All across the Muslim world, the month of Ramadan is awaited with great anticipation. In just two weeks time, it will be dawn upon us.  It will be celebrated by fasting, sharing communal meals with friends and family, children cheerfully chanting while swinging colorful lanterns.  The spirit of giving will be at its peak where those who have, generously share with those who have not.    It's is supposed to be a joyous time. 

Unfortunately, this will not be the case for the Palestinians.  Especially those caged in the Gaza strip, squeezed between a ruthless Israeli occupation; and a neighbor, who was once a great compassionate brother, now turned into a callous surrogate jailer.  While many woes have descended mercilessly on our region, from Iraq to Lebanon, none is more pressing and humiliating today than the plight of those Palestinians who are reduced to foraging garbage dumps for sustenance.

It is ironic that those Arab oil producing countries, who are reaping astronomic sums of money for their "zift" or black gold, are more interested in pilfering their finite national resources in order to build grotesque palaces, garnish their unlimited fat bank accounts which are carefully deposited in foreign banks, and continue their horrendous spending on defunct military hardware, than wisely investing it in the economies of their brothers in need. 

The case of the Gaza strip and the West bank is a case in point. Who will dare to listen to one's heart and act upon it?  Alas! Most likely it will be no one, as affluent people, on the helm, are quite immune from the pangs of hunger taking hold of a person to their utter humiliation and despair. 

Sadly, these affluent people will be the last to empathize, and give a helping hand to the hungry and dispossessed. 

No matter how hard one might try to empathize with a person who is hungry, a person who has not eaten for days, it is absolutely impossible to understand and to actually "feel" what that person is going through.  Unless you have experienced this horror first hand, you cannot even begin to imagine what it is like.  The first day it is difficult, the second day it begins to get worse, and so with the third day and beyond.  After a while one becomes numb and the body begins to shut down.  This scars a person for life, and he or she can never "forgive" the circumstances that caused this horror to be endured.  The saving grace is that your heart becomes even more tender, and once the situation has passed, the person who has gone through this experience, will be the first person to offer, anonymously, help and food to those who are in need. That is why the best of charity comes always from the very poor themselves!


By Patrick Cockburn in Jerusalem 

The Israeli military and economic siege of Gaza has led to a collapse in Palestinian living conditions and many people only survive by looking for scraps of food in rubbish dumps, say international aid agencies. 

"The pressure and tactics have not resulted in a desire for compromise," Karen Abuzayd, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency is said to have warned. "But rather they have created mass despair, anger and a sense of hopelessness and abandonment."

Israel closed the entry and exit points into the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, on 25 June and has conducted frequent raids and bombings that have killed 262 people and wounded 1,200. The crisis in Gaza has been largely ignored by the rest of the world, which has been absorbed by the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

"Women in Gaza tell me they are eating only one meal a day, bread with tomatoes or cheap vegetables," said Kirstie Campbell of the UN's World Food Programme, which is feeding 235,000 people. She added that in June, since when the crisis has worsened, some 70 per cent of people in Gaza could not meet their family's food needs. "People are raiding garbage dumps," she said.

Not only do Palestinians in Gaza get little to eat but what food they have is eaten cold because of the lack of electricity and money to pay for fuel. The Gaza power plant was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in June. In one month alone 4 per cent of Gaza's agricultural land was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers.

The total closure imposed by Israel, supplemented by deadly raids, has led to the collapse of the Gazan economy. The 35,000 fishermen cannot fish because Israeli gunboats will fire on them if they go more than a few hundred yards from the shore. At the same time the international boycott of the Hamas government means that there is no foreign aid to pay Palestinian government employees. The government used to have a monthly budget of $180-200m, half of which went to pay 165,000 public sector workers. But it now has only $25m a month.

Aid agencies are frustrated by their inability to persuade the world that the humanitarian crisis is far worse in Gaza than it is in Lebanon. The WFP says: "In contrast to Lebanon, where humanitarian food aid needs have been essentially met, the growing number of poor in Gaza are living on the bare minimum."

It is possible for foreign journalists to visit Gaza but it is a laborious process passing through the main Israeli checkpoint at Erez and then walking down a long concrete tunnel. The kidnapping of two Fox television employees by criminals - though they were later released - has also dissuaded several TV companies from covering the crisis.

The total closure imposed by Israel dates from the seizure of Cpl Gilad Shalit by Palestinian militants on 25 June. Between then and the end of August, Israeli security forces killed 226 Palestinians, 54 of them minors, in the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem. Of these it says that 114 were taking no part in any hostilities.

The quickest way to alleviate the crisis would be for Israel to allow the Rafah crossing into Egypt to reopen, according to the mayor of Gaza City. But any restoration of the economy would require the reopening of the other crossing points at Erez and Karni.

* Israel lifted its sea blockade of Lebanon yesterday after an interim maritime task force led by an Italian admiral deployed off the Lebanese coast, the commander of UN peacekeepers said. 





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