The Blockade in Gaza – De-development and Humanitarian Dimensions

The Blockade in Gaza – De-development and Humanitarian Dimensions
The recent publication of the UN Goldstone report on Gaza has highlighted important issues concerning the misconduct of Israel in military operations. It also highlighted how the Israeli blockade of Gaza could amount to a crime against humanity. Yet the Israeli blockade of Gaza existed before, and remains after, this latest military operation, continuing to jeopardize the humanitarian situation and preventing meaningful development. Indeed the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is worse now than at any other point since the Israeli occupation in 1967, despite there having been previous border closures prior to 2007.
Every aspect of daily human life is affected by the blockade and border closures which impact physically, socially, economically and psychologically on the Palestinian population. After Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006 and took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel has imposed severe restrictions on the population in the form of the blockade, banning all exports and allowing only limited imports of humanitarian goods. Israel and Egypt also enforced near total border closures. The border crossing with Egypt, Rafah, has been largely closed since Hamas took control, opening occasionally only to allow humanitarian aid and people seeking medical help abroad. Other crossings for goods such as Karem Abi Salem (identified by Israel as: Kerem Shalom) via Egypt, and Sufi and Karna via Israel have also been largely closed for much of the time.  The main passenger crossing into Israel, Erez, has also been largely closed since 2007, impeding on the right of Gazans to work. See Map 1

Human Rights Watch has noted that; ‘the blockade is a form of collective punishment in violation of international law’. A UN report has found that the ongoing blockade is causing gradual ‘de-development’ of the Gaza Strip. Statistics on the humanitarian situation correlate with this finding.
Humanitarian Dimensions
UN statistics estimate that over 70% of Gazans live on less than a dollar a day, 60% have no daily access to water and 75% rely on food aid (Guardian). When aid is discounted, the UN estimates that over 80% of Gazans live in poverty. In January 2007, 4 months before Hamas took control, over 14,000 trucks of goods entered Gaza. By April 2009 the number was just over 2,000, a drastic reduction in goods.  Stringent controls on what enters Gaza affect every aspect of life. UNRWA has noted that items such as candles, books, crayons, shoes, sheets, blankets, coffee and shampoo are refused entry (BBC). Given that allowing these items entry would pose no security threat to Israel, the only logical conclusion is that refusing such items amounts to punishing the population.
The UN estimates that between 50%-75% of Gazans are ‘food insecure’ and rations provided by UNRWA make up two thirds of the dietary needs of the population. Resulting health problems are common and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 30% of children under five, and women of childbearing age, are anaemic. This is due to entry restrictions on flour, cooking oil and other vital food products, as well as inflated food prices which many Gazans can not afford to pay for.
Fuel, power and electricity are also extremely precarious. Power plants are forced to shut down due to border closures as fuel can not be imported, leaving the population without power or electricity. Oxfam estimates that houses in Gaza are without power between 4%-33% of the time. Lack of fuel also affects the ability of sewage plants to process waste, and Gaza’s sewage body estimates that less than 40% of required fuel was available in 2008 and 50-70m liters of raw or poorly treated sewage was being released into the sea daily.
Hospitals are also directly affected by the lack of electricity, with some hospitals having completely run out of fuel and others able only to use 3 hours of electricity a day.  This of course affects the capacity of hospitals to function and treat patients, and the most serious cases have to seek attention abroad. Transfers to Israel have been limited and Israel has refused to pay for the treatment of patients, demanding financial guarantees from the Palestinian Health Ministry. This is despite the fact that as an occupying power in Gaza Israel is responsible under international law for providing healthcare to the population, in addition to the fact that the most serious cases of treatment are only required due to Israel’s offensive and blockade in the Gaza strip and the consequent human suffering inflicted. The World Health Organization reports that the blockade has therefore led to ‘a worsening condition of health for the population’. Schools have also had to cancel many classes as there is not enough electricity to sustain activities.
Economically, border closures and the blockade of Gaza have been disastrous. The world Bank estimates that as a result of the blockade, only ‘2% of industrial establishments are still functioning’ and industrial employment has fallen from 35,000 in 2005 to 840 in 2008, with 40,000 jobs in agriculture being lost also. With no goods being allowed to leave Gaza, the private sector has come to a virtual standstill with flowers, fruits and vegetables destroyed or being sold at a loss in the domestic market. For more than two years there has also been a total ban on construction materials in Gaza, including cement, glass and other materials limiting reconstruction and infrastructure repair. The functioning of the economy has therefore been completely limited by border closures and the blockade, resulting in an unemployment rate of 40-50%.
Border closures and the blockade severely affect the amount of supplies and resources which enter Gaza.  A UN report notes how even when basic aid can be delivered it, on average it takes 68 days to deliver health kits, 85 days for shelter kits and 39 days for household items.
Development in Gaza can not take place until the Israeli blockade is lifted. The economy will not recover, hospitals and schools will not function, water will remain inaccessible and poorly treated and food shortages will continue. A significant proportion of the population will remain hungry, unemployed and unable to access basic services. This is in addition to being physically prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Ministry of Health recently announced the death of a 7 year old girl who died as a result of being banned from travelling abroad for treatment for cancer, despite having all the necessary paperwork. The Ministry also announced that her death brought the total death toll of the blockade to 352. 
Despite the substantial body of evidence, Israel has denied that a humanitarian crisis is taking place. This denial sits uneasily with a deliberate policy of collective punishment. Dov Weiglass, an advisor to Ehud Olmert, described the Israeli policy of punishing civilians in light of Hamas’s election victory, saying; ‘it’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die’.

Categories: Closure