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The RFA Argus, a 100 bed hospital ship operated by the Royal Navy. Photo: ozz13x via Flickr.
The RFA Argus, a 100 bed hospital ship operated by the Royal Navy. Photo: ozz13x via Flickr.
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Britain's hospital ship to Gaza!

Veronica Vickery

23rd September 2014

Thousands of wounded Gazans are awaiting medical treatment, writes Veronica Vickery, with many of Gaza's hospitals damaged or destroyed. Meanwhile a health crisis looms with the coming winter, amid a failing water and sewage system. One way the UK can help: send our hospital ship RFA Argus to provide essential medical aid.

Despite a month passing we have had no response at all from the government. Not even an acknowledgement.

The world again stands disgraced as we continue to enjoy the late summer sunshine, with barely a thought for the thousands of Gazans injured, displaced and imprisoned.

It's been weeks since I've saw a mainstream headline about Gaza. Are we all to believe that the truce has suddenly washed it all away, that life is now if not rosy at least tolerable?

Approximately 11,000 Gazans were injured by Israel's bombing, shelling and sniping, while hospitals were destroyed. Some Israeli hospitals have offered to help treat the wounded, but most have been refused permits to enter Israel.

According to the WHO, 360,000 Gazans - 20% of the population - are likely to be suffering a range of mental health challenges including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

And an estimated 110,000 Gazans were displaced by the conflict, with their homes destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. Fifty healthcare centres and 17 hospitals were damaged, among them the Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatic Hospital in eastern Gaza City, which was completely destroyed.

Electricity is even shorter than usual following the targetting and complete destruction of Gaza's only power station. Also destroyed were large parts of the water distribution system and already failing sewage infrastructure. Most of Gaza's water is also unfit for human consumption.

One result is that the sea has become an open sewer. Ironically the tide of raw Palestinian sewage is lapping the beaches of Tel Aviv. But that's a small hardship compared to what Palestinains are enduring.

And now winter is coming, and that will only add to the hardship, with low temperatures and rains falling on a disfunctional drainage infrastructure already overflowing with sewage. A major health crisis is in the making.

Voices from the rubble

For the last month I have obsessed about Gaza. I'm not sure why this conflict rather than a whole string of others should have had this effect on me but it did.

Late one Saturday night last month, I was moaning yet again about the latest horror story I'd read, a report by Paul Mason for Channel 4 warning of the health crisis in Shifa, the main hospital in Gaza City.

My husband, Chris Neal, suggested that Gaza needed a hospital ship, to which I replied: "But there's one sitting in Falmouth harbour!" He went off to draft a letter, and I made a Facebook page.

Not quite realizing what we had let ourselves in for, by the next day we had a major campaign on our hands which to date has over 75,000 signatures, major NGO support and cross party support in Parliament.

But despite the overwhelming human need, still that ship - the RFA Argus, with its 100 hospital beds and and associated operating theatres and other facilities - has not gone to Gaza.

Little did we know it but we too were beginning to find our voice via social media. The campaign inadvertently gave us a way through the impotence and frustration we, and many others, as we soon discovered also felt.

The #HospitalShip2Gaza campaign caught people's imagination around the world. It quickly went viral. People could actually see an image in their mind's eye of a ship steaming across the Mediterranean to Gaza.

They could sit at home, click on a button to sign the campaign, and feel just for a moment less impotent in the face of traumatic events way beyond their control.

The campaign enabled people to pay attention, to listen to voices such as Farah Baker.

Denied, ignored voices: do we really live in a democracy?

As I write over 76,000 people have signed the petition. Our local MP Andrew George has formally presented our petition to Parliament three times.

Grahame Morris, Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine, has also written to David Cameron on the behalf of the campaign supporters. Despite a month passing we have had no response at all from the government. Not even an acknowledgement.

I am sure the Government would argue that it is providing some relief support through NGOs. But it is quite obviously not enough. Questions have to be asked. Writing in The Independent, Mira Bell asked:

"Why did our government ignore the slaughter in Gaza, and continue to sell arms to Israel? I ask why does our Government continue to be so silent and inactive?" She also quotes Michael Mates, who wrote:

"The pro-Israel lobby in our body politic is the most powerful political lobby. There's nothing to touch them ... Their lobbying is done very discreetly, in very high places, which may be why it is so effective."

The signatories to this campaign have not heard a voice we recognize from our Government. It would seem that friends and money in high places continue in our democracy to wield considerably more influence than the popular voice. And so the voices of at least 75,811 people have been ignored.

We have it would seem a rather bewildering Parliamentary Democracy that totally ignores the voice of its constituents. And by ignoring the campaign to send a hospital ship to Gaza, our Government is sending out a message to people still living behind a relentless blockade: that not only does it not care about their plight but that it tacitly supports the 'facts on the ground'. Not in my name.

How many more wars in Gaza will it take before the world really sits up and takes notice?

Immediate needs in Gaza

Gaza needs to be reconstructed (hopefully for the last time). There is an immediate need to rebuild destroyed homes before winter sets in, to repair electricity generation plants so that sewage stations can pump again, to replace near obsolete equipment in hospitals and to restock with the medical supplies the rest of us take for granted.

There is a need to tend the traumatized, the children who have experienced living through three wars in six years. There is the need to attend to the social and psychological impact of not being able to escape what is, in all but name, a prison camp.

And there is the need for our Government to use a voice that is representative of the people of the UK, to speak out loudly and unequivocally about the injustice that constitutes contemporary Palestine.

We in this expanded nation that represents the peoples of the UK, have demonstrated through the Scottish referendum that we believe in self-determination. It is time for this country to recognize the Palestinians as a people with a similar right to self-determination.

Palestinians - like the State of Israel - should have the right to manage their own resources and to live in safety in their own internationally recognized state. Our government, acting sincerely in our name, must stop blocking progress.

#HospitalShip2Gaza

I have recently found myself sitting on the cliffs where I live in West Cornwall and wondering what it would be like to be fenced in by the sea.

Only a few days ago the sea off Gaza was again a site of death and destroyed Gazan hope. Smugglers destroyed their' cargo' ship of 400 people who were trying to escape Gaza. As refugees they were prepared to go to any lengths to embrace a possible future of opportunity and hope.

Fishing is fundamental to daily life and economic activity in this part of the Mediterranean. A recent UNWRA report describes the still volatile situation in Gaza:

"In addition to a projectile being fired towards Israel on 16 September, there have also been a number of incidents of Israeli Navy opening fire towards Palestinian fishing boats (on 15 and 17 September)."

The sea off the Gaza coast is synonyminous with blockade and control of natural resources.

There is usually a common understanding that links people who live along coasts. Gazing out to sea, I have been acutely aware that there is a stretch of water that runs from here to there. But for me this stretch of water, the Atlantic is an open expanse that lifts my soul. For people in Gaza the sea, now full of sewage must feel hostile, an image of conflict, of the blockade, the battleground.

Sending the UK government owned hospital ship RFA Argus across the sea to Gaza would not only help over-stretched medical services in Gaza, it would be a beacon of hope.

We can think of the oceans as barriers, as deposits of untapped gas reserves, as reservoirs of insurmountable geo-politics.

Or we can think of the oceans as a way of connecting peoples, in which coasts become landing beacons and refuge, and sea passage becomes a route of hope through political storms.

Send that ship to Gaza!

 


 

Veronica Vickery is an artist and activist. She is completing a PhD in Human Geography at the University of Exeter in Cornwall, entitled 'Fractured Earth: towards an expanded imaging of landscape through art practice'. She also teaches site-specific performance practice to BA Theatre students at Falmouth University.

UK Petition: change.org/hospitalship2gaza

Twitter campaign: #HospitalShip2Gaza

Facebook: www.facebook.com/HospitalShip2Gaza?ref=hl&ref_type=bookmark

Campaign Website: hospitalship2gaza.wordpress.com

US Campaign: www.giverhub.com/petitions/the-rt-hon-philip-hammond-mp-send-rfa-argus-hospital-ship-to-gaza?from=change_org

 

 

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