Gaza’s real humanitarian crisis

Residents face chronic shortages due to Israeli siege of the Palestinian enclave.

Gaza crossing
A Palestinian man waits at the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip [EPA] 

The Israeli government has, for weeks, insisted that the 10,000 tonnes of supplies on board the Gaza aid flotilla are not necessary. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, reiterated that claim on Friday, telling reporters “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.

“Israel is conducting itself in the most humanitarian manner, and allowing the entrance of thousands of tonnes of food and equipment to Gaza,” he told reporters on Friday.

It’s true that Israel allows basic necessities – which Israeli officials often term “humanitarian aid” – to enter the blockaded Gaza Strip. But it tightly controls both the type and quantity of goods allowed into the territory.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations’ human rights chief, called the blockade devastating in an August 2009 report. Pillay said it constituted collective punishment, illegal under international law.

Nicole Johnston reports on risky fishing in Gaza

Israel usually allows 81 items into Gaza, a list which is subject to revision on a near-daily basis. It is riddled with contradictions: Zaatar, a mix of dried spices, is allowed into the territory; coriander and cumin are not. Chick peas are allowed, while tahini was barred until March 2010.

“Luxury goods,” things like chocolate, are prohibited altogether.

So are most construction materials, though Israel has relaxed this prohibition slightly over the last few weeks. The United Nations refugee agency has resorted to constructing houses out of mud because other building material are unavailable.

And those products allowed to enter Gaza are permitted only in modest quantities. In January 2007, Gaza received more than 10,000 truckloads of goods each month; by January 2009, that number was down to roughly 3,000.

A 2008 report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found that 70 per cent of Gaza’s population suffered from “food insecurity.” As Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros reported last week, the Israeli authorities allow little meat and fresh produce into Gaza, leading to widespread malnutrition in the territory.

Sherine Tadros reports on Gaza’s limited food

Medical goods, too, are in short supply. The World Health Organisation says dozens of basic medicines are unavailable in Gaza because of the blockade.

In 2008, Gaza had only 133 hospital beds per 100,000 people, less than one-fourth the hospital capacity of Israel. That capacity was further reduced during Operation Cast Lead – Israel’s three-week war in Gaza, launched in December 2008 – which damaged a number of hospitals.

“The situation is deteriorating due to the closure – there are restrictions of movement, restrictions of food – it causes problems in areas of health, water, [and] sanitation,” Cecilia Goin, a spokeswoman for the ICRC, said on Monday.

“The ICRC is especially concerned about the health situation of the people.”

Fuel, too, is heavily restricted, with many Gaza residents facing hours of power cuts each day. The blackouts force many families and businesses to buy generators, and their widespread use has serious consequences: An Oxfam report released in March concluded that 15 Gazans have died from “generator-related accidents” since January.

All of this creates a scenario in which, according to Amnesty International’s latest annual report, Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants are “cut off… from the rest of the world.”

Amnesty concluded that four out of five Gazans – 80 per cent of the population -depend on external aid to survive.

Source: Al Jazeera