Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gaza: 1.5 million people trapped in despair

Last March, as the international community grandly pledged an impressive U$4.5 billion dollars for the reconstruction of Gaza, HDEO welcomed the support but - based on a long list of previous and direct experiences - cautioned against optimism. Why so skeptical? Because recent history has shown the detached intransigence of Israeli authorities to allow the transit of vital goods and materials to meet the needs of long-suffering Gazans. Regrettably, we were not wrong.

Gaza: What is essentially a political problem has been converted – through restrictions, blockades and military operations - into a pitiful humanitarian crisis. And of course, it is sadly ironic that while Israel prevents the rebuilding of family homes and businesses in Gaza, it is at the same time at loggerheads with the Obama administration on what it perceives as Israel's 'right' to continue building illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian lands in the West Bank. And build it does; nearly U$260m allocated in Israel's budget for settlement expansion according to a recent report from Peace Now, an Israeli NGO.

The people of Gaza are steadily being deprived of basic necessities and the densely populated coastal strip is being transformed before our eyes from a once bustling mercantile centre into a barricaded sewage-covered refugee camp. Perfect if you want to project Gaza as 'only' a humanitarian crisis which can be remedied with plastic sheeting and dried milk.

Not so very long ago, during the upbeat days of the Oslo peace negotiations, Gaza was being championed as the ideal setting for a free trade haven a la Dubai. How their dreams have been splattered in the rubble. As one prominent Palestinian politician said to me privately: "They promised us Singapore and what did we get? We got Somalia". And he's not wrong. Today, instead of living in apartments with clean running water, families are forced to build mud huts and survive under tents and tarpaulin amidst the stench of untreated waste because essential raw materials are withheld on the dubious pretext that they will be dual-purposed into home made rockets.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has released an excellent report to mark the six months since the Gaza conflict escalated at the end of December last year. It recalls how more than 1’300 lives were lost and tens of thousands injured, many of them severely. In the words of an ICRC surgeon, "we treat very few combatants here, most of the patients are civilians".

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses were damaged beyond repair. This has "ripped the economic heart out of Gaza" which was already shattered by decades of conflict and deprivation.

The heavy restrictions on goods entering Gaza means that prices of scarce commodities in the Strip are extremely high, pushing people further and further into debt and poverty. As one man says in the video embedded in this post: "We are exhausted and drowning in debt".

More than six months since the recent escalation in Gaza and some three months since U$4.5 billion was 'pledged' but not spent, is there real political will to ensure that the people of Gaza are not battered back to stone age conditions, living in a sewage-filled environment, without adequate shelter, health care or education (the list is long)?

Urgent measures called upon in the report include easing imports of medical equipment, allowing the entry of building materials such as cement and steel, lifting restrictions on exports from Gaza, reopening terminals to improve the flow of people and goods into and out of the territory, allowing farmers access to their land in the buffer zone, and restoring safe access to deeper waters for fishermen.

Antoine Grand, a colleague at the ICRC who runs the Gaza operation, puts it best: "Israel has the right to protect its population against attacks, but does that mean that 1.5 million people in Gaza do not have the right to live a normal life?"

And this just in: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8127145.stm

And this: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8127144.stm


1 comment:

  1. I'd appreciate if you share a link to other resources dedicated to this theme in case you know any.