Israel is intensifying its collective punishment of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, one of the most overcrowded areas on the planet.
Israel has laid siege to Gaza since the capture of Israeli corporal Gilad Shilat by Palestinian groups late last month. The Palestinians are demanding the release of political prisoners in Israeli jails.
At least 51 Palestinians have been killed and over 150 wounded, the overwhelming majority of them civilians and mostly children, since Israel launched its incursions into the Gaza Strip.
Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has pledged to continue the onslaught. The Israeli government wants to destroy the Hamas government of Palestine, which was democratically elected.
The siege of Gaza has dramatically affected the Palestinian people.
Doctor Mona El Farra, who works at the al-Awda hospital in Jabalia refugee camp, told Socialist Worker, “The last few days have seen a big Israeli incursion into the north of the Gaza Strip.
“Israeli bulldozers demolished houses and uprooted trees. Israeli soldiers took people’s homes. The Israelis kept three families in one room for three days. They were used as human shields.
“At least 34 people were killed in the incursion. Half were the resistance, but the other half were civilians.
“At al-Awda hospital five children aged between 12 and 15 were brought in having been shot in the chest or abdomen.
“The hospital is working at full capacity in difficult circumstances. Because of the economic sanctions there are no medical supplies.
“We are facing a critical situation in the Gaza Strip. Israeli shelling killed a family in their home in the east of Gaza.
“A mother and her two children were killed. It reminded us of the recent killing of a family on the beach.
“People in Gaza feel that it is the right of the Israeli family to have their son back, but it is the right of Palestinian families to have the political prisoners back.
“We are being treated like third class humans. We are treated like numbers. This is why there is a bitter feeling.
“The world needs to listen. This is not a war. It is racist discrimination against us.
“Despite our situation we are living with resolve. There is a steadfastness of people.
“We are coping. People have nothing to lose. The community is helping people who have been displaced by giving blankets, mattresses and water. A whole nation is going through a collective punishment.”
Amjad Shawa, the Palestinian Network NGO coordinator for Gaza, told Socialist Worker, “The situation is getting worse with every moment.
“Since 8 June over 60 people have been killed by Israel and over 200 injured.
“These include men, women and children. Israel is targeting civilians and civilian institutions. Since 28 June Gaza has been starving in the dark.
“Gaza is under siege. Israel controls all the borders. It has destroyed the bridges connecting the north of Gaza and the central area. Children cannot go out of Gaza to get treatment for cancer.
“Palestinians are trapped across the border in Egypt. Israel destroyed the main power station in Gaza which provides almost half of our electricity. Our water and sewage supply depends on this electricity. Hospitals are operating on generators.
“The Palestinian budget is empty because of the sanctions on the new government. Public servants were not paid last month.
“Some 70 percent of the Gazan population lives below the poverty line. Around 1.4 million people are living in bad conditions.
“We need help to break the silence. The solidarity movement needs to act against the violation of human rights here. Israel has announced it will continue its aggression.
“It has destroyed areas and centres that were funded by the international community.”
Doctor Eyad al-Serraj, the director of Gaza Community Mental Health, said, “We are undergoing a crisis. The last 20 years have seen many episodes that have produced acute stress.
“The sonic booms of the Israeli aircraft are something that is new to us, as are Israel’s assassinations of Palestinian leaders over the last few years.
“The level of violence has increased. People have adapted to stress, but it is difficult to cope. Nearly a third of the population of Gaza has symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
“Children have problems of bedwetting, phobias – they cannot be alone and must have their family around them at all times.
“Because we cannot move in or out of Gaza, we have a claustrophobic feeling that we are really in a prison. People feel vulnerable and exposed. There is no escape.
“People feel they could be targeted at any time, that they could be the next target.”
Israel has continued its control
Israel and its supporters in the West claim that the assault in Gaza is simply a response to Palestinian attacks and the “kidnapping” of an Israeli corporal.
They claim that Israel wants to allow the Palestinians to live in peace.
Last year Israel staged a highly publicised withdrawal from the Gaza Strip – a narrow coastal strip of land with a population of about 1.4 million.
But the persecution of the Palestinians has continued unremittingly since the withdrawal from Gaza.
Israel has tightened its grip on the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Between the Israeli disengagement of September 2005 and last Friday, Israel arrested 4,371 Palestinians in the West Bank.
The Israeli B’Tselem human rights group estimates that 238 Palestinians were killed during the same period.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces killed 21 Palestinian civilians last month before the current assault began.
Corporal Shalit was captured in a Palestinian retaliation attack.