Posted by AAI on January 06, 2009 in News Clips
The word from GAZA: AAI, ANERA speak to Congressional Staff
Posted on Tuesday January 6, 2009
This is a summarized transcript of the conference call organized by AAI for Hill Staffers with ANERA Director Sala Sakka in Gaza and ANERA President Bill Corcoran here in DC. The call took place on January 5, 2009. This is not an exact transcription of the conversation, but is an accurate reporting.
Conference Call: Update from Gaza
Monday, January 05, 2009
Moderated by: Dr. James Zogby, President and Founder of the Arab American Institute
Featuring: Mr. Bill Corcoran, President and CEO of American Near East Refugee Aid & Mr. Salah Sakka, Gaza Director, American Near East Refugee Aid
Open to: Congressional Hill staff and Washington-based non-profit
James Zogby: Thank you again for doing this again for us. We have with us the representatives from the American Near East Refugee Aid, a USAID funded relief organization that has been doing relief work. They have an extremely good record on these issues. The representative from Gaza, Salah Sakkah is joining us, and please address the issue that there is really no humanitarian crisis, and there is plenty of food and that the needs of the civilians are being taken care of.
Salah Sakka: The IDF has taken over the entire Gaza strip. The Israeli ground forces have deployed around, as well as refugee camps. The Gaza strip is divided, and moving within the Gaza strip is very dangerous. Delivering humanitarian aid is very dangerous. There is no electricity or water. There are blackouts. Thousands of people have left their homes for safe shelter. There are approximately 5,500 being served by ANERA. An estimated 13,000 people have been displaced, and this number will rapidly increase. There is a lack of fuel, power; water wells are not working, either [because of] damage [to] infrastructure or it is too dangerous for people to do maintenance of the ground. Hospitals are working 24 hours a day. There is very little amount of fuel remaining there. The electricity in the hospitals cannot provide power to all services in the hospital. With regards to food, food is still a problem. Distribution continues to be difficult. I think with regard to the situation, it is extremely important to keep operating the water wells, and trying to meet, and also allowing for people to access their own water pumps. Without electricity, I don’t have water; the ground tank can not be operated because of the lack of electricity, and no fuel, also with the cold weather, no heat is a problem. It is important to provide flour to bakeries to provide food for the local population. There is no cash, which is a problem, and was one before the military operation. This is the situation in general, and I would be happy to answer questions.
JZ: Bill Corcoran is the president of ANERA here in the United States, and we have been talking with congressional staffers. I would like to hear from you, and you have been hearing the same thing that there is no humanitarian crisis. You have been arguing that there is one, and that is has been going on for some time.
Bill Corcoran: The closure began after the election of Hamas. Now, with the crisis, the question is much more fundamental…Hospitals had problems before and now there is only elective surgery, and 100 medicines listed by the World Health Organization, are not available in Gaza. It has gone beyond an impending disaster. The possibility of pandemic diseases is a concern, because they wouldn’t stop at the border. 70% to 80% do not have water, and if any water is exposed to direct fighting there could be a major pollution. Water and diesel would help, as well as food.
JZ: Is there any documentation of this situation that people can access?
BC: If they went to the OCHAOPT.org on the United Nations website, they could find information, and this gives almost daily situation reports.
JZ: Any questions?
Q: George Cody here with the American Task Force on Lebanon. Bill or Salah, I have a question. There is a report in Ha’aretz that cluster munitions were dropped by the Israelis. Can you tell us whether accurate.
SS: I really don’t know about this.
JZ: I have one here by email. One is about Israel’s closing its borders. One is a political question, why? The others deal how long the border has been closed, and what impact has it been having, and are people attempting to flee via the Mediterranean?
BC: Borders have been closed intermittently; some may hopefully be open tomorrow. The Egyptian border has been closed with the exception of immediate medical care to Cairo
JZ: Is there exit by sea?
BC: No, not at all.
JZ: We have had this situation before, where bombardment is constant…This may be one of the first times where a very densely populated community has nowhere to go.
BC: The other options are that they enter into schools (?).
JZ: Salah, are there areas of Gaza that are untouched, that are relatively safe?
SS: There are areas, but the shelling have been targeting refugee camps, the southern city of Gaza, it all depends where the fighting is, where the Palestinian military forces are and the IDF…Many buildings have been completely destroyed, including mosques. Within my neighborhood, for instance, tomorrow the military could enter my neighborhood and it becomes a very dangerous area, and then you’re in the middle of the battlefield.
JZ: Any other questions?
Q: Miranda, I’m with the office of Congressman Steve Lynch. I know we have touched on whether this is a humanitarian crisis. There was a report today saying that there are 80 trucks transporting aid in. Is it the problem that there is not enough aid entering or is distribution the main problem?
SS: The Israelis allowed cargo with limited quantities, this information is correct. This is what we hear, that Israel decided to open crossings, the quantities that are allowed into Gaza, it is a very very small portion of what they actually need. It is only for two or one days sometimes. With regards to the other part of the question, the distribution of aid is very very dangerous. The city of Gaza for instance is presided by military forces, and there are helicopters in the sky. It’s very very unsafe for people to move or drive, or even go on the outside roads.
BC: The number of trucks would normally be 600 to 800. So it is insufficient.
JZ: What is the minimum requirement necessary? Well someone hates to speak this way… but what is the minimum amount of trucks that need to come in?
BC: I can’t answer, but myself and a number of others have been blocked for a number of months, Salah?
SS: Every time the Israelis open the border, I know that is only meets 5% of the needs of the Gaza strip. I can not recall the number of tons needed for commodities.
Q: This is Miranda again. Normally when aid comes is 5% needed for a day or for a week?
SS: 5% of what is needed for a day. Yes.
Q: Thank you.
JZ: Queen Noor said the other day that the bare minimum is 130 trucks, which may be a UN estimate.
BC: Yes, that is correct.
JZ: Ok, well thank you for joining us. Let me put you on with Leigh O’Neill. We’re going to do a political call later this week or early next week.
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