Plight of people in Gaza takes centre stage at Gasyard Festival

Tania Hary, an Israeli-US citizen and the executive director of Israeli human rights organisation Gisha, pictured in Derry.
Tania Hary, an Israeli-US citizen and the executive director of Israeli human rights organisation Gisha, pictured in Derry.

A leading human rights expert has told an audience in Derry that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is being exacerbated by the continued restrictions on movement imposed by the Israeli government.

Tania Hary is an Israeli-US citizen and the executive director of Israeli human rights organisation Gisha, the Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement.

Gisha is a partner organisation of Irish charity Trócaire, and Tania was speaking at the annual Trócaire human rights lecture as part of the Gasyard Feile. The ‘Gaza on the Brink’ event at the Gasyard Centre was attended by local politicians, clergy and members of the public.

Tania said that 50 years on from the occupation of Palestine, restrictions on access to, and travel from, Gaza are contributing to the crisis for the two million people there.

“All access is controlled by Israel,” she said. “As an Israeli organisation, it is important for Gisha to concentrate on this and challenge the government. Since the 1967 occupation of the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military has developed a complex system of rules and sanctions to control the movement of the Palestinians who live there.”

The reality on the ground in Gaza is grim, with water and energy sources at crisis levels and worsening movement restrictions crippling economic activity and hope. Tania says that the Hebrew word for ‘hell’ and the word for ‘Gaza’ are very similar and that in common parlance many people in Israel now say ‘go to Gaza’ instead of ‘go to Hell’.

Tania’s colleague Mohammed Azaiza lives and works in Gaza. Tania read a message from Mohammed to the audience. He had been due to attend the Derry event in person but ironically even though he finally received clearance to leave Gaza from the Israelis, he wasn’t granted a UK visa.

He said: “It’s so hot this summer. I have three small children and it is very hard for them to sleep. The electricity is off for long periods so we cannot use air conditioning. My children ask me ‘why do we have no electricity?’

“The homes here are suffocating but the seas and beaches are polluted so we can’t even go there for respite. I visited the local hospital recently and was speaking to the nursing staff.

“They are full of fear of the power cuts. They told me that sometimes it can take up to ten minutes for the back-up generators to come on when the power goes off. They have to resort to pumping oxygen by hand to critical patients including little premature babies.”

Gisha uses legal and public advocacy to protect the rights of Palestinian residents, representing individuals in Israeli courts, reaching out to opinion-makers and lobbying decision-makers in Israel and abroad to promote policies that respect human rights.

Since its founding in 2005, Gisha has helped thousands of people overcome travel restrictions to access education, jobs and professional opportunities and to reunite with family members. To find out more about Trócaire’s work in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories visit www.trocaire.org.