Part of a delegation from the European Parliament sent to report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza following 22 days of Israeli bombing, I prepared myself for the worst but the reality still shocked me. In parts of Gaza City whole streets had been reduced to rubble and survivors lived in tents on the sites of their former homes.
In the Al Hajaj house in Zeitoun, a young man told how his father and baby sister had been killed before his eyes when a bomb came through the roof. He was not allowed to leave to get help and there were no ambulances. The bodies were left there for 15 days.
I met a father of young children whose wife and mother-in-law had been shot by soldiers. Their house was shelled by tanks, so they left waving a white cloth. But they were fired on. They fell on the road and bled to death.
Israeli bombers targeted factories, government buildings and schools. Over 600 businesses were destroyed including Gaza’s biggest flour mill. More than 90% of people depend on UN food aid. Everyday, hundreds queue for flour, sugar, oil, milk….
No roof was left above the Disney-painted walls of the children’s ward of the Al Quds Hospital, now deserted. When the hospital was bombed by an F-16, staff had to carry 45 patients to safety. The bombs that fell on the hospital also badly damaged the cultural centre next door. Artists have started to return and display new, colourful paintings on the charred and blackened walls.
This was the reality behind the press blackouts in Gaza. This was how 1,300 people died. And it’s still going on. Gaza is still under siege, closed to the outside world.
I returned with the words of the bereaved and suffering people echoing in my ears and the images of the destruction etched on my mind. But our delegation was sent for a purpose.
We returned to Parliament with the strongest possible message: the Israeli siege of Gaza must be lifted, the settlements must be halted, and the occupation must end; the EU must recognise the new Palestinian government and ensure that the international community – most importantly the United States – does the same. Aid is not enough. It is time for political action, time to show the people of Gaza that we will not let this happen again.