“I Have to Hold Back Tears” -- Jimmy Carter

June 22, 2009

During the lead up to former president Jimmy Carter’s trip to Gaza, the general media sentiment regarding the trip was ominous. Questions of safety (and loyalty, due to the boycott of Gaza and the legitimacy of its government) arose as Carter announced he would be meeting with Hamas leaders to discuss the future of Palestine.

He arrived on Tuesday, June 16th, and met with the Gazan leadership, including Ismail Haniya and Mahmoud Zahhar. He also visited sites that were destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, including an American school obliterated by bombs dropped by F-16s. The human rights violations that took place during the Israeli offensive in earlier this year have stunned him, he said. “I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been wracked against your people.”

Other objectives of Carter’s trip to Gaza included delivering a letter to Gilad Shalit (the Israeli soldier taken hostage by Hamas in June 2006), asking Hamas to consider recognition of Israel (it refused), calling for an end to the Gaza blockade, and also to insist that Hamas end its rocket fire into areas such as Sderot.

Israel launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip last December in response to rocket fire, a war that left the territory in shambles and unable to rebuild due to the stiff international blockade from 2 years prior. Only the bare humanitarian needs are delivered to a population of 1.5 million. Carter specifically pushed the US and Europe to allow basic goods into Gaza. “Never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then denied the means to repair itself,” said Carter. “The citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings.”

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post