Gazans feel abandoned by the world as Israel presses in

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 6, 2009 

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — For 11 days, life has kept getting worse for Saladin Sultan and his family.

First came the surprise Israeli airstrikes on his northern Gaza Strip town. Then the power went out. Food became harder to find.

As Israeli ground troops advanced through the uneven dirt roads leading to his town Monday, Sultan gathered his wife and five children and fled.

On Tuesday, living in a cold, dark United Nations school, Sultan wanted to know why it had come to this.

Among the 1.5 million Palestinians in the increasingly isolated Gaza Strip, there's a growing sense of abandonment.

Gaza residents with no way to escape the expanding Israeli military campaign to destabilize Hamas are turning their anger on the outside world.

From hospital emergency rooms to rudimentary shelters, more and more Palestinians say that everyone from their Arab allies to Western diplomats has turned a blind eye to their deepening plight.

"Where are the Europeans?" asked Sultan, a 40-year-old shop owner. "Where are the human rights they are talking about? A dog there is better than a human (here).

"They are not human," he said bitterly. "They are insects."

Israeli aircraft and artillery have been pounding the Gaza Strip relentlessly for 11 days. The attacks have killed more than 600 Palestinians and wounded nearly 3,000. The Gaza Strip's government infrastructure, from police stations and universities to government offices and mosques, has been repeated targets of Israeli strikes. Most residents haven't had power for days. Food is becoming more scarce. Hospitals are straining to handle the rising number of women and children wounded by the Israeli attacks. Israeli ground troops are closing in on Gaza City.

And there's still no real indication that evolving diplomatic cease-fire talks will end the attacks anytime soon.

Predictably, plenty of anger is aimed at the Israelis who launched the attack.

However, there's also pointed hostility toward the Arab and Muslim world, which largely has been slow to act.

"God damn the Arabs," Jabel Abdel Dayam shouted as he stood over his wounded son in Gaza City's Shifa Hospital. "

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak draws special scorn in Gaza.

He's opened Egypt's border crossing with Gaza to allow a small number of Palestinians out and a small amount of humanitarian aid in. However, he's cracked down on pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Cairo.

It hasn't escaped people's notice that Mubarak, like Israel, relies on billons of dollars in American aid, and that he, like Israel, sees militant Islamists as a major threat.

Although demonstrators in Egypt have pounded on the border gates with Gaza to demand that Mubarak allow Palestinian to flee, the potential escape hatch remains shut.

Gazans also are experiencing a sense of alienation from their estranged Palestinian cousins in the West Bank.

Ever since Hamas seized control of Gaza in a pitiless, 2007 military showdown with fighters loyal to pragmatic Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the divide between the West Bank and Gaza has been growing.

Even so, many Palestinians in both places were surprised when Abbas appeared initially to back Israel's military strike on Gaza by blaming Hamas for instigating the crisis.

While truce talks have been slow to gain traction, Palestinians find themselves trapped between advancing Israeli forces intent on crippling Hamas and Hamas ideologues intent on humiliating Israel.

Eyaj Sarraj, the founder of the Gaza City Mental Health Program, said both sides were leading Gaza into ruin.

"This is a revenge mentality with no strategy for security and peace except by brutal force," Sarraj said of the Israeli policy. "The strategy on the Hamas side is a fatalistic belief in resistance. And here we are in the middle."

(Hamda is a McClatchy special correspondent. Nissenbaum reported from Jerusalem.)

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY:

With nowhere safe, Gazans hunker down inside their homes

Rejecting truce, Olmert vows 'iron fist' against Hamas

What helped the rise of Hamas? U.S., Israel policies, turns out

Israelis, sipping Pepsi, watch bombardment of Gaza town

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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