Scottish parliamentarians witness Israeli devastation in Gaza
By Hamed Chapman
The convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on Palestine has returned from a mercy trip to Gaza speaking of the horrendous devastation wreaked during Israel’s latest massacre of more than 1,400 Palestinians. “The devastation in Gaza is absolutely shocking. The extent of the destruction of Gaza families and homes is unbelievable,” Labour member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) Pauline McNeill said. “Every single person we met pleaded with us to do what we could to lift the Israeli siege on their country,” she said.
The Labour MSP from Glasgow Kelvin led a delegation to Gaza to deliver the first trenche of medical aid from Scotland after spending 14 days of negotiations with Egyptian Authorities to open Rafeh crossing. She also visited Lebanon in the aftermath of Israel’s latest invasion in 2006. “The fact that we have seen some of the devastation on our TV screens is the only thing that prepares you for the entry into the north of Gaza where the Israeli defence forces aimed the majority of their fire power. Thousands of family homes were raised to the ground by the constant bombing,” said McNeill, who is Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Culture Europe and Constitutional Affairs in the Scottish Parliament.
She told The Muslim News that they spent hours talking to families just sitting in their tents donated by the Rotary Club with nothing to do. “Some of the children were reading their lessons. As you go around speaking everyone joins in as they want you to hear their stories. We saw one family of 8 children in one small tent. There were 90 families in this camp with only 30 tents. There is no sanitation and so they are all at risk of disease,” she said.
The Scottish delegation included members of Glasgow Central Mosque, Sid Khan, Shalim Mohammed and Shamim Ahmed, who helped collect ten of thousands of pounds in an emergency appeal for aid that was largely spent on desperately needed medical supplies. A second aid consignment of Scottish aid led by Denis Rutovitz, Chair of Edinburgh Direct Aid (EDA), also made its way towards Gaza with the assistance of the Egyptian Red Crescent after being flown to Cairo.
McNeill spoke of the scant aid getting through, including basic food or rice and bean arriving, while they were there. “The UNWRA tent across the way is only for show as they get no assistance from UNWRA as the Palestinians do not have refugee status. These Palestinians are internally displaced persons and it is shocking to learn they don’t benefit directly from the international efforts. The Government have given families $5000 but what can you do with that,” she said.
The vivid picture she painted was of temporary shelters being created on the rubble of the destroyed homes. “We were told of a woman who sleeps with her children in her brother’s home but during the day she lives on the streets so as not to intrude on her brother’s life. We were shown pictures of dead children buried under the rubble of the collapsed buildings; pictures of screaming children hurt and burned in the blasts,” the MSP said. “Many injured people do not get the rehabilitation assistance they need as they are short of walking sticks, wheel chairs and any type of basic medical equipment that any health service needs to attend to wounded people.”
“Most people think that Gaza borders are open after the war and that aid is flooding in; it is not. The opening of the crossings is sporadic and the aid is not enough. There is a desperate need for drugs for cancer and heart diseases,” McNeill said. She said the delegation met with Minister of Health, Dr Basem, who said that many countries are donating but not the right kind of aid. “There is no real co-ordination of their needs. He confirms that aid is stockpiling outside Gaza and it is not free flowing. The Siege is as bad as ever – hundreds have died waiting to get out of Gaza to hospitals outside the strip,” she said.
Scottish aid being flown in amounts to some seven tonnes of medicines such as antibiotics, vitamins and food supplements for children and expectant mothers. Other items include sutures, syringes and needles, surgical gloves, dressings and many different types of medical and surgical consumables. Almost all are intended for primary care centres and will be donated to the Palestine Medical Relief Society’s clinics.
“We visited about 6 orphanages where the representatives of Scotland’s largest Mosque, Glasgow Central Mosque, gifted money to the children and the families who helped to look after them. Many would not accept the gift as they said it was enough that we had come and that they wanted to preserve their dignity,” McNeill said. “We had gone to Gaza to show the support for the people and to ensure Scotland was seen as part of the collective efforts.”
McNeill, who has been an MSP since 1997, has been involved in seeking justice for the Palestinians since her student days. She was a strident opponent of the Iraq war and has also spoken out against US and Israeli threats against Iran.
“The siege on Gaza must be lifted. Not a single brick has been replaced after the war.
"No reconstruction work has started. The rubble has not even been cleared. If we forget about Gaza perhaps we may begin to see rocket firing again as that tends to get the world’s attention,” she said.
“Palestinians will tell you themselves that it is a political solution which is needed and not an aid strategy. Whilst we are waiting on that dream we cannot stand for any blockage of the international efforts to bring humanitarian assistance,” said the MSP, who is also helping to coordinate a 100 truck convoy, dubbed the European Convoy of Hope link
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