The Elders

Photos

24 hours in Gaza

At the start of their October 2010 visit to the Middle East, Mary Robinson, Ela Bhatt and Lakhdar Brahimi spent a day in the blockaded Gaza strip. A ban by Israel and Egypt prohibits the import of building materials and severely restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. The Elders say the blockade is illegal, unconscionable and counterproductive – and call for it to be lifted immediately.

‘Education in the hot seat’: the Elders visit a UN-run school made of shipping containers. The blockade means no schools have been built in Gaza for the last four years. The metal classrooms are overcrowded and very hot in summer.

40,000 children in Gaza who are eligible for a UN education cannot go to school because of the shortage of buildings. Half of Gaza's 1.5 million people are under 18.

In talks with human rights organisations, the Elders heard reports of crackdowns on human rights and fundamental freedoms in Gaza, especially on women and civil society organisations.

Delegation leader Mary Robinson pressed the leader of the de facto government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, on human rights issues. He said specific allegations would be investigated and if any mistakes had been made they would be corrected.

The international community rejects official contact with Hamas and they are excluded from current peace negotiations.

Lakhdar Brahimi said: “Whether you agree with Hamas or not, they represent an important constituency among Palestinian people and sooner or later they will have to play a role in deciding their future.”

The Elders were inspired and impressed by young Gazans. Frustrated and angry about the blockade, they are keen to reach out to other young people worldwide. "We are out of work and have no space for creativity. People want to leave, can you blame them?"

They are also getting organised - hip hop artist Ayman Mughamis (pictured) performs when he can with rappers from Egypt and Texas. Watch a video of Ayman performing.

The Elders heard from UNRWA Operations Director John Ging that more than 7,000 Palestinians are currently in detention in Israeli prisons.

Nine year old Jumana (pictured) has not been allowed to visit her father, held in an Israeli prison, for six years. She is considered a security risk. Jumana told the Elders that she wishes all detainees could be freed – Palestinians, the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and political prisoners in other parts of the world too.

At a press conference in Gaza City, the Elders urged Palestinian leaders of Hamas and Fatah to continue efforts to unify. They also urged the international community to insist on the lifting of the blockade of Gaza – as well as funding the $80million shortfall in the budget of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Photos: Eman Mohammed / Alexei Kidel / The Elders

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