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Monday, September 22, 2014

An Open Letter From Gaza

An Open Letter From Gaza

By Dennis Cormier
September 22, 2014

Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham
Albuquerque District Office
505 Marquette Avenue, NW
Suite 1605
Albuquerque, NM 87102

Dear Representative Grisham:

We need your support in Gaza.

My name is Denny Cormier. I am 68 and am currently retired.

I have lived in Santa Fe for the last 15 years but I am currently
volunteering in Gaza as a human rights activist and a citizen
journalist reporting on what I am discovering here.

I have been living here in Gaza City for six months now (since
March 2014), and I also traveled here in June of 2013 as a citizen
journalist.

What I knew about Gaza and the Palestinian issue before coming
here was limited to reports that I received from the Western
media, and the distance between Santa Fe and Gaza might as
well have been a million miles.

But based on many conversations with young Palestinians and
university students in Gaza over 2 years, I decided to travel to
Gaza myself in 2013 and to investigate personally the differences
between my own discoveries and what I read (or saw) in the media.

My personal discoveries and the media narrative were so totally
different – in fact, they were totally at odds.

And I had to know.

Frankly, my first visit to Gaza was an eye-opener.

In fact, it was a life changing experience to put it mildly.

I was immediately welcomed as a United States citizen… the people
in Gaza love Americans… they welcome me warmly wherever I have
traveled in Gaza.

People greet you in the streets with the warmest of welcomes when
they discover I am an American, it immediately brings smiles to the
faces of adults and children alike.

The immediate reaction is – We Love You.

I have made many lasting and strong friendships in Gaza. And I fell
in love with the Palestinians and with Gaza.

I received a similar welcome from university students and business
owners and from people who welcomed me on behalf of the
government.

This was not a place of terrorists.

This was a place of a warm, friendly people, people of great faith,
people of generosity that is unparalleled in my experience.

I could not wait to return to Gaza, and did so earlier this year in
March.

And I am glad that I did.

This recent 6 month visit has increased my understanding of
the issues here, and I have seen how the issues of siege and
of economic devastation have brought great suffering to these
people, many of whom I know personally.

Although I had the opportunity to leave Gaza before Operation
Protective Edge with the assistance of the U.S. State Department
and the government here in Gaza, I chose to stay on during the
51 day attack and to be a witness.

What I saw and experienced can only be characterized as horrific.

The attacks on the border cities of Gaza were particularly barbaric.

I reported to representatives of the U.S. State Department that
I was a witness to war crimes, and the effects of the war crimes
continue even if the attacks have stopped.

Although I live in an area of Gaza where other internationals live
and in a place that is normally considered a safe haven for them,
I began to feel strongly that my life was in serious danger – that
there was no safe place in Gaza during those 51 days.

Gratefully I survived the bombings in my own neighborhood, but
not so others in Gaza City and in cities throughout the Gaza Strip.

Many hundreds died in these attacks… many thousands more were
seriously injured… thousands of homes have been flattened by the
weaponry that Israel used during the attacks and are now sitting in
piles of rubble.

I have visited and documented the destruction in three Gaza cities
in Khuzaa, in Shujaya, and in Beit Hanoun, (and of course, in Gaza
City).

If you had been able to accompany me on these visits after
the war, you would have wept… I did.

What I saw was nothing short of total devastation of civilian
homes.

I would be happy to send you photographic documentation if you
wish…. But what I saw and witnessed would make you shudder…

I have heard hundreds of stories of people of all ages who ran
from their homes in the middle of the night as shells fell on their
homes without warning…. others were given just a few minutes to
evacuate their homes before rockets or bombs wiped them out….

My dearest friends ran from their homes in bare feet and lost
everything they owned and treasured.

Some homes were bombed while the families were sleeping.

They received no warning from Israel.

Entire families were wiped out.

Children shuddered in their homes and it has been reported
that 90% of the children in Gaza now suffer from PTSD.

Children were particularly targeted in these attacks.

Four young boys from the Bakr family were killed by shells
from Israeli gunboats just off shore….

They were killed on the beach when they were playing football
very close to my home…

I met the only survivor of the attack on the same Bakr family
home just days later.

I spent most of two months during the war acting as a human
shield at Al Shifa Hospital, the major health facility in Gaza.

There I met hundreds of refugees and interviewed the injured.

I saw the dead being brought to the hospital, many of
them children… what I saw is the stuff of nightmares.

On one of the days there, hundreds of ambulances arrived
over several hours delivering the dead and the injured…..

The doctors I spoke to have told me that the injuries to
their patients were worse than any war injuries that they
have witnessed here and in other war zones.

I have seen many destroyed or severely damaged civilian facilities,
including schools, mosques, hospitals, police stations – in some
cases entire cities.

Before the war I was also witness to the devastation to
the economy and to the infrastructure of Gaza – and the
destruction of the human spirit during this too long siege.

I learned to live with 8 hours of electricity a day (now 6 hours
a day)…

I learned to live with the water that comes from the taps
that cannot be used for anything safely…

I learned to live with miles of beaches that have been destroyed
because of the need to dump raw sewage into the sea.

I learned to live with stories of suffering that are caused
by a huge unemployment situation in Gaza…

I cannot tell you all that I have discovered first hand during this
current visit to Gaza, but it could fill books, and one day it
probably will.

I can tell you that what I witnessed are gross breaches of
international law and gross breaches of agreements relating
to collective punishment of a civilian population.

I can tell you that I will encourage the Palestinians to bring charges
against Israel to the International Criminal Court.

I can tell you that it is my honest opinion that the suffering of the
people of Gaza are a direct result of an illegal siege and blockade
and a de facto Occupation….

The Israelis left Gaza some years ago but they have an immense
and negative impact on the lives of ordinary citizens in Gaza long
after they left this area and surrounded it with fencing and military
outposts.

I can tell you that I was personally shot at when visiting the city
of Shujaya.

As I explored the damage and was hundreds of meters from the
Israeli border and the buffer zone that they have set up, bullets
were fired above me and on both sides of me by the Israelis…..

Warning shots perhaps….

But I was nowhere near the area where people are regularly
killed and injured along the Israeli border….

My only weapon was a digital camera.

I had to back up several hundred more feet before the shooting
stopped.

Children who were in the same area were also fired at as was
my guide.

I can tell you many things based on first hand witness and
observation, but I must please ask you to reconsider anything
you ever learned from the media or from the State Department
or White House regarding Gaza – in fact, question everything
you have been told.

What you have been told… what we Americans have been told….
Is a lie.

I would be happy to meet with you when I return to the United
States, but I must warn you now that the ongoing support of
the State of Israel in its attacks on the Palestinians, especially
on those living in Gaza is a great shame on the American people.

The financial support offered to Israel without proper concern
and restrictions based on human rights is a great shame for the
American people.

As a representative of the good people of the United States, I
urge you to look very closely at the good people of Gaza and to
reconsider what we have done to them in the name of Israeli security.

In fact, I would be pleased to personally be your guide should you
elect to visit the Gaza Strip and should the Israeli government allow
you entry for a firsthand experience of what I have witnessed and
experienced.

The people of Gaza need your support.

Respectfully,

Dennis Cormier
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(currently Gaza City in the Gaza Strip)

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