Free Gaza Boats: Gone Fishing
by Mary Hughes
It was a day of smiles and a day of tears for me here in Gaza City. Another early press conference, followed by a visit to the hospital which has seen most of the carnage created in Gaza by Israeli bombs and rockets. The doctor related some of the difficulties faced by the population of Gaza. That 50 chldren have died because Israel refused to let them enter Israel for treatment. The reason given by Israel? The mothers were under 35 years old and could be terrorists. So the children died. He told us that so far 242 people have died during the siege because of Israel’s refusal to allow them to get the treatment they need. And that there have been 300 deliveries at checkpoints, resulting in 69 babies dead.
Next we visited a room whose walls were filled with horrific photographs of injured and dying and dead children and babies. On the table was a collection of fragments of Israeli artillery—rockets, bombs, shrapnel, bullets…
Next to visit some patients. We didn’t see any victims of this violence there. One small boy, clearly very ill, maybe 7 or 8 years old. He held his mother’s hand and tried to smile at us at she told us he will die without an operation that cannot be performed in Gaza. The Israelis won’t let him into Israel or the West Bank for treatment.
Then we went to the neonatal unit where a dozen babies you could hold in your hand were struggling to survive in patched up incubators. Some were just tiny, some had bandages, all were breathing through tubes. Their tiny chests rose and fell, some moved, opened their eyes, cried out, waved arms or legs. They didn’t seem to be ill, just very tiny. In an American hospital I’m sure they would all survive and thrive. Here we know their lives are fragile because they depend on the electricity it takes to keep their incubators working.
They are just little babies… all different. Some fair, some darker, some red faced… some with hair, some without. They could be Arab babies, or Jewish babies, or Christian babies, or Muslim babies. They are Palestinian babies, and they deserve to grow into healthy Palestinian children and adults. I wonder how it can be that some people believe the lives of Palestinian babies are less precious than those of any others?
We went to the kidney dialysis unit, where 7 or 8 adults were getting their treatment. The doctors told us that often the patients must wait for hours until there is enough electricity for the machines. Israel usually allows them 12 hours of electricity per day, but sometimes only 6, so they constantly fear the machines will stop in the middle of treatment, which sometimes happens. They said also that Israel will not let them import necessary parts to keep the machines, and the incubators, operating properly, or let them have the solution needed to cleanse the blood of the dialysis patients.
And then to lunch with Prime Minister Ismail Hanyeh at his house inside the refugee camp. He greeted each of us individually, and told us we are now citizens of Palestine. He placed a large medal around each of our necks and spoke to us about who we are, and we were able to respond. After lunch he led us into several of the tiny houses, often a single room without furniture, where he and we were greeted warmly by the Prime Minister’s neighbors and their children.
As always the people and the children were friendly and welcoming, greeting us with smiles and reaching out their hands to us. Many of the women folded me and the other women into their arms, or touched our faces, and kissed us, always telling us “thank you for coming” or “welcome to Gaza.” The children were everywhere, running through the narrow alleyways of the camp, waving to us, calling out to us “what’s your name?” and a few hiding behind their mothers, too shy to come near us. One little boy of around three dragged his green blanket around in the narrow little alley, reminding me of my own granddaughter who drags around a green blanket that I knitted for her when she was born.
Afterwards we went to the big outdoor market in downtown Gaza City. There are so many people… it’s such a little strip of land for a million and a half people. Everywhere they waved to us, smiled, held up their fingers in a peace sign. A flatbed truck pulled up beside our bus and we were entertained by a band playing just for us. We walked a lot today, and saw a thousand smiling faces.
Tonight we were entertained by Ramattan TV Network which had a journalist on our boat FREE GAZA. They showed a 6 minute film they have already made of our journey and our arrival in Gaza. There were many tears as we re-lived our rough voyage when many of us were seasick throughout the night, and frightened at the the thought - the expectation even - that we would suddenly be set upon by craft from Israel’s Navy which had warned us we would not be allowed to reach Gaza. And then cheers and smiles when we saw again the incredible greeting we had received as we sailed into Gaza port. There must have been 60 or 70 boats at least, and more than a hundred people in the water swimming beside our boats, or climbing aboard.
So here we are in Gaza, and we haven’t seen a single Israeli with a gun. Just three unarmed Israelis who sailed with us on this remarkable voyage.
The last news we received tonight was that the people of Gaza City will build a square for us and name it Free Gaza Square. And all of our names will be displayed there, along with one of our boats (or a replica if we choose not to leave one of our boats behind when we go.}
Tomorrow at 4:30 AM some of us are going out with the Gaza fishermen in their boats to see what we can catch. We hope our presence will provide some degree of protection for these men and boys who risk injury and death from Israeli guns each time they try to work their trade in the waters off the coast of Gaza.