Saturday, February 2, 2008

Oxfam Director: The state of Gaza should shame us all

Barbara Stocking, Director of Oxfam in the Telegraph:

I was in the Gaza Strip a few weeks ago - it is a place of many absurdities. A refugee camp now for three generations, it should feel like a dump for unwanted humanity: but everywhere you go you are impressed by the resilience of people, their deep desire to get on and lead better lives. The world's largest prison, Gaza is often called - but that understates it. At least in a prison, people know more or less how long they are going to be there. Gaza is the world capital of uncertainty, of lives unfulfilled. So much suffering for so many in such a confined space is literally unbearable.

The statistics are stark: 55 per cent unemployment with 70,000 jobs lost since June; 80 per cent of the population dependent on food aid; one in ten children's growth stunted by hunger. The fact of the blockade, illegal and inhumane as it is, makes me angry enough. But I am more incensed by the abject failure of the governments with influence over actors in the region to find a solution to this impasse.

We - and by this I mean all of us who have influence in the democracies of the rich world - must accept our share of the shame for that failure. While we have invested our hopes in the promise of a renewed peace process, which began at Annapolis, this has allowed us to turn from the realities of the suffering of Gaza, allowed us to take our eyes off the ball. A diplomat the other day assured us that her masters had decided that, "By working out the politics and the peace we'll find the way to tackle the humanitarian issue".

How heartless that is. And how unwise. The sufferings of the abused and displaced have always made solutions more difficult, not easier: the history of the Middle East will tell anyone that. The angry, the disenfranchised and the destitute cannot make good interlocutors at a peace conference - or good neighbours in the future. Bullying a people to the conference table makes for bad peace. What the diplomats at Annapolis have lost sight of is that striving for peace must go hand in hand with addressing the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

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