Palestine Peace & Solidarity in Korea (PPS) held a talk about the current situation in Gaza on Friday night (March 15) at Café Tripti in Sinchon. 25 people attended to hear from PPS activist Teon Kim about his recent trip to deliver medical supplies to Gaza with Korean medical NGO Medipeace, document the situation for online news outlet Pressian, and make connections with Palestinian groups and individuals for PPS. Many thanks our member Sarah Shin and Café Tripti for allowing us to use their space for free and for offering discounted coffee to attendees. Tripti is a nonprofit café serving organic and fair-trade coffee located near Sinchon Station which raises money to help disabled migrant workers in Korea and operates a shelter in Dondaemun. We also owe a big thanks to Bo Kim for her brilliant work as our English interpreter for the night.
Below is a quick summary of his talk. Slides and a recording of the talk will be posted here shortly.
After waiting for 3 days to get permission from immigration officials in Egypt and working his way through the complex maze that is the Rafah Border Crossing, Teon arrived in what is often referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison, the Gaza Strip. The Rafah Border Crossing is the most reliable and sometimes only channel for human travel between Gaza and the outside world under the Israeli siege that has been in effect since 2006 (he remarked that you might be more likely to see livestock than humans passing through the border at the Erez Border Crossing in the north of the Gaza Strip which is tightly controlled by Israel). To emphasise the complexity of what should have been a simple procedure, he pointed out that at one point in the process a 500-meter distance took almost 3 hours to cover.
In contrast to what one might expect to see when entering the besieged Gaza Strip, he was struck by how Palestinians went about their lives in a similar fashion to people in Korea. Under the siege, the importation of basic goods is highly restricted. The damage wrought by Israeli military incursions remains as the materials needed to rebuild those building destroyed are not able to be brought in. In particular, those farmers making their living near the Israeli border are having a difficult time as they are sometimes shot at by the IDF when entering the so-called buffer zone where their farmlands are. Fishing continues to be highly restricted by the imposition of a 6-mile nautical limit line which is policed by the IDF and prevents Gazans from accessing the most abundant fishing areas.
The local currency is the Israeli shekel but money itself is hard to come by as the blockade is also imposed on financial transfers. He found that even though ATMs were not hard to come by, they were not always stocked with cash. By blocking fruit exports to Europe from Palestine, the economy has been crippled even further.
While there are 6 universities in Gaza, none offers a PhD program. Those who are able to enter higher education are now graduating to find that they there are no employment opportunities, and many are forced to take jobs with UN such as cleaning the streets. He remarked that this has had a huge psychological impact on Gazans.
Providing a lifeline to Palestinians under the siege, a network of tunnels exists and allows basic commodities to enter Gaza through an underground economy. This economy is controlled by Hamas and provides a source of revenue through taxes. There are believed to be 1,000 tunnels in total and 500 in use today, Tunnels typically have an elevator shaft that drops 20 meters down into the earth where workers carry out the laborious task of bringing goods into the country. Many tunnels have collapsed under heavy rainfall and during winter, making the work very dangerous and leaving an estimated death toll of 6,000 people. Living under such a harsh reality has driven many tunnel workers to develop an addiction to the painkiller Tramadol to get through each day. The tunnels are sometimes used as a cheaper alternative for getting into Egypt but also come with the risk of imprisonment in Egypt if one is caught.
But trauma is not restricted to the tunnels as Gazans has endured years of the blockade and a number of attacks by the IDF including of course the massive bombardments of late 2012 which took 174 Palestinians lives and the military invasion called Operation Cast Lead of 2008-2009 that left 1,400 Palestinians dead. He explained that the term ‘Gaza Trauma’ is used to describe the psychological impact of these.
He also described what daily life is like for Gazans amongst frequent power shortages and exploding generators, lack of access to fresh drinking water, the regular flooding of public areas due to poor drainage systems, and how children are driven into the hands of militant groups through the devastation of losing family members and the broad cycle of violence and oppression that colors their lives.
He did also touch on the warm spirit of those he met, explaining that many welcomed him into their homes to chat and learn about their lives. And he showed vivid images of the artwork that covers walls and buildings; murals of martyrs alongside colorful pictures of peaceful resistance and Palestinian nationhood.