CAIRO: Gaza is still a picture of the devastation wrought during the Israeli offensive last December, according to members of a delegation that returned from the strip Wednesday.
Whatever I can tell you, I cannot convey what it’s like. There is a sense of great destruction. There is the smell of death and gunpowder. The Israelis destroyed a great number of buildings and streets and trees. Many areas have been razed by Israeli bulldozers, but still there is a sense of challenge to overcome this as well, said Kefaya member and activist Nada Kassass who joined the American Code Pink delegation in Egypt.
There is great devastation in the strip, said Egyptian/Canadian activist Ehab Lotayef, people are living in refugee camps meters from their demolished houses. In the two-kilometer area from the border buildings and factories have been completely destroyed.
A teenager told me he had lost some of his friends in the recent attacks. He told me he doesn’t want to make any new friends, because it is painful to make friends and then lose them, said Lotayef.
He added that commodity prices in the strip are exceedingly high, and that gasoline is almost only sold on the black market.
The American and Canadian delegation organized by the Code Pink organization recently returned from a visit to Gaza at the request of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to coincide with International Women s Day on March 8.
Nine of the 60 members of the delegation opted to stay in Gaza till March 15, including novelist Alice Walker. Another member, Palestinian Abdullah Al Ghoul, was detained at the Rafah crossing and not allowed reentry into Egypt.
The parents of Rachel Corrie – the American activist who was killed in Palestine by Israeli Defense Forces six years ago – also opted to stay on in Gaza.
There is hardship but there is also resolve, said Lotayef. The spirits of Gazans are very high and they were telling us they don’t want handouts, they want to live in peace and security and a guarantee that Israel will not destroy what they build.
The delegation visited women s centers and devastated areas in the strip and handed out 1,000 gift baskets to Gazan women.
Cofounder of Code Pink Medea Benjamin said in a press statement, We want to send a message to the governments of both Egypt and Israel that the borders must be opened to all individuals and organizations. Long-term peace and prosperity are not possible without freedom of movement.
Other American and European delegations that had been camping at the Rafah crossing were also permitted entry, as well as the British Viva Palestina convoy accompanied by British Respect MP George Galloway.
On one hand, Gazans are very strong, but on the other they feel they have been betrayed by the entire world, Lotayef said.