The Israeli Blockade on Gaza

The Guardian, editorializing on Dec. 27, reports that

For the 1.7 million living in the tiny Gaza Strip, life has become increasingly desperate because of Israel’s continuing blockade, backed by Egypt and with no effective challenge from governments around the world. The blockade has brought electricity cuts of 16 hours a day, which means the only street lights visible at night have been those from Israel’s nearby towns. The electricity shortages have severely affected almost all essential services, including health, water, sanitation and schooling. With waste plants not operating, Palestinian children have been wading through freezing sewage to attend school.

A 2010 multi-agency report by Amnesty International et al. records the following:

According to UN agencies, teh Gaza Strip needs about 86,000 new housing units to accomodate past population growth and also to replace the homes destroyed or damaged as a result of Israeli military operations. It would require the entry of over 670,000 truckloads fo construction materials into Gaza in order to build these units. Since the ‘easing’ of the blockade [in 2010] only 715 truckloads of construction materials fora ll uses (not only housing) have entered Gaza per month on average, a mere 11% of pre-blockade levels. …

Since the ‘easing’ of the blockade, the Israeli authorities have approved only 25 UNRWA projects (such as schools, clinics and housing units), representing a mere 7% of UNRWA’s building plan. …

For Gaza’s private sector, the situation is even worse. Teh private sector is excluded from the possibility to import construction materials including concrete, steel and gravel, hampering efforts of people in Gaza to rebuild their homes, businesses, and other property. Over 6,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged during Operation Cast Lead and only 22% of the homes with major damage have been repaired so far, using recycled rubble nad cement smuggled through the tunnels. …

Average Palestinian civilians cannot afford the inflated prices of materials from the tunnels. Furthermore, by tying projects of the international community in Gaza more closely to the Palestinian Authority as opposed to the Hamas authorities, the new [Israeli-imposed] policy is further entrenching intra-Palestinian divisions and politicizing international aid in Gaza.

Also according to the report: 80% of the Gaza population is food insecure; unemployment is among the highest on the planet; running water is an increasingly scarce commodity; 90% of Gaza’s water supply is “not suitable for drinking.”

The UN offered an update on the situation in 2012, suggesting that the Gaza strip, if current conditions continue, will be uninhabitable by 2020. The LA Times summarizes:

The Gaza Strip will be drained of safe water to drink and perilously short on schools, homes and hospitals if serious action isn’t taken to help its booming young population, the United Nations said in a new report released Monday. The rising pressures could soon make Gaza unlivable, it warned.

The coastal Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas is expected to swell by half a million people by 2020, putting grave new pressures on an already strained area, the U.N. country team found.

Under an Israeli blockade meant to isolate and disarm Hamas, the Gaza economy “is fundamentally unviable,” the U.N. says in its report.

The outgoing UNRWA Commissioner General emphasized this November the continued direness and urgency of the humanitarian crisis being imposed on Gaza by the Israeli blockade.

Collective punishment of a civilian population is a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Amnesty reports:

Mass unemployment, extreme poverty and food price rises caused by shortages have left four in five Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid. As a form of collective punishment, Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza is a flagrant violation of international law.

In Egypt, the emergence into power of a military junta has seen the closing off of nearly all the tunnels into Gaza, severing a lifeline of basic resources.

The US continues to support the Israeli state in its occupation policies by offering unconditional diplomatic, military, and economic support. Under the umbrella of US support, Israel continues to operate with impunity, even though its military occupation and progressive annexation of territory represent egregious violations of the UN Charter, several UNSC Resolutions, and human rights law.

The US is also a major benefactor of Egypt, which is the second largest recipient of US aid (Israel being the first).

In this context, the US has enormous leverage at its disposal, which it should use to achieve humanitarian aims and respect for international law. It could declare a halt on all US aid to these two states until they come into compliance with international law and humanitarian principles. The US could call for the enforcement of the UN Security Council resolutions relevant to the conflict. And it could demand an arms embargo to the region, including Israel, until a lawful peaceful settlement has been reached and state relations normalized.

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