War's brutality in Gaza Strip subject of doctor's talk

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Storrs - posted Sun., May. 12, 2013
Dr. Saeed Aghari during a 2009 trip to the Gaza Strip. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Dr. Saeed Aghari paused during his April 6 presentation at the Storrs Friends Meetinghouse. The upcoming images were graphic, he warned, and might be disturbing to some people. “Is it okay for me to continue?” he asked. There were no objections. The images showed the effects of various forms of warfare that have been utilized against the people living in the Gaza Strip in Palestine.

There were phosphorus burns on the bodies of the dead. There were children with bruised and bloodied faces. There was a horse, lying dead in a pool of blood, in the middle of the street. There were mangled and bloodied legs. And there was a young man, well-dressed and clean-shaven, leaning against the side of a building. He leaned on a pair of crutches. One leg of his blue jeans was tied up at thigh level, revealing a missing portion of his left leg.

“This was a well-educated, polite young man,” said Aghari. The man, who appeared to be no older than 18 years old, was the victim of a DIME bomb, according to Aghari. A DIME, or dense inert metal explosive, can result in severe, amputating injuries to anyone within its relatively small blast zone. Many experts also believe that the tungsten alloy used in the weapon can lead to a high rate of cancer among other survivors of a blast. 

Aghari saw many such injuries, he said, when he worked as a member of an international delegation in hospitals in the Gazan cities of Rafah, Khan Yunis and Gaza City, shortly after Israel’s December 2008/January 2009 military assault on Gaza, called Operation Cast Lead. Aghari is an emergency physician working in Connecticut. Born in Iran and educated there, Aghari did residencies with hospitals affiliated with Harvard and Boston Universities.  A long-time member of Doctors Without Borders, he has worked in Haiti and Peru and with the International Red Cross.

Aghari’s evening in Storrs was sponsored by the Israel/Palestine Peace, Education and Action Group of Eastern Connecticut, formed in the spring of 2009 with a mission to “support a peaceful, just, prompt and permanent end to the conflict between Israel and Palestine...” The group is comprised of people - Christian, Muslim, Jewish and non-faith-based - who are “concerned about the devastating human and financial costs to both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict,” according to a handout.

There are between 1.6 and 1.7 million people living in Gaza, “most of whom are refugees and descendants of refugees from 1948 when Israel declared its independence and several hundred thousand Palestinians were expelled or left out of fear,” according to a handout. Gaza is sometimes referred to as the largest open air prison in the world, because of its population density and because its borders are tightly controlled by Israel.

Israel imposed a land, sea and air blockade of Gaza in 2006 after Hamas (the Palestinian Sunni Islamic organization) won the election there. Ostensibly, the blockade was designed to prevent rockets and weapons from getting in. But the blockade has had devastating effects on the region’s residents.  Gaza residents are unable to sell, produce or manufacture goods except with Israel’s limited approval, which has resulted in an unemployment rate of between 30 and 50 percent, according to sources. Israel controls Gaza’s electricity, and service is sporadic and unpredictable for those lucky enough to have it. According to the U.N., a developing water crisis could leave Gaza residents with no source of potable water within a short number of years.

Repeated strikes by Israel (via aircraft, helicopter, drone, gunship, tank, military ground incursion and attacks on fishermen, farms, industry and food production facilities) have left Gaza with destroyed and damaged infrastructure. Aghari showed photographs of bombed hospitals, universities, cemeteries, homes and ambulances. “Why the ambulances?” he asked. “What purpose is there in that?”

There has been hostility from both sides, but statistics show a severe imbalance. According to figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between 2005 and 2008, there were 116 Israelis and 1,735 Palestinians killed due to the conflicts. The figures say that 1,509 Israelis were injured, compared to 8,308 Palestinians.

“As human beings, I think we have a responsibility to educate ourselves, to educate others,” said Aghari. Wars absorb resources that could be better used to fund health, education and housing, he continued. We are allowing ourselves to be separated by gender, color, religion and other issues when, in the end, we are all just human beings, said Aghari. “I think we should get smarter about that,” he said.

On April 27 at 7 p.m., at the Storrs Friends Meetinghouse (57 Hunting Lodge Road, intersection with North Eagleville Road), the Academy Award-nominated, documentary film "5 Broken Cameras" will be shown.  The film portrays the non-violent movement of Palestinian villagers against Israel's military occupation. The showing of the film is free and open to the public.

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