Ramallah – Ma’an –Israeli journalist Amira Hass spoke at a conference in Ramallah’s Baladna Cultural center on Saturday where she described her experiences in the Gaza Strip during the three weeks she spent reporting from the area.
Hass reports for the Israeli daily paper Haaretz, and was based in Gaza for a number of years in the 1990s, after which she moved to Ramallah until forced to leave Palestinian areas by the Israeli government. Hass speaks fluent Arabic.
On entering Gaza Hass said she was accompanied by Hamas-appointed security personnel at all hours, and was prevented from entering any of the Strip’s refugee camps. She said she had been warned by the security men that there was a chance that she would be abducted by extremists during her time in Gaza. After three weeks, she said, the security officials told her they got wind of a plan by one of the factions to kidnap her, which she called a pretext, and forced her to leave the area.
Three weeks were not enough to describe the suffering of the Gazan people, she told a large crowd in Ramallah. The hardships are increasing every day and the blockade has caused environmental, educational and health problems, she said.
She slammed Israeli decisions to open up crossing points “from time to time” and allowing in basic aid supplies for Gazans. Hass called the moves an Israeli attempt to show the world that it is trying to help Gazans. In reality, she said, the problem is not just about food and basic human supplies are not enough to sustain a community shut off from the world.
One example Hass spoke of was the Gazan health sector, which she described as “miserable.” While in Gaza she toured a handful of hospitals and medical institutions, and spoke of ancient and poorly maintained equipment as well as unfit and untrained healthcare workers. Many of the newly appointed workers since the health workers’ strike in the fall, she said, were appointed to their posts by Hamas, and they have no idea how to use much of the equipment.
Gaining access to proper treatment outside Gaza has been impossible since the crossing closures, Hass said, and the situation is exacerbated since passports are only issued in Ramallah and often they do not arrive by post or even special delivery in Gaza.
Hass was also able to confirm that Fatah-affiliates are currently in de facto government prisons, but noted that the Hamas government has not categorized those behind bars as “political prisoners.”
She said many of the Fatah members and leaders in Gaza feel disappointed and miserable because they believe that the government in Ramallah has abandoned them.
During her time in Gaza Hass visited the southern town of Rafah where the hundreds of tunnels to Egypt snake below the earth, and described the full markets and influx of people that the new industry had spurred in the area. Hass described seeing many goods, even weapons, available in the Rafah souq, and remarked at the change in what she called a ‘once very poor town.’
Though many do not like the tunnel industry, she said, few are willing to demand its closure since most see it as the only way they can ensure necessary goods are available.
Hass was also able to meet with senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Az-Zahhar who she asked about the possibility of holding elections. People, said Az-Zahhar, blame Israel and not Hamas for the current situation, so there has been little demand for holding elections, and even less indication that holding elections would change anything.
Hass said she believed that elections will change nothing if held before rearranging the Palestinian internal situation.