Israel’s more-than ten year blockade on Gaza has had devastating consequences, with life-saving aid destined for water, sanitation and health care being blocked. Alison Martin, Oxfam Policy and Campaigns Manager, reflects on the impact of new restrictions and lays out the urgent steps toward peace and progress in Gaza.
Last time I was in Gaza I was seven months pregnant and I left hoping that by the time my son was born, things might be better for babies born in Gaza – because it was hard to imagine they could get any worse.
That was over a year ago and in July the Israeli government announced what has been described as a death penalty for Gaza’s economy: a further tightening of Israel’s unlawful blockade on Gaza, shutting down the Strip’s main commercial crossing, stopping urgent fuel and gas imports and forcing vital donor-funded construction to a standstill.
The Israeli government imposed these measures in response to individuals and groups sending flaming kites and balloons out of Gaza. However these measures punish everyone in Gaza - civilians, children – people who have done nothing to deserve it.
Khalil Al-Najjar, a fisherman at Khanyounis anchorage, Southern Gaza. Photo: Hussam Salem/Oxfam
What do the latest restrictions mean?
The closure also means farmers can’t export their produce, which will now go to waste, and Israel has further reduced the permitted fishing zone – already a fraction of what was decreed under the Oslo accords - so it’s even harder to make a decent catch. Eleven-year-old Ghaleb recently told Oxfam his father used to catch ten or twenty kilograms of fish, now it’s just one or even a half kilogram.
“It becomes scary,” Ghaleb said. “Whoever goes out deeper into the sea will be arrested and they will confiscate their equipment.”
Every day that Gaza’s crossing is closed means many children wait even longer for access to safe water and toilets – basic rights that we take for granted. At least 97% of the water in Gaza is undrinkable and nearly one quarter of the population is not connected to a sewage network- the combined result of 50 years of Israeli occupation compounded by recurrent conflict. Water-related diseases are the primary cause of child morbidity and estimated to account for over a quarter of illnesses in Gaza. And the Israeli government’s latest restrictions threaten to exacerbate this already grim situation.
In the water sector alone, projects currently being blocked include: a major desalination plant in Gaza city that would provide water to 200,000 people, water tanks and a water booster system that would provide water to over 190,000 people, and facilities that would treat wastewater for hundreds of thousands of households and reduce the sewage contamination currently being pumped into the sea.
The crossing was partially reopened on 24 July 2018 to allow some fuel and gas, however the ban was reinstated from 2 August. The only items currently being allowed into Gaza are food, medicine and animal fodder on a case-by-case basis.
Millions of liters of sewage are discharged off the coast of Gaza every day. Credit: Sami Alhaw/Oxfam
Does anyone care?
But the question is, does anyone care enough to hold the Israeli Government responsible for the man made humanitarian disaster that continues to intensify in Gaza? The answer – at least for the moment - feels to me like ‘no.’
The closure means that no items are permitted to enter even via the internationally-funded Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), established by the UN to facilitate the entry of construction materials and a range of items classified by Israel as ‘dual use’ and therefore heavily controlled (as Israel asserts these items may also have a military application).
The UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Australia are still funding the mechanism but have failed to effectively hold Israel accountable to allow construction and economic development at the pace needed to help Gaza. Although initiated as a temporary mechanism, the GRM remains in place today.
Water, health and sanitation projects amounting to tens of millions of US dollars, funded by international donors, are currently being blocked by Israeli government-imposed restrictions.
And that’s just one of several vital sectors impacted by the blockade.
Oxfam supported Hoda Hassan, mother of 6, with an entrepreneurial course which helped her open a shop in what used to be her children’s bedroom in Gaza. She hopes to use the profits to build an extension so her kids no longer need to sleep in the living room. Unemployment among women in Gaza is 71%. Credit: Adeline Guerra/Oxfam
What can we do about it?
If you were paying millions of dollars to build infrastructure, wouldn’t you push for accountability to ensure it was done?
Impunity remains a major obstacle to economic recovery. Without effective accountability and pressure on parties to allow construction and promote economic development, there is little hope for progress or justice for Palestinians in Gaza.
Aid agencies in Gaza are calling for immediate action to address the causes of the deepening crisis, including demanding the reversal of recent restrictions on imports and exports. We condemn violence against civilians on all sides, including the shooting of Palestinian civilians by Israeli snipers, and indiscriminate rocket fire and incendiary kites and balloons sent from Gaza. Both Palestinians and Israelis deserve peace and to live in dignity without fear of violence or oppression.
Israel’s ‘dual use’ list must be urgently and continuously challenged and essential items to support the water, electricity and health sectors should be immediately removed from the list.
Israel must be held accountable to allow the entry of items essential for the provision of basic services to protect public health in Gaza.
End the Gaza blockade
These are the initial urgent steps we recommend are taken towards fully ending the blockade.
Until that happens, international assistance - including funding directed toward economic development - will be severely hampered by the blockade. In the context of an unlawful blockade, aid remains vital however is vulnerable to political and often punitive measures imposed unilaterally, with devastating and immediate impacts on civilians.
Until accountability is prioritized, babies will continue to be born into homes without safe water, at risk of disease and death, as people are prevented from supporting themselves and even international aid can’t make it through the blockade.
Top photo: Gaza sunset. Families receive around only 4 hours of electricity daily. An 11-year-old in Gaza has never experienced a full day of electricity. Credit: Adeline Guerra/Oxfam
Bottom photo: Boys in a truck. Credit: Adeline Guerra/Oxfam