Gaza: Prisoner Visitation
Anyone in prison needs a visitor.
Anyone in prison needs a visitor. I spent eight days in late April inside the world’s “largest outdoor prison.” Gaza, the ancient meaning is ‘treasure,’ is a part of Palestine, 25 miles long and averaging 6 miles wide, with a coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. 1.6 million people live in Gaza, with 1.3 million of those people registered with the United Nations as “refugees.” They are ignored by the world, isolated from the rest of Palestine (West Bank) and every aspect of their daily lives is determined by Israeli military, political, and economic domination. There is a “de facto” government, Hamas, that is more concerned with its own self-interests than the welfare of the Gazan citizens. I visited the prison with a small delegation from Physicians for Social Responsibility.
When Israel was given land in Palestine, in 1948, there was already a population of nearly 1 million Palestinian Arabs living on the same land. Many of those people fled to Gaza, as refugees in their own country. Some stayed to try to work out a form of co-existence in a place now called the West Bank. The result has been overwhelming Israeli military actions, illegal detentions and imprisonment, and the colonization by Israel of Palestinian land, often called, “settlements.” Those actions taken by Israel violate international law and human morality. In 2005, Israel withdrew their Gaza settlers. To the world this seemed like a step in the right direction. However, the motivation of the withdrawal was, 1) There is little potable water in Gaza, so why stay; 2) The settlers were causing a lot of trouble for Israel so they were removed; and, 3) With no settlers, Gaza could be used as a live-fire practice shooting range for the Israeli Defense Forces which it does.
I spent my time as a mental health worker, talking with psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and especially to families and individuals directly affected by the trauma of war. The electricity is cut off at any time, affecting homes, hospitals, schools, clinics, and, mostly terrifying the children who constantly live in fear of no food or medicines, more bombs and soldiers. In the 2009 war over 300 children were killed, and over 260 schools were destroyed in the 22 day devastation. In Gaza, there is the constant threat of disaster, an exhausting oppression of the human spirit. Yet, even from Gaza, from the prison, without anger, comes a voice to the U.S., to the world: Treat us with humanity, with fairness, and we will thrive on our own strengths.
Rev. Michael Poage
Rev. Michael Poage served as a Short-term Volunteer in Gaza. He studied at Fuller Theological Seminary and received his M.Div. from San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, CA, in 1985. He has been active in peace and justice work much of his life and served three United Church of Christ congregations in the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference. He has also worked in Mexico, Bosnia, and the Middle East with various NGO’s.