George Bush and Tony Blair’s chatter about new sweeping peace initiatives in the Middle East will come as little comfort to the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Israel, the US’s ally in the region, has unleashed another bloody assualt on civilians in the besieged territory.
Fifteen tank shells landed in the town of Beit Hanoun during an attack last week, killing 19 people and wounding 40. Four women and nine children were among the dead. The massacre is another atrocity designed to break the will of the Palestinian people.
Beit Hanoun, on the northern tip of the Gaza Strip, is a centre of resistance.
Militants there have fought off Israeli army incursions and fired homemade missiles at Israel.
The Israeli assault is all the more ferocious because the country’s politicians and army leaders are desperate to restore their military credibility following the humiliation in Lebanon this summer.
Dr Mona el-Farra works at the small al-Awda hospital near Beit Hanoun, where medical staff are struggling to cope with vicitims of the latest Israeli attacks.
She told Socialist Worker, “The Israelis wanted to punish the town for the resistance. During the siege they cut off the electricity and water. Families were confined to their homes.
“They destroyed the infrastructure - the bridges, the electricity, the schools. Vast areas of fertile productive land have been levelled. They want to make the lives of ordinary people unbearable so that we will abandon our resistance, but the Palestinians will not give up.”
Dr Mona said the attack on Beit Hanoun came after a summer of non-stop Israeli raids.
“They launched small scale incursions, first in the south, then in the north, then in the east,” she said. “Two or three people were being killed every day.”
The Gaza Strip has been under siege since Palestinians elected the militant Hamas movement in free elections last February. All aid to the territory has been cut.
Dr Mona explained how the economic and social conditions are deteriorating. “Around 70 percent of the population are now depending on humanitarian aid to survive,” she said.
“Over half of women and children suffer from anaemia, a blood disorder caused by iron deficiency, while one in five children under the age of five have chronic malnutrition.
“Yet because of the international sanctions we cannot treat people properly.
“There is a shortage of milk, fresh food and electricity. Most rural areas, and some urban areas, do not have running water.
“Every week the situation gets worse.”
There is a growing medical emergency in the town.
“We are always under the threat that our medical supplies will be exhausted, and at the same time a rise in the number casualties and illness,” said Dr Mona. “Many of the wounded are dying needlessly because the Israelis are not allowing them to get to hospital.
“Over the last six months the border crossing with Egypt has only opened six times. Many of our cancer patients are dying because they cannot complete their treatment in Egypt.
“This is all part of a psychological war against Palestinians.
“Israel wants to turn the Gaza Strip into a land were everyone is dependent on aid, where they are no jobs, no life. Then they hope the Palestinians will give up the resistance to the occupation and accept a Israel’s terms for peace.
“But they are not succeeding. When the tanks pulled back from Beit Hanoun the fighters again began to fire rockets into Israel.”
After the massacre, the gulf state of Qatar presented a resolution to the United Nations condemning Israel’s actions, but this was vetoed by the US.
In response Arab governments threatened to break the sanctions on funding to the Palestinian government.
However, Dr Mona has little faith that the Arab regimes will deliver anything other than words.
“I don’t trust the Arab regimes,” she said. “I do not respect these regimes, and I am not overwhelmed by their actions. These regimes continue to cooperate with Israel and the US.”
For daily life at al-Awda hospital go to Dr Mona el-Farra’s blog www.fromgaza.blogspot.com