Seventy delegates from 20 countries, including Parliamentarians from 11 countries, last week saw the disastrous effects of the 22-day Israeli attack on Gaza two years ago and the five-year naval and land blockade on Gaza. The trip was organized by the Council for European Palestinian Relations.

Two members from the European Parliament (one each from Ireland and Portugal), four national Parliamentarians from Chile, three from Malaysia, two from Ireland and one Parliamentarian from Scotland, Pakistan, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Brazil and Morocco, travelled to Gaza. The delegation was led by former British government minister Claire Short. A retired ambassador from the Netherlands and a former U.S. diplomat were also on the delegation.

Due to the extreme influence of the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States, no U.S. congresspersons were on the delegation.

Citizen activists for Palestinian rights from the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Libya, Egypt and the United States were also on the delegation.

Delegation calls for Israel to end the siege of Gaza

Based on extensive discussions during their visit with members of civil society, non-governmental organizations, United Nations organizations and government officials in the areas of health, educational, water, sanitation, political reconciliation and negotiations with Israel, the delegation issued a declaration to governments around the world demanding an end to the siege of Gaza and protection of free access by the people of Gaza to land, sea and air routes to and from Gaza.

Very little reconstruction materials permitted by Israelis to be sent to Gaza

The delegation is very concerned that imports of construction materials to repair or rebuild buildings damaged or destroyed in the 22-day Israeli attack on Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009 continue to be severely restricted. In 2011, only 17 per cent of the materials that had been allowed to enter Gaza in years prior to 2007 when the siege began were permitted by the Israelis to enter Gaza. As a result, there is a shortage of 250 schools for students to attend and existing schools run 2-3 sessions for students each day.

Israel violently stops fishermen 3 miles from shore and prevents agricultural production along “border zone”

The delegation expressed great dismay that Israel continues to maintain complete control over Gaza’s territorial waters, preventing all movement of people and goods by sea and limiting fishing to a distance of three nautical miles from Gaza’s coastline in violation of the Oslo Accords which permit Gaza fishermen to fish out to 20 miles. Fishermen who defy the ban are shot at and/or their boats are confiscated and the fisherman put in Israeli jail. 4,500 Gaza residents who had previously supported their families by fishing have thus been stripped of their livelihoods and the entire population of 1.6 million has been deprived of a vital source of natural, inexpensive nutrition.

The delegation also decried Israel preventing access to a 300- to 1,500-meter “buffer zone” along its border with Gaza, cutting residents off from one-third of their most productive agricultural land.

Exports from Gaza prohibited by Israeli government

The delegation stated that virtually all exports from Gaza continue to be prohibited by Israel. In 2005 Israel committed to allowing the export of 400 truckloads of produce to be exported, but between November 2010 and May 2011 only two truckloads of strawberries, flowers, peppers and tomatoes were allowed to be shipped out of Gaza.

Since May 12, 2011, the Israeli government has not permitted any goods to be exported. Without being allowed to export products, it is impossible for Gazans to build a healthy, self-sufficient economy.

Right to travel

Recognizing that many people have not been able to leave Gaza for many years due to Israeli policies, the delegation underscored the right for people to move freely in and out of Gaza, limited only by reasonable security checks and document requirements.

International community and governments must accept the democratic choices of the Palestinian people

The delegation declared it is critical that the international community and governments accept the democratic choices of the Palestinian people in the next elections.

Dignity, self-respect, determination and persistence of the people of Gaza

Former United Kingdom Minister for Foreign Aid Claire Short told an assembly of persons injured during the Israeli attack on Gaza, “The dignity and self-respect with which you carry yourselves during this very difficult period is a lesson for us all. We admire very much your determination and persistence in rebuilding what was destroyed in the Israeli attacks and coping with the deprivations caused by the Israeli land and sea blockades. Our job is to get our governments to listen to your stories and to pressure the Israelis to end the siege of Gaza. And we will.”

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Ann Wright served in the US Army/Army Reserves for 29 years and retired as a Colonel. She worked for 16 years as a US diplomat and resigned in 2003 in opposition to the US war on Iraq. She visited Gaza 3 times in 2009 and was on the 2010 and 2011 Gaza Freedom Flotillas. She was a member of the Parliamentary delegation.