aid worker Cassandra Nelson (second from the right) has just returned from a six-week trip to the Middle East.
Nelson, a native Portlander, was in the Gaza Strip
trying to bring relief aid to Palestinians.
The Israeli military campaign that started Dec. 27 against Hamas had subsided somewhat since a ceasefire in mid-January. Today, however, the conflict erupted
again after Israeli aircraft struck multiple smuggling tunnels in Gaza.
These tunnels are all too familiar to Nelson, who says they're a reaction to a strict blockade the Israeli army has enforced over the Gaza Strip.
“I've seen the smuggling tunnels firsthand," Nelson says. "I've been in there.”
She says that in times of peace, Palestinians received nearly 500 trucks worth of food and relief aid a day for poor and malnourished residents. However, Nelson says, since the Israeli army instituted the blockade 19 months ago, relief aid has been limited to about 120 trucks each day.
“They're [Palestinians] trapped in there [Gaza Strip] and nothing can get to them, so tunnels are used to smuggle goods in," she says. "Their existence is dependent on what is allowed in.”
For example, Mercy Corps has six trucks of macaroni that have been sitting on the border for weeks, waiting for the Israelis to grant them access to the Gaza Strip. But Nelson says those trucks have been put in a holding pattern for no apparent reason. Nelson says Mercy Corps has asked for a list of acceptable and unacceptable items that the Israeli army will allow. No list has been provided.
“There's no list or policy outlining the blockade," says Nelson, whose seven-year stint in Mercy Corps has taken her to wartorn places including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Darfur, and Lebanon. "Sometimes it [aid delivery] goes smoothly, and sometimes it doesn't. There seems to be no rhyme or reason.”