Visit to Gaza was an eye-opener


On the weekend of July 4, Raed Khatib of Boardman and I joined some 200 other patriots on a humanitarian mission to Gaza, the scene of perhaps the greatest atrocity of our times. We were led by George Galloway, a member of the British Parliament; Charles Barron, a New York City councilman, and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. She had spent the previous week in an Israeli jail after being kidnapped in international waters on board “The Spirit of Humanity,” a ship loaded with humanitarian aid for Gaza which never arrived.

Many of our supplies were also prevented from arriving in Gaza. Our mission, Viva Palestina, was designed to give renewed hope and deliver badly needed medical supplies from America to this besieged population of 1.5 million humans inhumanely trapped within a closed ghetto for the past two years. We succeeded in cracking it open, albeit for only 24 hours. After a series of frustrating delay tactics thrown at us by both the Egyptian government and the U.S. embassy, we entered Gaza on the day after Bastille Day. What we witnessed was both heartbreaking and inspiring.

Gaza is the world’s largest open-air prison. Compressed within the closed borders of this narrow strip of land are over three times as many people as were struggling to survive in the Nazi-controlled Warsaw ghetto. Terribly aggravating their plight was the recent three-week invasion and the ongoing assaults by Israeli forces. As a result, large parts of Gaza today look like Ground Zero did in the aftermath of 9/11. The destruction is overwhelming, even now some six months after the world’s fourth most powerful military machine unleashed its hell upon a largely defenseless population.

Results of assault

Whole sections of Gaza City have been converted into an utter wasteland. Huge piles of concrete slabs and rubble now mark what were once vibrant neighborhoods; row after row of destroyed mosques, schools and homes are found throughout the city along with homeless families living in tents. The buildings laid waste by Israel’s F-16s include the American International School in Gaza, now nothing more than a pile of crumbled concrete and twisted iron. Hotels along the Mediterranean were routinely shelled from the sea. Every house and apartment building along the coast had gaping bullet and shell holes in their walls.

It is hard to imagine how anyone in these buildings could have survived the brutal assault from air, land and sea. We know that over 1,400 Palestinians did not survive, including well over 400 children.

Tens of thousands more were wounded and remain in immediate need of proper health care, which they are unable to receive in blockaded Gaza. Among them are four Palestinian children who, thanks to the Kent-based Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, have free medical care waiting for them in the United States. However, we were unable to bring them out of Gaza with us. They, like many of the patients we saw in the woefully under supplied al-Shifa hospital, remain stranded and shut in by a world that has also tragically chosen to shut its ears, eyes and mouth to the enormity of this humanitarian implosion in Gaza.

Because things are as they are, things cannot remain as they are. The spirit and those filled with it will see to that.

About the only thing Israel did not wreck in Gaza is the spirit of the people. The will to survive all adversity and the determination to be free are very much alive and well in Gaza today. It is the closest to the living Spirit of ’76 I have ever witnessed. That indomitable spirit of freedom brought to new life the immortal words of our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Amen.

X The Rev. Warner Lange of Newton Falls is an assistant professor of sociology at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

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