Where pristine homes used to sit, children trod piles of dusty rubble searching for remnants of their past – mementos from slain parents, grandparents, siblings and those of a once carefree childhood, intertwined among rock and their own tears.
Dominican Sr. Pat Chaffee, 72, the Racine Dominican Advocate for Sisters in Skilled Nursing Care, needed to see with her own eyes the impact on the children after the Israeli invasion in December-January 2008, and the effects of the Israeli blockade of land, water and sea. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including more than 300 children.
As part of an 80-women delegation, Sr. Pat spent a week last spring delivering toys and supplies for building playgrounds in Gaza.
The delegation, sponsored by CodePink, responded to an invitation from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. CodePink is a grassroots peace and social justice movement launched in 2002 by about 100 women who want an end to the Iraq war.
The Gaza delegation featured women from around the United States, including academics, social workers, journalists, photographers, filmmakers, educators, peace group leaders and retirees.
As the only religious sister involved in the mission, Sr. Pat was moved to see Ann Wright, former state department official, as one of the group’s key leaders.
“She had been a colonel in the Army,” said Sr. Pat. “When she saw the evils in the Iraq war, she resigned and became a peace activist. All of the delegates are peace activists.”
The delegates brought three playground sets, with swings, slides and merry-go-rounds, sports equipment, toys and a large bag of soccer balls. The sports equipment and toys were purchased from monetary donations to CodePink and playground sets were constructed by one of the CodePink leaders. The gifts were an immediate hit with the children.
“Hundreds of kids went wild,” exclaimed Sr. Pat. “They could hardly wait for the sets to be put together.”
Although providing the play equipment brought relief from the children’s trauma, Sr. Pat doesn’t believe it is enough to bring any long-term improvement in their lives.
|Sr. Pat Chaffee
will report on the Gaza Freedom March and December’s international protest during a free presentation Tuesday, March 30
Cup of Hope Coffee Shop
507 6th St., Racine, at 7 p.m. For information, call (262) 637-2213
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For more information on CodePink, visit http://www.codepinkalert.org/
“While the children seem normal, physicians and social workers assure us that they are deeply traumatized, as demonstrated by nightmares and bedwetting,” she said. “Also, we saw drawings of soldiers attacking, with planes overhead. When we visited a class, the teacher first asked the children to describe the place where they are happy. Then he asked them to describe the worst thing that could happen and they talked about soldiers breaking into their houses.”
The siege renders the Gaza Strip, a piece of land about 100 miles by 25 miles, an outdoor prison, according to Sr. Pat, who witnessed more than the heartache and devastation of the most innocent. She witnessed the total loss of hope.
“I heard story after story of loss,” she said. “Near the site of the destroyed American University, I met a man sitting in a bombed building. I saw a woman who seemed to be cooking in a nearby section of the building. Through an interpreter, I asked the man about his presence in the building. ‘This was my home,’ he said. ‘It was three stories. Seventy members of my family lived here, in separate apartments. Now my wife and I live here, in what is left of the first floor.’ When the interpreter asked him if he wasn’t afraid that the slab of concrete poised above his living quarters would fall on him and his wife, he said, ‘What do I care? After this, there is no hope. There is no hope.’”
Israel has the right to defend itself, Sr. Pat said, however, she added that the total isolation of the people of Gaza and the killing of more than 1,400 is nothing more than carnage.
“I also heard over and over again stories about hardship from the Israeli blockage of land, sea and air, such as, ‘We cannot rebuild because the materials we need are prohibited by Israel.’ And, ‘In our hospital, this state of the art MRI machine was donated, but it lacks a calibration device and we have neither the money nor Israeli permission to import another one.’ Or, ‘I have a visa to the United States to study, but I cannot leave the Gaza Strip because of the siege,’” said Sr. Pat.
The nun returned to Gaza last December to mark the one-year anniversary for the 2008 Israeli invasion. The international delegates entered Gaza via Egypt during the last week of December and on Dec. 31 they joined an estimated 50,000 Palestinians in a non-violent march from Northern Gaza to the Erez/Israeli border.
While Sr. Pat is encouraged by President Obama’s insistence that Israel stop the West Bank settlements, she urges him to send special envoy George Mitchell there to see and hear the people, and demand that Israel end the blockage of the Gaza Strip.
“The president, in his historic speech in Cairo, also reaffirmed his support of Israel,” she said. “I ask him, however, to qualify this support. Does he really want the U.S annual gift of $3 billion to be used in killing innocent civilians and children?”