It's Outrageous That Gaza Depends on Secret Tunnels for Access to the Outside World

How do you rebuild 5,000 homes, businesses and government buildings when the only way supplies come into the prison called Gaza is through tunnels? Will the steel I-beams for roofs bend 90 degrees to go through the tunnels from Egypt? Will the tons of cement, lumber, roofing materials, nails, dry wall and paint be hauled by hand, load after load, 70 feet underground, through a tunnel 500 to 900 feet long and then be pulled up a 70-foot hole and put into a waiting truck in Gaza?

The gates to Gaza slammed shut again on Thursday, February 5, the day our three-person group departed Gaza, having been allowed in for only 48 hours. The Egyptian government closed the border crossing into Gaza, continuing the sixteen-month international blockade and siege. The crossing had been briefly open to allow medical and humanitarian supplies into Gaza following the devastating 22-day attack by the Israeli military. The attacks killed 1,330 Palestinians and injured over 5,500. The Israeli government said the attacks were to punish Hamas and other groups for firing unguided rockets into Israeli, rockets that over the past two years have killed about 25 Israelis. Most international observers have called the Israeli response to the rocket attacks disproportionate and collective punishment, elements of war crimes.

Today, seventeen days after the gates swung closed on Gaza, they remain firmly locked. Cease-fire talks in Cairo between the Israeli government and Hamas are stalled. Opening the border with Egypt is a contentious point in the cease-fire negotiations.

For the people of Gaza, rebuilding their homes, businesses and factories is on hold. Over 5,000 homes and apartment buildings were destroyed and hundreds of government buildings, including the Parliament building, were smashed. Building supplies, cement, wood, nails and glass will have to be brought in from outside Gaza. Two cement factories in northern Gaza were destroyed by Israeli bombs. Prime Minister Olmert's spokesperson Mark Regev said reconstruction supplies like steel and cement can be used by Hamas to build more bunkers and rockets.

Dissension in the Palestinian ranks between Fatah and Hamas continues, even after the brutal Israeli attack on Gaza. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wants aid (perhaps as high as $2 billion) for rebuilding Gaza to be sent directly to each homeowner in Gaza, allowing donors to avoid the elected Hamas government. The US, Israel and other countries have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, and do not want international aid in Gaza administered by Hamas, even though the people of Gaza elected the Hamas government. On March 2, an international donor conference will be held in Egypt to discuss the costs of rebuilding Gaza.

Who Profits From War and Occupation?

Building supplies will have to be brought from outside Gaza. Israel controls 90 percent of the land borders to Gaza - the northern and eastern borders and 100 percent of the ocean on the west side of Gaza. Egypt controls the southern border with Gaza.

The Israelis who bombed Gaza will be the primary financial beneficiaries of the rebuilding of Gaza. They bombed it and now will sell construction materials to rebuild what they have bombed, exactly like the United States has done in Iraq. Egyptians too will benefit financially from the reconstruction - high-priced small construction materials that will fit into the tunnels no doubt have been transiting through the tunnels for the past six weeks. Israeli women had created a web site detailing who profits from occupation.

No doubt a second web site is under construction that will track which Israeli, Egyptian and American companies will benefit from the bombing of Gaza.

Prisoner Exchanges as a Part of the Cease-Fire

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his security cabinet said this week that no border crossings will be open until the Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit is returned to Israel. Schalit was captured by Hamas in 2006 in an Israeli cross-border raid into Gaza. Hamas has demanded the release of up to 1,400 Palestinian soldiers in exchange for Shalit.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Hamas "had no objection" to Shalit's release if Israel would release 1,400 of the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including parliamentarians elected in Gaza in 2006. In the past, Israel has agreed to exchanges of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners for a few captured troops or their bodies. But Israeli and Palestinian officials had not agreed where the released prisoners would be sent after the swap. Israeli wants the prisoners expelled from the country and Hamas wants them returned to their homes in Gaza or the West Bank.

"Open the Borders" International Delegation to Gaza

On March 5, I will be part of a 30-member international delegation that will travel to the Gaza border with Egypt in solidarity with the women of Gaza for International Women's Day. Israeli women will be at the Israeli border crossing into Gaza. Groups all over the world will join in with pressure on the Israeli, Egyptian and American governments to open the border to Gaza and let the people of Gaza rebuild their lives. For more information about the international delegation, visit Codepink.

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