Mercy Corps has joined a coalition of 16 leading humanitarian charities and human rights groups to highlight the Israeli blockade that continues to prevent reconstruction and recovery in Gaza.
A new report has been published today calling for more effective action from the international community to resolve this situation ahead of the anniversary of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
The Israeli authorities have allowed only 41 truckloads of all construction materials into Gaza since the end of the offensive in mid-January, warns the report, which has been produced by Mercy Corps, Amnesty International, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians, and Oxfam International. The task of rebuilding and repairing thousands of homes alone will require thousands of truckloads of building materials.
Little of the extensive damage the offensive caused to homes, civilian infrastructure, public services, farms and businesses has been repaired because the civilian population, and the UN and aid agencies who help them, are prohibited from importing materials like cement and glass in all but a handful of cases.
The blockade has also led to frequent power, gas and water shortages, seriously affecting daily life and public health. Parts of the Gaza electricity network were bombed during the conflict and require urgent repairs, which have still not been allowed to proceed almost one year after the conflict. This, combined with Israel continuing to restrict the supply of industrial fuel into Gaza, means that 90% of people in Gaza suffer power cuts of four to eight hours a day.
Power cuts also cause daily interruptions to water supply, as does the inability to repair water pipes, roof top water tanks and household connectors, because materials and spare parts are not deemed essential humanitarian supplies by Israel and so are prevented entry under the blockade. With the loss of pressure in the pipes, polluted water from the ground contaminates the supply. Together with chronic disrepair to the sewage system, poor water quality is a major concern for aid agencies in Gaza, with diarrhoea causing 12 % of young deaths.
The blockade, which began in June 2007 after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, has sharply increased poverty, helping make 8 out of 10 people dependent on some form of aid. Businesses and farms have been forced to close and lay off workers. An almost complete ban on exports has hit farmers hard, compounded by the offensive which wrecked 17% of farmland together with greenhouses and irrigation equipment, and left a further 30% unusable in no-go ‘buffer zones’ expanded by the Israeli military after the end of the offensive.
The report further argues that, while Israel has a duty to protect its citizens, the measures it takes must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law. By enforcing its blockade on Gaza, Israel is violating the prohibition on collective punishment in international humanitarian law, it says. The report calls on Israel to end the blockade, but it also calls on the international community to do more to end it. It urges the EU, for example, to take immediate and concerted action to secure the lifting of the blockade of Gaza so that the close of Spain’s six-month presidency of the EU in June 2010 does not also mark the third anniversary of the blockade being imposed.
The report’s authors also call on European foreign ministers and the EU’s new High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton to visit Gaza to see for themselves the impact of the blockade on its people. Securing an immediate opening of the Gaza crossings for building materials to repair ruined homes and civilian infrastructure as winter sets in would be an important step towards an end to the blockade.