and women and making a difference. There is a new awareness for the women of Gaza.

This evening we had dinner in a gorgeous restaurant with delicious soup and a variety of salads. After dinner we heard from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) workers. They told us about the work they did with the Red Crescent Society. They described the horrors of going into areas that were being attacked and taking out the injured -- shelling and bombing going on around them. They told us about the fisherman and the farmers who are regularly attacked by the Israeli soldiers -- before and after the massacre.

Palestinian territorial water should be 12 miles out from the shore and this should be safe fishing ground for the fisherman. However, the Israelis have only allowed them to fish 6 miles out from the shore and have shot at them when they were as close as 5 miles. Since the massacre this area has been reduced to 3 miles and fisherman have been fired at as close as 1 mile from the shore. Fisherman of late choose not to fish because it is not feasible financially to take out a trawler within 3 miles from the shore and also because it is so dangerous for them. Many continue as they have no other way to feed their families.

What do the women of Gaza want on this International Women's Day? Like you and me they want to live in peace, to nurture their children and see them happy and free.

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