'The policies of the regime are not in the interests of the vast majority in Israel'

Day two of Paul Murphy's trip to Gaza. Find his account of day one here.

I’m back in the hotel after a long day of meetings and trips. Just getting out during the daytime is educational in itself. Poverty is everywhere, as is evidence of the airstrikes and "Operation Castlead", the Israeli regime’s attack on Gaza at the end of 2008 and start of 2009. It is estimated that over 4831 buildings around Gaza were severely damaged and some 3,914 were completely destroyed. Those figures chime with what you see as you drive around Gaza.

The day started with a visit to Assamala Charitable Society, which is an organisation for those injured and disabled by the Israeli attacks. We met some of the many women who had lost limbs and suffered horrific injuries, mostly as a result of Israeli bombings. Tragically, there was also a young boy missing one of his legs. A video presentation and speeches outlined the work of the organisation – which provides doctors, physiotherapists and psychologists to help those who are injured. This society has provided over 100 electric wheelchairs to those who have lost legs. It also provides artificial limbs. Although the service seemed to be well organised and professional, the fact that it needs to exist is of course testament to the human tragedy that exists in Gaza as a direct result of the policy of the Israeli regime.

After that, there was an unfortunately brief trip to the outskirts of Jabalia, one of the eight official refugee camps in the Gaza strip. This is a camp housing around 130,000 people. It was exactly as an Egyptian activist I shared Givon prison with, Ehab, had described other camps – the paths were essentially eliminated as concrete structures had replaced tents and tin roofs, and were built out to the maximum possible. It meant that going from house to house entailed walking through tiny alleys. Apparently, as you go further into the camp, the situation is even worse, with the result that families cannot take coffins out of the houses and bodies have to be taken out by themselves and put into coffins at a later stage. The people in this camp were so densely packed together, it was really incredible. We visited one tiny house with three very small rooms, where seven people all lived together.

After our trip to the camp we attended an exhibition about the impact of the siege of Gaza and a press conference. The exhibition contained countless shocking pictures of children and adults having been killed or mutilated by Israeli air strikes, as well as statistics about the impact of the blockade on the people of Gaza.

The press conference was a major event at which to present our opposition to the siege of Gaza, with perhaps around 20 microphones and ten TV cameras arranged on the podium for the various speakers. It went on for around two hours, with numerous parliamentarians and activists from around the world asked to speak. I had the opportunity to speak briefly, which I used to detail my efforts to reach Gaza previously (with the Freedom Flotilla II and the Freedom Waves flotilla) and to express the solidarity of the Irish Ship to Gaza participants with the struggle of the Palestinian people.

The domination of Hamas was clear, as it was at the exhibition. Ismail Haniya, the Prime Minister and a Hamas leader, spoke, as did the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Aziz Duwaik, another leading member of Hamas. As there is a meeting with the government planned for tomorrow, I will leave my comments about the nature of Hamas until tomorrow.

Later on, we visited UCAS, the University College of Applied Sciences. Its establishment, under the conditions of siege, was very impressive – and it has grown in the space of 13 years from having a couple of hundred students to now having over 9,000 students.

After lunch at the university, it was back to a meeting at the hotel with NGOs and human rights organisations representing the education sector, and dealing with poverty, human rights, young people and women. This was for me the most interesting part of the day.

A university lecturer outlined the very difficult conditions facing those involved in education. The blockade means that it is very difficult to get equipment to use in the labs, for example, and over the past seven years, no new schools have been established.

The devastating effect of the blockade on the economy was also made graphically clear, with the figure given that 100,000 people have lost their jobs due to the siege and 80% are dependent on foreign aid to survive.

Gaza is evidently an extremely young society – almost half the population is aged 14 or younger. A young man who had accompanied us throughout the day gave an impassioned speech about the conditions facing young people who are trapped in the Gaza strip as a result of Israel’s actions. An interesting debate developed between two different young people about relations with Israeli “civil society”.

With the blockade of Gaza, the opportunities for interactions with Israeli workers and youth have obviously declined dramatically. One of the young people had drawn the conclusion that there was a need to try to reach out to Israeli workers and youth and had worked with others to set up an organisation to do that. Another young person emphasised the role of the Israeli education system in bombarding Israeli Jews with propaganda against the Palestinians and Arab people generally from a very young age and felt that such connections could not really be built.

For me, the Israeli establishment stoke up the fears of the Israeli Jews and this, along with the bloody legacy of the conflict, has a major effect, though it does not mean that the majority of Israeli Jewish workers and young people will forever be wedded to the right-wing Israeli capitalist and racist establishment. Fundamentally, Israel is a highly divided society and the policies of the Israeli regime are not in the interests of the vast majority in Israel. Instead, the political establishment uses divide and rule policies alongside so-called security rhetoric to try to create a false “national unity” built on fear. The development of the tent movement in Israel, which mobilised almost 500,000 people in Tel Aviv last August, gave a glimpse of the potential power of Israeli workers and youth. Unfortunately, the leadership of that movement did not address the occupation, with some elements even supporting air strikes against Gaza. However, its very existence demonstrates the class divisions in Israeli society and the potential to break Israeli workers and youth from the establishment.

I support the Palestinian masses’ right to resist the occupation, including armed resistance when necessary, however actions such as rocket attacks only serve to bolster the Israeli capitalist elite’s security and fear-based rhetoric. Instead I think that a movement of the Palestinian people against national oppression should attempt to reach out and make connections with the revolutionary masses in the region and appeal also to Israeli workers and poor. That doesn’t mean that resistance against the oppression and against the blockade of Gaza has to wait until there is the basis for a joint mass struggle. However, such an orientation, together with the development of a mass struggle akin to the first intifada in the Occupied Territories, could provide a powerful impetus to the development of such a movement amongst Israeli workers and youth. That would drastically undermine the ability of the Israeli elite to defeat an uprising of the Palestinian people and open the way to a successful joint struggle against national and social oppression, and the occupation and siege.

Image top: gloucester2gaza.