Derry MLA returns from Gaza

Colum pictured in a classroom of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school that was badly damaged by an Israeli air strike.The school was funded by the US government
Colum pictured in a classroom of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school that was badly damaged by an Israeli air strike.The school was funded by the US government

Engaging with “whoever it takes” is key to bringing peace to Gaza, a Derry MLA says.

SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood says despite the ongoing blockade and Israeli onslaught of recent weeks, there is a willingness to find accommodation among the Palestinians he met during his three day visit last week.

Foyle SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood meets Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh during last week's trip to Gaza.

Foyle SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood meets Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh during last week's trip to Gaza.

The Derry politician was among a number of international parliamentarians to visit the Gaza Strip in a trip organised by the Council for European Palestinian Relations.

Gaza, home to some 1.7million people, returned to the world’s attention last month when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Pillar of Defence, launched, the IDF say, in response to missile attacks from within Gaza.

“They say they only went after military targets,” the former Derry Mayor told the ‘Journal’ this week.

“But from what I saw this was not the case. The onslaught was designed to break the will of the Palestinian people,” he says.

Mr Eastwood says while he always had a interest in the politics of the region, it did little to prepare him for the scale of the suffering witnessed first hand in Gaza - or the sense of resilience among Gazans.

“What hit me was the sheer scale of what is going on. These people are suffering very badly, yet the thing I came across is the resilience that they will not be put down.”

The Derry politician attended a vigil for 13 members of one family murdered by an Israeli air strike and visited a school, funded by the US government, badly damaged in the recent bombardment.

He described the socio economic conditions, created by the decade long blockade of the strip, as horrendous.

Power is regularly cut, while thirty percent of people in Gaza receive water supply once every 4 days.

Forty five per cent of Gazans receive water every 3 days, while almost a third of households are not connected to sewage network.

“The blockade must end, people must be allowed to live,” Mr Eastwood says.

“These people are suffering in ways that are hard to imagine and yet the blockade means they can’t bring in materials to improve the infrastructure, that they can’t do anything.

“Nothing comes in, nothing out. What we have is one very strong power exercising its will regardless of international law.”

The Derry MLA says that blockade must “end immediately.”

But he believes an agreement between Hamas, which has governed Gaza since 2007, and Israel can be reached.

“It is not comparable in terms of the scale of suffering but there are lessons to be learned form the process here, in that an agreement can only be reached when everyone is involved in the process,” he says.

“It is very difficult to find peace when rockets and F16s are flying about, but I think there is a solution that can be found.”

He says that solution needs the support and backing of the international community.

“It is vital a solution is found by engaging and working with all who can bring about a peaceful situation. All involved must be allowed to find and be provided the space to find resolution,” he says.

Fellow Derry politician Sinn Fein’s Gerry MacLochlainn is in Gaza this week as part of an Irish Friends of Palestine delegation.

Councillor MacLochlainn was among 20 Irish people on board the MV Saoirse ship which was part of the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ of ships attempting to break the Israeli blockade in 2011.