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Government must do more to make peace a possibility for people in Gaza - Teather

February 28, 2013 5:34 PM

Local Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather has returned safely from her third trip to Gaza. While she was in the region Sarah witnessed the devastating emotional and physical consequences people experience from living in a land under siege. Sarah is now calling on the British Government to put greater effort into securing a peaceful and lasting settlement.

Sarah Teather has been to Gaza twice before, the last time in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 - 2009 Operation Cast Lead which saw Gaza heavily bombed by Israeli forces. Sarah visited the region with a cross party delegation of MPs and Palestinian Aid Organisation Interpal, where she met with representatives of local charities and aid projects, the UN and the British consulate.

In many ways this was a more positive trip than her previous visit in 2009. Some building work is now happening - albeit largely as a result of illegal smuggling of materials in through Egypt, an agreement with Qatar is seeing aggregate brought in via Rafah to rebuild bombed roads, and there is a fragile truce.

Sarah with some of the girls who attend the United Nations Relief and Works Agency school serving the beach refugee camp.

Sarah with some of the girls who attend the United Nations Relief and Works Agency school serving the beach refugee camp.

However, Gaza has ongoing problems as a result of the blockade which prevents free movement of people and goods across the border, and there are longterm mental health problems as a result of the bombing and severe poverty levels for many families. Psychiatrists at the Palestine Trauma Centre told Sarah on her visit that more than 35% of children in Gaza are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Sarah also witnessed daily breaches of the naval ceasefire arrangements as Israeli boats fired on fishermen inside the agreed 6 mile limit. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) also explained their difficulties in getting permission to do vital relief work in Gaza. They had recently had 13 projects (including schools) turned down on "security" grounds.

The blockade on building goods has hidden consequences. Burns rates are very high in Gaza. While previously many were affected by white phosphorous from bombing campaigns, most are now injured as a result of electrocution or house fires as families struggle to cope with candles and old generators. Both are necessary because Israel bombed the electricity plant in 2008 and it has still not been rebuilt.

Many Palestinians blame Hamas for the delay in rebuilding the power plant. They argue that Hamas controls what is smuggled in through the tunnels and managed to negotiate a legal deal to fix the roads, but they do not seem to have prioritised the power plant. Whatever the reason for the delay whether it is the difficulty of importing building materials or a local political failure the consequences for local people are too often catastrophic.

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather said:

"In many ways this visit was a more positive one than my visit in 2009 immediately after the Israeli bombing campaign. Some rebuilding is taking place, albeit largely via illegal smuggling of goods, and there is a fragile truce. But the situation for many Palestinian families is still acutely difficult. Trauma and anxiety is very high, unemployment levels are crippling, and fishermen still face being shot each time they set out to sea."

"Always when I am in Gaza I have a sense that the Palestinian people are systematically let down by everyone with power to make their lives better. Oppressed by Israel, used politically by Egypt but neglected when it matters, ignored by the International community, failed by their own leaders as they cling to power. And in the meantime, overcrowded and without electricity, many die or are horribly injured in house fires as they struggle to make do."

"It is vital that the British Government does more to end the stalemate and turn this shaky truce into a lasting peace."