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The international community has betrayed the people of Gaza by failing to back their words with effective action to secure the ending of the Israeli blockade which is preventing reconstruction and recovery, say a group of 16 leading humanitarian and human rights groups in a new report released today (22 December) ahead of the anniversary of the start of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza (27 December-18 January).
The Israeli authorities have allowed only 41 truckloads of all construction materials into Gaza since the end of the offensive in mid-January, warn the groups, which include Amnesty International, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Mercy Corps and Oxfam International. The task of rebuilding and repairing thousands of homes alone will require thousands of truckloads of building materials, they add.
Little of the extensive damage the offensive caused to homes, civilian infrastructure, public services, farms and businesses has been repaired because the civilian population, and the UN and aid agencies who help them, are prohibited from importing materials like cement and glass in all but a handful of cases, says the report.
Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs said:
“It is not only Israel that has failed the people of Gaza with a blockade that punishes everybody living there for the acts of a few. World powers have also failed and even betrayed Gaza’s ordinary citizens. They have wrung hands and issued statements, but have taken little meaningful action to attempt to change the damaging policy that prevents reconstruction, personal recovery and economic recuperation.”
“Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, too, must maintain their current de facto cessation of violence and permanently cease all indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza. And all the Palestinian factions also need to intensify their reconciliation dialogue to pave the way for a reunified Palestinian government able to effectively provide for the needs of its civilian population.”
The effect of the construction materials ban goes much wider, say the authors of the report. They say the blockade has also led to frequent power, gas and water shortages, seriously affecting daily life and public health. Parts of the Gaza electricity network were bombed during the conflict and require urgent repairs, which have still not been allowed to proceed almost one year after the conflict. This, combined with Israel continuing to restrict the supply of industrial fuel into Gaza, means that 90% of people in Gaza suffer power cuts of four to eight hours a day.
Power cuts also cause daily interruptions to water supply, as does the inability to repair water pipes, roof top water tanks and household connectors, because materials and spare parts are not deemed essential humanitarian supplies by Israel and so are prevented entry under the blockade. With the loss of pressure in the pipes, polluted water from the ground contaminates the supply. Together with chronic disrepair to the sewage system, poor water quality is a major concern for aid agencies in Gaza, with diarrhoea causing 12% of young deaths.
The blockade, which began in June 2007 after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, has sharply increased poverty, helping make eight out of 10 people dependent on some form of aid. Businesses and farms have been forced to close and lay off workers. An almost complete ban on exports has hit farmers hard, compounded by the offensive which wrecked 17% of farmland together with greenhouses and irrigation equipment, and left a further 30% unusable in no-go ‘buffer zones’ expanded by the Israeli military after the end of the offensive.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“The wretched reality endured by 1.5 million people in Gaza should appal anybody with an ounce of humanity. Sick, traumatised and impoverished people are being collectively punished by a cruel, illegal policy imposed by the Israeli authorities.
“Israel’s responsibility to protect its citizens does not give it the right to punish every man, woman and child of Gaza. All states are obliged under international law to intervene to put an end to this brutal blockade but their leaders are failing in this fundamental measure of their own humanity. All states must insist that the Israeli government end its blockade and let the people of Gaza rebuild their shattered lives.”
The report argues that, while Israel has a duty to protect its citizens, the measures it takes must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law. By enforcing its blockade on Gaza, Israel is violating the prohibition on collective punishment in international humanitarian law, it says. In the report the groups call on Israel to end the blockade. But they also say, ‘the people of Gaza have been betrayed by the international community which can and must do far more to end this illegal and inhumane blockade’. They urge the EU, for example, to take immediate and concerted action to secure the lifting of the blockade of Gaza so that the close of Spain’s six-month presidency of the EU in June 2010 does not also mark the third anniversary of the blockade being imposed.
The report’s authors also call on European foreign ministers and the EU’s new High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton to visit Gaza to see for themselves the impact of the blockade on its people. Securing an immediate opening of the Gaza crossings for building materials to repair ruined homes and civilian infrastructure as winter sets in would be an important step towards an end to the blockade, say the organisations.
Christian Aid Head of Middle East Region Janet Symes said:
“Expressions of disapproval over the blockade of Gaza by the international community are no longer enough. It is time to allow the people of Gaza to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives and rebuild. There must be no more excuses from the international community.”