The siege of Gaza must end

Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip has stymied residents’ attempts to rebuild after the war.

The war has taken a toll on all areas of life, including business, education and trade [Al Jazeera]

The ongoing crisis in Gaza is complex, and no one can deny the catastrophic conditions facing residents. The brutal 2014 war exacerbated the situation, impacting all areas of daily life.

In the health sector, there is a lack of medical equipment, drugs, beds, hospitals and expert doctors. According to the Ministry of Education, the education sector has lost approximately $22m, and most pupils and teachers lost acquaintances or relatives in the war.

Recent statistics from the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) found that approximately 86 percent of those killed in the 2014 war were civilians. Farmers lost huge amounts of money on their life’s work, while demolition of their farmlands, and rocket remnants scattered over their lands, have destroyed their means of production.

Gaza starts ‘slowly’ rebuilding

All of this has been worsened by the harsh siege imposed on the Gaza Strip – along with the silence of the world and the territory’s Arab neighbours.

Siege must go

The best solution for Gaza’s crisis is to lift the siege forever.

A recent UN assessment lays out the scope of the needs faced by the nearly 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, following the destruction wreaked by 51 days of Israeli bombing last summer.

Israel’s assault – which it dubbed Operation Protective Edge – left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead and more than 11,000 injured. Up to 19,600 families remain displaced and up to 118,000 housing units have been destroyed or damaged to varying degrees.

The UN report, titled “Gaza Initial Rapid Assessment“, was conducted with the assistance of dozens of Palestinian and international aid agencies, organisations and experts. The report came out the same day that the UN and the Palestinian Authority launched a $551m emergency appeal to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza. It indicates that almost everyone in Gaza faces some urgent need for basic protection, healthcare, housing, water, food security or education.

The assessment also identifies the need for “legal support to address some of these protection needs, including pursuing accountability for alleged violations of international law resulting in deaths and injuries, as well as destruction of property as a result of the military operation.”

Crossings closed

These findings underscore the urgency of insistent calls by Palestinians in Gaza and human rights groups: Reconstruction, recovery and a normal, dignified life are impossible unless the siege is lifted. There is a strong consensus in the international humanitarian aid industry that the siege must end.

“Only a full opening of all crossings to people and goods, including exports, will enable Palestinian civilians in Gaza to restore their economy and escape the poverty the blockade has entrenched,” Oxfam said. “The international community must press Israel for the blockade to be fully lifted, rather than only eased.”

The Rafah crossing for people between Egypt and Gaza continues to operate at very reduced capacity, while the Kerem Abu Salem crossing between Israel and Gaza remains the only open crossing for goods.

Palestinian sources have told Gisha, an Israeli non-profit organisation that monitors and advocates for an end to the movement restrictions on Gaza, that there has been a slight easing of restrictions at Erez, the crossing for people between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

“It isn’t about opening the crossings – it’s about who and what can move through them and in which directions,” Gisha said in a statement. “…The problem with travel isn’t just with the number of people travelling, but rather the strict criteria that determine who is entitled to travel.”

Free flow of goods

There has also been talk of a freer flow of goods through the Kerem Abu Salem crossing, but getting in more goods that are already permitted to enter will not solve the problem. Rather, the focus should be on lifting restrictions on the entrance of badly needed construction materials into Gaza.

A freer flow of goods must also include the transport of Gaza-made and Gaza-grown goods to the territory’s once-primary markets in the West Bank and Israel.

For several years, Israel has effectively banned all imports out of Gaza. Gisha recently published a position paper calling for an end to the “civilian closure” of Gaza and the policy of separation between Gaza and the occupied West Bank. 

“Lifting the closure would make normal life possible,” the paper notes. “Students from Gaza would be able to study in universities in the West Bank; construction workers would be able to make a living and rehabilitate Gaza; individuals would be able to reunite with relatives they have not seen for years … farmers would be able to sell their produce and provide for their families. Improving conditions for the civilian population in Gaza does not necessitate compromising Israel’s security needs. On the contrary, in the long run, it is the only way to achieve sustainable security in the region.”

In the meantime, the people of Gaza continue to wait and hope that one day, they will no longer face a life under siege. 

AlaaEddin Al Zatma is a Palestinian journalist, trainer and researcher of English in the field of Education, currently working for GCS TV.