From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Gaza situation called tantamount to apartheid

Date Wed, 27 Aug 2003 16:30:16 -0500

Note #7903 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Gaza situation called tantamount to apartheid
August 27, 2003

Gaza situation called tantamount to apartheid

Danish aid worker says conditions are 'very bad for Palestinians'

By Jerry L. Van Marter
Ecumenical News International

GENEVA - So different are the living conditions for Israeli settlers and
Palestinians in the Mawasi, an isolated area in the southern Gaza Strip, that
a Danish human-rights worker calls it "a real apartheid system."

Sarah Gjerding, a member of the Evangelical Church in Denmark, who has just
finished a stint as one of the first World Council of Churches
(WCC)-sponsored "ecumenical accompaniers" in Israel/Palestine, said the rigid
separation of Israelis and Palestinians in Mawasi is akin to the notorious
system of segregation practised for many years in South Africa.

Gjerding, a social anthropologist, made her remarks on Aug. 27 during a press
briefing marking the first anniversary of the Ecumenical Accompaniment
Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which has sent 58 Christians from
more than 30 churches in eight countries to accompany Israelis and
Palestinians committed to non-violently ending the Israeli occupation of
Palestinian territories.

Gjerding, 25, spent five months in the Mawasi, a narrow section in the
southwestern part of the Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border.

She accompanied human-rights workers documenting violations committed by
Israeli soldiers and settlers. Because the Mawasi, which contains 8,000
Palestinians as well as 4,000 Israelis living in 14 illegal settlements, is
considered a "closed area," she was only able to enter it twice, she said.

"Conditions are very bad for the Palestinians," Gjerding said. "Water is only
available five hours a day, because there is not enough fuel to run the
pumps. Electricity is available five hours a day because there's not enough
fuel to run the generators. The (Israeli) settlers do not have these

Health care facilities, schools and even roads are completely separate for
Palestinians and Israeli settlers, she said. "The main problem is lack of
access and freedom of movement," she said. "Teachers cannot get to the
schools, doctors and nurses cannot get to the clinics, and Palestinians are
not permitted to go anywhere."

Gjerding observations are soon to be published by the WCC in a booklet titled
"Suffering in Isolation: A report on life under occupation in the Mawasi area
in the Gaza Strip."

Forced separation of another sort is happening in the West Bank, an area west
of the River Jordan where most Palestinians live: There, Israeli is building
a massive wall to seal off much of that occupied territory.

Matt Robson, 37, a Quaker and ecumenical accompanier from the United Kingdom,
said the "Wall of Separation" has cut off many Palestinian farmers from their
land. He said he has watched the wall go up since he arrived in the West Bank
village of Jayyous in June.

"Most of the overall farmland and all of the irrigated land belonging to
Jayyous' farmers is on the west, or wrong, side of the wall," Robson said.
"Many of the farmers lost everything - one day the bulldozers showed up, and
their land was gone."

Robson said he spends much of his time sitting with farmers, waiting for the
only gate in the wall to open so they can go through and tend their crops.
"When and for how long the gate opens is controlled by the Israeli Defense
Forcem," he said, "and it's totally unpredictable."

The farmers, and Robson, have begun taking food and bedding with them through
the gate, in case they have to stay in the fields. "We call it the
'5,000-star hotel,'" Robson said, "a mattress under the stars."

The U.S.-proposed peace plan known as the Middle East "Roadmap" is known by
the rubric of "land for peace," said Salpy Eskidjian, an Armenian Cypriot who
manages the EAPPI program. "But the goal appears not to be peaceful
co-existence, but to herd the Palestinians into small contained areas and
seal them off there."

EAPPI "is trying to develop and demonstrate a non-violent alternative to
Palestinians turning themselves into weapons," Eskidjian said, referring to
suicide bombers. She added, "This conflict will change only when Israeli
public opinion changes."

That is why it is essential that the stories of the ecumenical accompaniers
be told, Eskidjian said.

The accompaniers' work is dangerous, she said, "and our only protection is
pen, pad and prayer."

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