Ramallah, 10-07-07: “A controlled descent into humanitarian crisis” was how Palestinian National Initiative General Secretary, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi MP today described the desperate situation in the Gaza Strip, one which he said was characterised by systematic border closures, wide-ranging forms of collective punishment, continued Israeli military attacks, and the deliberate destruction of Gaza’s economy.
Dr. Barghouthi added that Israel is abusing the controlled humanitarian crisis it is allowing to unfold for political ends, and focused on three aspects of this crisis – border closures, collective punishment and ongoing Israeli military attacks – to illustrate this point.
Border Closures: Forcing Gaza into a Controlled Humanitarian Crisis
Since severe internal fighting broke out in the Gaza Strip in mid-June, culminating in Hamas‘ takeover of the Strip, Israel has closed all the crossings except for essential humanitarian supplies. Humanitarian assistance has been allowed to enter the Strip only through secondary crossings such as Kerem Shalom and Sufa, while the better-equipped Karni crossing has remained sealed. This situation barely allows for the survival of Gaza’s 1.4 million inhabitants and prevents any possibility of a normal life.
Israel’s closure policy has lead to a complete stop in the transfer of goods to and from the Gaza Strip, with severe implications for Gaza’s economy. More than 1,300 containers of commercial goods destined for Gaza remain stranded at Israeli ports due to the cancellation of the Gaza custom code by the Israeli authorities. Compounding this is the fact that 75% of Gazan factories have been forced to stop production due to a lack of raw materials. Approximately 30,000 factory workers stand to lose their jobs. These factory workers constitute 10% of Gaza’s workforce, and support a further 210,000 dependents.
Moreover, the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has been forced to stop all construction work because of the lack of basic building supplies. “Some 93 million dollars worth of projects are on hold because cement and other building supplies have run out”, said John Ging, UNRWA’s Director in Gaza in a press release issued Monday. UNRWA construction projects, which include repairs and reconstruction of refugee shelters, the construction of schools, community centres, water and sanitation works and medical facilities provide employment to some 121,000 people.
As these vital sources of employment are being undercut by ongoing border closures, Gaza’s imprisoned population faces the added threat of the collapse of several critical civilian infrastructures.
Critical Civilian Infrastructure on the Verge of Collapse
After the catastrophe in Beit Hanoun 4 months ago, when the collapse of a waste water treatment pool killed 6 and injured more than 35, work is still urgently needed to avert an even bigger disaster. Yet critical pumping equipment is still blocked at the Karni crossing, while regular incursions by the Israeli army in the immediate vicinity of the sewage treatment plant has rendered work in the area difficult and dangerous.
In addition, ordinary Gazans are still suffering form the destruction of the Strip’s only domestic power plant during Israel’s re-invasion of Gaza in June 2006. Now, the power plant is just weeks away from failing and requires emergency maintenance if blanket power cuts are to be averted.
Collective Punishment and Israeli Military Violence met with Indifference from the International Community
In the past two weeks, the Israeli army has killed 30 Palestinians in numerous attacks on the Gaza Strip. The humanitarian crisis at the Rafah crossing, which has been closed for nearly a month now, where about 6,000 Palestinians remain blocked and where 28 have already died, is still unresolved.
While Israel has ‘offered’ to allow those trapped at Rafah to return to Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, Dr. Barghouthi pointed out that in this way, Israel is abusing the humanitarian crisis for political ends. He added that this proposal was politically unacceptable as it would leave Gaza cut off from the outside world, and offered no solution for those seeking to leave Gaza to obtain essential health treatment abroad.
Dr. Barghouthi condemned these Israeli policies and said that they amount to collective punishment imposed upon 1.4 million people in direct violation of international humanitarian law. He also added that the international community must uphold international law and not meddle in Palestinian internal affairs, and that the cynical strategy of helping the West Bank and abandoning the Gaza Strip is unacceptable and does nothing to promote peace and stability in the region.