Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Letters, Packages En Route to Gaza Via Israel Go "Missing"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Letters, Packages En Route to Gaza Via Israel Go "Missing"

Article excerpt

Diplomatic correspondence released by WikiLeaks confirms that the Israeli government's continued blockade of Gaza is intentionally punitive and meant to keep Gaza on the "brink of collapse."

As "Democracy Now!" reported on Jan. 5: "According to a November 2008 cable, Israel wanted Gaza's economy to be 'functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis.' In addition, the WikiLeaks cables reveal the United States offered to transfer $70 million to Gaza in November 2008 in an attempt to ease the economic situation. However, Israeli Major General Amos Gilad refused to allow the transfer, saying that 'the Palestinians should not receive anything.'"

Since June 2007, however, when Hamas thwarted an attempted coup and took control of the Gaza Strip-and 17 months before the leaked cable was written-among the items Israel has denied Palestinians living in Gaza is their daily mail. All mail to and from Palestine now goes through the Israeli Postal Service, where mail is sorted for the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. (Arab states that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel previously sent mail to Gaza via Egypt. This channel, too, has been closed since 2007.) The result has been severe restrictions and delays in delivering letters and packages, including government mail.

A Lonely Outpost

The Rafah post office is eerily quiet. Instead of reflecting its location in the most densely populated area on the planet, the post office looks and feels more like a remote outpost from America's Old West that hasn't seen a courier in months.

A few bags of parcels being sent from Gaza do little more than collect dust, their intended destinations to countries in Europe and the Middle East barely visible. A policeman lounges in the corner, quietly reading his Qur'an, with his Kalashnikov and prayer beads sitting idly by on an old desk. Next to him, the postman brushes away dust as a lone fly buzzes around the light bulb.

You'd hardly know that it's the holiday season, when greeting cards and packages should be overflowing the mail bins, and lines of well-wishers streaming through the door. But this year there are no well-wishers and the bins are empty-except for one. The Gaza International Airport bin bursts with years-old commercial aviation materials, tourism brochures and other non-essentials. The airport has been in ruins for a decade, since Israeli F-16 warplanes bombed it in 2001. True, it doesn't make much sense to continue to collect mail for an international airport with a bombed-out runway, but laws prevent post office personnel from disposing of the out-of-date mail and emptying the bin. So there it sits, collecting dust and reminding the staff of more normal times.

The shortage of goods that is the intended result of Israel's four-year blockade of Gaza has forced many residents to rely on care packages sent by relatives living abroad and purchases made over the Internet. Yet these attempts to live above the "lowest level possible" are only intermittently successful.

Imad Abuel Khair, 44, is one of many Palestinians in Gaza whose life revolves around a post office box. Afflicted with chronic rheumatism, he relies upon medication his brother sends from Italy. Every work day for two months he has arrived at Rafah Post Office, stood at the window and asked postal employee Hani Abu Helal if his package has arrived. Abu Helal's answer never varies: "You don't need to come. We'll call you when the mail arrives."

Abuel Khair is in pain and tired of showing up for nothing-but it's better than sitting home and doing nothing.

While postman Abu Helal speaks with Abuel Khair, Imad Fouda arrives looking for a document he has been expecting for months: a signed copy of his letter of acceptance to a Ph.D. program at a German university. His letter has not arrived, either-and if he does not receive it within the next 60 days, he will not have time to apply for a German visa. …

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