Continuing Despair Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11:2)

Despair haunts Gaza as blockade remains after bloody protests

With crossings closed, some travellers have been waiting months for exit permits

Oliver Holmes in Gaza

Sun 20 May 2018 02.00 EDT

Last modified on Sun 20 May 2018 03.09 EDT

In a stuffy basketball stadium in southern Gaza, the stands are packed. Young people, the elderly and families sit on blue and yellow plastic seats, their eyes fixed on the court.

But there is no game, and these people are not fans but hopeful travellers. The crowds carry suitcases with them and have been waiting to leave, some of them for months.

In the middle of the cavernous room, an official sits at a wooden table with a list of people who have been approved that day to exit into Egypt. When he calls a name, that person can join a bus heading across the border.

A 60-year-old woman said she had been attempting to get permission to leave from the Egyptian authorities for a year and four months. Although a Palestinian, she has lived for the past three decades in Germany, where she has citizenship, but came back for what she hoped would be a short visit to her parents.

“I registered to travel [out of Gaza] a week after I arrived. This is the first time I’m on the list,” said Mufida, holding up her German passport. “No one’s name has been called out today,” she added.

Mufida, who asked to give only her first name, received a call last week that she had a permit to leave but would need to wait for her name to be called. For four days she has waited at the stadium. Rumours swirl that several thousand dollars in bribes will get you across, but Mufida smiled and said she did not have the cash. “Nobody should come back here,” she said. Her seven children are waiting for her in Germany.

A decade-long blockade on Gaza, the tiny strip of land surrounded by Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean, has led to the collapse of its economy and the enclave is regularly referred to as an open-air prison. It had been hoped that close to two months of protests, sparked by anger and desperation, would lessen this crisis for two million Palestinians. Since late March, tens of thousands have gathered weekly along the frontier with Israel to demonstrate against the conditions they live under.

Amid an international outcry and calls for investigations, Israeli fire has killed more than 110 people and thousands of others have been shot, mostly in the legs, according to health officials.

The movement peaked on Monday, when an estimated 40,000 descended on the frontier, many throwing stones towards Israeli forces stationed on sandbanks behind the fence. There were attempts to breach the perimeter, although none succeeded, and many more of the wounded were shot dozens of metres back from the fortified fence, including paramedics.

Monday’s gatherings were focused on dismay over the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on the same day. And the protest organisers have called the movement the “Great March of Return”, demanding refugees and their descendants – two-thirds of Gaza’s residents – be allowed to return to homes lost in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

But the primary goal was ending the blockade, according to Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University. “That is the number-one aim of the protest, even if the slogan is the Great March of Return,” he said. “The most important thing for the protest was to break the siege, to live in freedom and dignity, to live a better life.”

Israel says it is forced to control access to the territory for security reasons, although the UN sees the blockade as collective punishment.

A Palestinian protester in clouds of tear gas. Photograph: Mohammed Saber/EPA

Egypt, which accuses Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, of smuggling out fighters and weapons, only periodically opens the strip’s southern Rafah crossing. Trucks carrying cement and wood were seen there last week, and Cairo said the exit would remain open for the month of Ramadan – the longest uninterrupted period since 2013.

The past few days have seen roughly 500 people cross per day, although thousands remain on lists. Travel is mostly restricted to patients and students enrolled in universities abroad, as well as dual citizens.

Israel, however, has not significantly changed access at its crossings. It says Palestinians ransacked one crossing, although it later sent some medical supplies into Gaza through it. Hamas rejected the truckloads of aid, calling it a propaganda stunt. Another four trucks filled with medical supplies from Jordan were allowed to cross on Friday, the UN said, although access remains severely restricted.

The protests have failed to elicit much support in Israel, where the bloodshed has been framed in large part as a response to a potential security threat to Israelis. One Israeli soldier has been injured since protests began. A poll conducted this month found 83% of Jewish Israelis believed the army’s open-fire policy was justified.

Israel’s government blames Hamas for the deaths of people killed by Israeli forces, saying it has pushed civilians into the line of fire. Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman called Hamas a “bunch of cannibals”.

Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation Israeli human rights group run by military veterans, said most of Israeli Jewish society had “sadly enough, bought into the talking points of the government”.

“It was really devastating to see the response of mainstream Israel, so to speak, on this,” he said.

Voices of outrage have been largely muted and sidelined. Small protests across the country condemning the army’s use of live fire have barely reached the low hundreds. “There was a voice of dissent. It’s a minority, but it’s there,” Shaul said. “There is a voice and we are proud of it, but we are a minority.”

The Sixth Seal Long Overdue (Revelation 6:12)

ON THE MAP; Exploring the Fault Where the Next Big One May Be Waiting

By MARGO NASH

Published: March 25, 2001

Alexander Gates, a geology professor at Rutgers-Newark, is co-author of ”The Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes,” which will be published by Facts on File in July. He has been leading a four-year effort to remap an area known as the Sloatsburg Quadrangle, a 5-by-7-mile tract near Mahwah that crosses into New York State. The Ramapo Fault, which runs through it, was responsible for a big earthquake in 1884, and Dr. Gates warns that a recurrence is overdue. He recently talked about his findings.

Q. What have you found?

A. We’re basically looking at a lot more rock, and we’re looking at the fracturing and jointing in the bedrock and putting it on the maps. Any break in the rock is a fracture. If it has movement, then it’s a fault. There are a lot of faults that are offshoots of the Ramapo. Basically when there are faults, it means you had an earthquake that made it. So there was a lot of earthquake activity to produce these features. We are basically not in a period of earthquake activity along the Ramapo Fault now, but we can see that about six or seven times in history, about 250 million years ago, it had major earthquake activity. And because it’s such a fundamental zone of weakness, anytime anything happens, the Ramapo Fault goes.

Q. Where is the Ramapo Fault?

 A. The fault line is in western New Jersey and goes through a good chunk of the state, all the way down to Flemington. It goes right along where they put in the new 287. It continues northeast across the Hudson River right under the Indian Point power plant up into Westchester County. There are a lot of earthquakes rumbling around it every year, but not a big one for a while.

Q. Did you find anything that surprised you?

A. I found a lot of faults, splays that offshoot from the Ramapo that go 5 to 10 miles away from the fault. I have looked at the Ramapo Fault in other places too. I have seen splays 5 to 10 miles up into the Hudson Highlands. And you can see them right along the roadsides on 287. There’s been a lot of damage to those rocks, and obviously it was produced by fault activities. All of these faults have earthquake potential.

Q. Describe the 1884 earthquake.

A. It was in the northern part of the state near the Sloatsburg area. They didn’t have precise ways of describing the location then. There was lots of damage. Chimneys toppled over. But in 1884, it was a farming community, and there were not many people to be injured. Nobody appears to have written an account of the numbers who were injured.

Q. What lessons we can learn from previous earthquakes?

A. In 1960, the city of Agadir in Morocco had a 6.2 earthquake that killed 12,000 people, a third of the population, and injured a third more. I think it was because the city was unprepared.There had been an earthquake in the area 200 years before. But people discounted the possibility of a recurrence. Here in New Jersey, we should not make the same mistake. We should not forget that we had a 5.4 earthquake 117 years ago. The recurrence interval for an earthquake of that magnitude is every 50 years, and we are overdue. The Agadir was a 6.2, and a 5.4 to a 6.2 isn’t that big a jump.

Q. What are the dangers of a quake that size?

A. When you’re in a flat area in a wooden house it’s obviously not as dangerous, although it could cut off a gas line that could explode. There’s a real problem with infrastructure that is crumbling, like the bridges with crumbling cement. There’s a real danger we could wind up with our water supplies and electricity cut off if a sizable earthquake goes off. The best thing is to have regular upkeep and keep up new building codes. The new buildings will be O.K. But there is a sense of complacency.

MARGO NASH

Photo: Alexander Gates, a Rutgers geologist, is mapping a part of the Ramapo Fault, site of previous earthquakes. (John W. Wheeler for The New York Times)