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Gaza in Crisis: Interview With Mona El-Farra

Listen to show segment. Download MP3 of entire show. Watch 128k stream. Watch 256k stream. from Democracy Now, October 18th

Israel has ratcheted up threats of a massive ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. We go to Gaza to speak with physician and community activist Dr. Mona El-Farra.

Israel has ratcheted up threats of a massive ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops backed by tanks, helicopters and drones have already staged ground operations in parts of Gaza in yet another escalation in the ongoing assault on the Occupied Territories.

For the past four months, the Israeli military has led a wave of intense operations along the length of the Gaza Strip. It began after the capture of an Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, by Palestinian militants on June 25th. The Israeli military said its operations were intended to free Corporal Shalit and to halt Qassam rocket fire. Early on the Israelis bombed Gaza’s only power plant and they have kept Gaza’s crossing points to Israel and Egypt closed for most of the time.

Since the start of the operation – codenamed Summer Rain – more than 250 Palestinians have been killed. One in five were children. According to The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which has investigated each case, the vast majority of the casualties are civilian.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian economy has ground to a halt. Unemployment levels stand at close to fifty percent and around eighty percent of households in Gaza are living in poverty. The crisis comes at a time when the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, are deadlocked in their efforts to form a national unity government.

Dr. Mona El-Farra is a physician and community activist living in northern Gaza. She runs a blog called From Gaza, with Love. She joins us on the line from Gaza.


AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mona El-Farra is a physician and community activist who lives in northern Gaza. She runs a blog called “From Gaza, With Love.” She joins us on the phone from Gaza. Welcome to Democracy Now!

DR. MONA EL-FARRA: Hello, Amy, and hello to everybody. And thank you for interviewing me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you start off by describing the situation today in Gaza?

DR. MONA EL-FARRA: Okay. The situation, the Israeli plane jetfighters are flying over Gaza since early hours of the morning, and it’s shame that the operation of re-incursion into Gaza is coming soon. The general mood of people are very, very low. People are feeling there’s no hope, there’s no vision for the future, especially that the political negotiation between Fatah and Hamas is deadlock. And the general situation is not promising. So people are very frustrated, feeling very low.

Then, some good news that we have heard, it might be news or rumors about the [inaudible] is coming in the next 48 hours. Even this good news doesn’t make us feel happy, because feeling this while the airplanes are flying over our heads and we are sitting every minute by the incursion and going back to what we experienced also the last three months. So the general mood of the population is not very good. And our Ramadan month is finishing and the heat is coming. The streets are nearly deserted. It is not — as these people are approaching the month — the feast, and it has a lot to do with the economical crisis that we are going through. This is in brief.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mona El-Farra, there were reports from Italian television station RAI that the Israeli military is facing accusations it’s used experimental weapons during recent attacks in Gaza. They’re reporting the weapons have led to abnormally serious physical injuries, including amputated limbs and severe burns. This is a report by the same journalist who reported on the use of phosphorus as an offensive weapon in Fallujah, the weapon believed to be similar to the U.S.-made Dense Inert Metal Explosive, or DIME. In addition to inflicting major shrapnel wounds, the weapon is believed to be highly carcinogenic and harmful to the environment. Do you have any information on this?

DR. MONA EL-FARRA: Actually, as physicians here in Gaza and our police in the ER rooms, because I am just a master surgeon, but what we have noticed in the general hospital in Gaza that the sort of weapon that has been used this time is different with what has been used two years ago during the incursion of Jabalia refugee camp, for example, and different parts of Gaza. So there’s difference in the sort of injuries. The injuries [inaudible] very lethal, destructive, destructive. It is very, very specific. And it seems to kill and hurt, to make handicapped. So that’s what we have noticed.

But to have tools, we don’t have the facilities to investigate what’s going on. We are isolated in Gaza. We don’t have the real facilities to say that it is such kind of weapons and it is — or it is international [inaudible] or whatever. So I can’t give you concrete information about this, but from our remarks, our notice that the increased number, increasing number of casualties and number of injured and the sort of [inaudible] of the injured is different from what we have noticed in the previous years.

AMY GOODMAN: UNICEF just came out with a report that says the number of Palestinian children killed this year is nearly double those killed in 2005. Suhaib Kadiah, a 13-year-old girl in Gaza became the 92nd Palestinian child to be killed when she was shot during an Israeli attack on Gaza. Overall, I think they’re saying Israel has killed more than 800 Palestinian children since the beginning of the Second Palestinian Intifada six years ago. What kind of information do you see on the ground in Gaza?

DR. MONA EL-FARRA: On the ground, more than 400 were killed in the last three months, and the number of children, more than 80 were killed. Not only children. I can say two-thirds of the people who died were civilians, entirely civilians who were just caught during the operation and have nothing to do with the goal of the Israeli occupying army. So the number of civilians that have been killed is increasing. And this is alarming. This is dangerous, too. That was what we have noticed. Entire families have been killed and vanished during these attacks to Gaza Strip.

AMY GOODMAN: You head the Rachel Corrie Center for Children, the children center in Gaza. In a few minutes, we’re going to talk with Rachel’s sister and father, who will join us here in the studio in New York. Can you talk about this center and why you’ve named it for Rachel Corrie?

DR. MONA EL-FARRA: The Union of Health Work Committees, this is the mother organization that founded this children’s center in Rafah refugee camp — the simple idea of the center was to give a place for the children of Rafah during the incursion and during those very hardship times they are facing, because [inaudible] this place to distract their attention from the war and what’s going around them. So by the time the center was finished, Rachel Corrie passed away and gave her life, sacrificing her life to defend the children of Rafah down in the south of Gaza Strip. So the Union of Health Work Committee, both directors of administration decided to call the center — to name it after Rachel Corrie to keep her memory alive, because she sacrificed her life, she lost her life while defending Rafah children and while standing [inaudible], supporting the position against the injustice that’s inflicting on Palestinian people living under occupation. This is the reason why we named the center this.

Another reason for naming the center, we wanted to be a focal point to keep the international solidarity movement going with Palestinian people through the center. So the children in the center can really — the center itself and the children can receive international solidarity groups, people who are supportive of the Palestinian cause to come to the center and meet and see the children. On another hand, the children can communicate with the world through the facilities in the center, like the internet — computer and internet, I mean — and so the children will not grow up hating the others. We want them to grow up knowing that there are still in the world place for people who respect justice and who are fighting to see the world full of justice, not hate and injustice.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the infighting between Hamas and Fatah. On Sunday, Hamas accusing Fatah of accepting $40 million in aid from the Bush administration, as part of a U.S. effort to topple the Hamas-led government.

DR. MONA EL-FARRA: This is big problem here for us in Gaza. This is an internal fight between Hamas and Fatah, because this is a — this doesn’t make things improve. And besides the Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, the internal atmosphere is making us really very preoccupied. Everybody is occupied by these internal clashes between Fatah and Hamas and the mutual accusation between both. And after all, in my own opinion, that this is the outcome of occupation. This is outcome of occupation, what’s happening in Gaza. I don’t blame the occupation directly, but indirectly this is the outcome of our life under occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mona El-Farra, I want to thank you very much for being with us, speaking to us from northern Gaza. She runs the Rachel Corrie Children’s Center there. When we come back from break, we’ll be joined by Rachel Corrie’s father and sister to talk about a play that has finally come to New York.