|Damage from Israeli military strikes has left much of Gaza in ruins, but a tight blockade on remains in place [EPA]|
For two-year old Nasma Abu Lasma, the Israeli announcement in June that the blockade on the Gaza Strip would be relaxed offered a ray of hope.
Nasma was suffering from leukaemia, and the movement restrictions on Palestinians in Gaza that went along with the blockade meant that she had little hope of receiving the necessary permit to leave the beleaguered coastal strip for potentially life-saving treatment.
But in June, following intense international pressure, Israel announced that the blockade would be relaxed, and the system of issuing exit permits for those needing medical attention would be streamlined.
Nasma died four months later, on October 16, after Israeli authorities failed to issue her with a permit to leave the strip in time for treatment in an Israeli hospital. Her case is being held up by human rights groups as evidence that Israel’s “relaxation” of the blockade has in fact offered little improvement to the lives of Palestinians trapped in Gaza.
In a report issued on Tuesday, a coalition of 22 international NGOs and human rights groups have accused Israel of failing to make good on its June promises.
‘Arbitrary and unpredictable’
The report, entitled Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade, says the system for issuing exit permits for medical patients is “still arbitrary, unpredictable and time consuming.”
The groups say that Israel’s continued failure to allow medical supplies into Gaza is adding pressure on the system. “The need to refer patients for treatment outside Gaza is being reinforced by Israeli restrictions on entry of medical equipment,” the report says.
The organisations point out it is not just medical goods that are failing to get into Gaza, but many other desperately needed goods. In particular construction materials are not getting through. The materials are badly needed after the destruction wrought by Israel’s military assault on the strip in the winter of 2008.
The report says that the import of construction materials is currently at just eleven per cent of pre-blockade levels, and warns that this is having a devastating effect on those living in the Gaza.
“Because UNWRA was unable to get construction materials to build new schools, 40,000 eligible children could not be enrolled at UNWRA schools at the start of the new academic year,” the report says, adding that the children were referred to schools run by the Hamas government.
The UN estimates that Gaza needs 670,000 truckloads of construction materials for housing alone, but the report says on average, just 715 truckloads of construction materials have entered Gaza since the announcement in June.
At current rates, it could take decades to build the homes Gaza needs, the report says.
“Only a fraction of the aid needed has made it to the civilians trapped in Gaza by the blockade,” Jeremy Hobbs, the director of Oxfam International, one of the major organisations that issued the report, said.
“Israel’s failure to live up to its commitments and the lack of international action to lift the blockade are depriving Palestinians in Gaza of access to clean water, electricity, jobs and a peaceful future.”
Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, said that little had changed in Gaza as a result of the relaxation of the blockade.
“The so-called ‘easing’ of the Gaza blockade does not change the fact that there’s still a cruel and illegal blockade collectively punishing the entire civilian population,” she said.
“The only real easing has been the easing of pressure on the Israeli authorities to end this cruel and illegal practice.”
The report comes days after Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said that the situation in Gaza is “unsatisfactory” because the amount of goods being allowed into Gaza “is not increasing as significantly as it needs to”.
“It is absolutely essential that the economy is allowed to recover and that people are allowed to invest in their futures,” Ashton said, in comments made on behalf of all EU foreign ministers last week.