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One Year On

December 28, 2009

Last year on December 28th, I was sitting in the Lutheran Church in Old City Jerusalem with my friends and colleagues who had just spent Christmas together. That Sunday, it turned out, was the feast day commemorating the “Massacre of the Innocents” (a once in 7 year occurrence). The mood was incredibly grim and sorrowful, not just because we retold the story of how King Herod killed all the babies in Bethlehem to prevent the rumored Jewish Messiah from growing up. Rather, it was that we were all thinking about massacre of innocents which was underway that very moment in Gaza as the bombs rained down on a population of mainly children (more than half are under 18).

On this, the first anniversary of the war in Gaza, it is still difficult to recall those days as we all sat stunned and helpless in front of our TVs, knowing that we could not make it end, but sensing that the ramifications, if not the bombs, would last for years to come. Overnight, “war mode” had come upon the ‘Holy’ land and civil people with whom I had previously discussed Arab-Israeli issues became outright hostile. An overwhelming percentage of Israelis supported the strikes and then the invasion that came on the eve of Israeli national elections. Life went on in Bethlehem as if in a coma, though folks tensed up every Friday as sermons at the mosques had more heated rhetoric.

But what really struck me was the aftermath and the politicization of development and humanitarian assistance. In the days, weeks, and months following, my organization tried to find ways to give aid and support to the people in Gaza, fellow Palestinians who had been cut off entirely. Yet people, medical supplies, and building materials were essentially forbidden and/or delayed from getting into the strip and people faced huge obstacles getting out for any reason. I have never before or again experienced such obstacles to providing basic relief. Why shouldn’t people in Gaza get to rebuild their apartment buildings, homes, schools, and workplaces? Or why shouldn’t experienced foreign workers be able to come in and offer their services to a population in great need?

Collective punishment continues to this day with a blockade on most all goods short of basic UN food aid. Palestinians in Gaza cannot come and go without rare permits. There has been no rebuilding with concrete and glass for those people whose homes were destroyed and winter is back. Before the war, Gaza was considered to be in a very poor situation with the restrictions cutting off economic and educational opportunities, but now they are in dire straits. Members of Congress can take a stand to urge President Obama to do all he can to end the blockade–tell your representative to sign on the Congressional letter here.

If you are interested in taking part in solidarity activities around the U.S. and internationally, check this website for events this week.

One year on and things are not improved for the people in Gaza. I hope you will join me in speaking out on their behalf.

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