Humanitarian strangulation of Gaza with no possible security rationale

by Yaniv Reich on January 10, 2011

A recently released Wikileaks cable confirmed something the world already knew: Israel’s policy of de-developing Gaza is deliberate and not based on any possible security rationale.

Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis […] As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to econoffs on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.

An assortment of international organizations and representatives including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, the United Nations Special Rapporteur have all called the siege unlawful because irrespective of any defense-related arguments (for a long time Israel maintained that the siege was to prevent the importation of arms and dual–use materials, an argument undermined by the new Wikileaks cables and hundreds of comments by Israeli officials), the siege amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants.

The effects of this unlawful siege are summarized by Dr. Sara Roy of Harvard University, who comments:

“The greatest and most damaging aspect of Israeli policy has been the transformation of Palestinians in Gaza especially, from a people entitled to, and capable of, national self-determination and developmental change into a group of aid-dependent paupers worthy only of the humanitarian minimum.”

Impacts of Israel’s Economic Strangulation

Building on what we already know about the impacts of the siege on Gaza’s civilian population, the respected medical group Physicians for Human Rights – Israel has just published an 87 page report outlining the disastrous health and related social impacts of Israel’s policy of collective incarceration and de-development.

Here are some highlights:

  • 61 percent of the Gaza population (973,000 people) are in a state of food insecurity, as defined by the World Food Programme. signifying that households live in hunger or fear of starvation.  An additional 16 percent of people are on the brink of food insecurity.  The report blames extremely high unemployment and rising poverty for this food insecurity.
  • The military attacks on Gaza that the Israelis call Cast Lead destroyed completely 17% of agricultural land (approximately 50,000 acres or 200,000 dunams).
  • Israel has expanded the Gaza no-go “perimeter” from 500m to 2km, resulting in the complete loss of income for 50% of households living in or near these areas.
  • In 2009, flower exporters were allowed (by Israel) to export only 1.1 million flowers as opposed to an average of 48 million per annum between 2000 and 2005.
  • Although the Oslo Agreements stipulated that Gaza’s territorial waters extent to 20km from the shoreline, Israel restricts fishing to only within 3km, thus “paralyzing” the fishing industry.  The sardine harvest, for example, has dropped by 72%, causing income loss for 7,000 fishermen.
  • Nearly all of the water aquifers in the Gaza Strip (90 to 95%) are unsafe for drinking due entirely to Israel’s siege restrictions that prevent spare parts to repair the water and sanitation systems.  Israel destroyed during Cast Lead 11 water springs, 20 kilometers of water pipes, 7.5 kilometers of sewage pipes and 5,700 mobile water tanks. were destroyed in Operation Cast Lead.
  • 39% of Gaza households have running water only two to three days a week.
  • 20% of households report that at least one child under five is currently suffering from water-borne and sanitation-related illnesses such as diarrhea and methemoglobinemia (known as blue baby syndrome).

The full report can be found here.

Of course, there are also numerous Palestinian deaths from direct violence, and the indirect violence of Israel’s brutal siege.  For example, Physicians for Human Rights, Adalah, and other human rights organizations

“submitted a complaint to the Attorney General of Israel, Yehuda Weinstein and to the Israeli Military Advocate General, Avichai Mendelblit, demanding the opening of a criminal investigation and prosecution of those responsible into the suspicious death of Mr. Anas Saleh, a 20-year old Gaza resident, who died on 1 January 2011 from a liver disease in Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Although the patient was in a critical medical condition, which was known to the Israeli authorities, Israel prevented his exit from Gaza for lifesaving medical treatment.”

These disastrous impacts are the direct result of Israel’s unlawful and inhuman siege of Gaza, which is now 1307 days old.

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