Israel Must be held to account for Gaza actions?
“like the epicentre of a massive earthquake”
The eagerly anticipated report by the international Red Cross reveals how the plight of the Gazan people was further compounded by Israel’s incursion in January ’09 followings it’s 3 week ‘path clearing’ aerial bombardment of the embattled enclave. Prior to the incursion, Palestinian’s were subject to a vicious cycle of rising poverty, further compounded by excessively cramped living conditions and little or no socio-economic prospect – an imposed mere existence. In order to fully appreciate the true gravity of what this report entails, I have decided to split this analysis into two parts. Only by understanding the extenuating circumstances that 1.4-1.5 million imprisoned people were subject prior to the 22 day onslaught can we fully comprehend it’s aftermath.
The ‘Gaza Strip’ is the strip of land left for Palestinians following the UN Partition plan of 1947 which annexed Palestine into two states on ethnic (Arabic and Jewish) grounds. In the following year as a result of the (1948 Arab-Israeli War)there was a further mass exodus (approx. 200,000) of fleeing war-torn Palestinians into this already over-crowded strip of land. The socio-economic travesty the world has witnessed ever since has stemmed directly from this over-crowding. The legacy for the imprisoned people of Gaza has been a relentless pattern of economic stagnation and plummeting living conditions, whilst the rest of western society has flourished! Currently, this tiny enclave has to SUPPORT one of the world’s highest population densities, which is set to rise to an estimated 1.5 million people jammed into a largely decimated area 25 miles long and 3-7 miles wide in places.
Prior to the latest excursion by Israel, a highly detailed report into the plight of the Palestinians was compiled by the following International agencies (Amnesty International UK, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Medecins du Monde UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK and Trocaire). Their INDEPENDENT findings entitled, The Gaza Strip; A Humanitarian Implosion leaves little to the imagination for the discerning reader. This 16 page document published in early 2008 depicted the Palestinian plight as at its most dire since the Israel invasion in 1967 (6 Day War) . Furthermore, their suffering had increased exponentially by Israel’s imposition of extreme restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of the region. This Israeli blockade was in direct retaliation upon civilian population to both the Hamas take-over of Gaza Strip in 2007 (June 15th) and the rockets launched from the region into Israel. (Islamist Hamas emerged during the first intifada in 1987, and mushroomed as a viable alternative for the Palestinians to Yasser Arafat's established Fatah movement)
The Gaza Strip: 'A Humanitarian Implosion'
Within this report four major areas of concern were highlighted in its findings:
Denial of Humanitarian access
Movement restrictions had an immediate crippling effect on the provision of clean water, sewage treatment, and essential medical supplies. A ‘Catch 22’ developed where there were limited food supplies and limited money to purchase the food that was available. Consequently rapid price inflation took its grip with increases for basic commodities (wheat flour, baby milk and rice) reported at between 20.5-34%. Emergency food aid which had been delivered at a rate of 250 lorries per day through one of the busiest border crossings dwindled to just 45.
Poverty and Dependency on Food Aid
As a direct effect of the Israeli blockade, 80% of Gazan’s were completely dependent on food Aid compared to 63% prior to the restrictions. These figures further reiterate the level of poverty prevalent in a region where 62% of Palestinians disposable income went on basic food stuffs compared to 43% in 2004. By 2008, a staggering 1.1 million civilians (approx 75% of Gaza) were completely dependent on International food provisions.
2007 unemployment figures released by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics calculated the unemployment rate in Gaza at close to 40% and increased at an alarming rate thereafter. At this time salary payments to more than 160,000 civil servants were abruptly ended and were only partially subsidised by the EU’s Temporary International Mechanism and private funding. Six months prior to the blockade, some 3,900 factories operated in Gaza, employing in access of 35,000 people. As a direct effect of the Israeli action this vital sector was crippled to the extent that a mere 195 remained within 6 months.
Coupled with this, 'Public Investment' in the region had virtually disappeared with 95% of industrial activity grinding to a halt. In August 2007, Filippo Grandi (Deputy Head of UNRWA) predicted;
“Gaza risks becoming a virtually a 100% aid-dependent, closed down and isolated community within a matter of months or weeks, if the present regime of closures continues”
By October 2008, the outlook for Gaza’s inhabitants was so perilous that the World Bank declared;
"it is unlikely that many [private sector] establishments will be able to recover once the blockade is lifted."
Gaza’s already fragile infrastructure was literally destroyed with the movement restrictions. Essential repair and maintenance of key electrical and water services were directly affected by the Israeli government import restrictions. The ripple effect of this on everyday life for Palestinianswas to prove disastrous. Restrictions of gas of electricity supplies by Israel had a direct knock on effect on hospitals to provide life saving services to civilians, whilst the sewage treatment facilities ground to a halt.
Basic Medical Supplies and Access to Treatment
Gaza’s hospitals reported prolonged power cuts of between 8-12hrs as a direct consequence of Israeli curtailment of electricity and fuel supplies with some medical facilities reporting 60-70% reduction in fuel to run emergency generators. To add insult to injury the Israeli government curtailed the number of Gazan’s seeking to leave the enclave for essential medical care from 89.3 % (Jan ’07) to a record low of 64.3% by December of the same year. Whilst, these statistics may seem shocking they do not account for the fact that the granting of a travel permit does not automatically guarantee right of passage into Israel upon arrival at the border crossings. Throughout October 07 there were 27 such reported cases which prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to monitor the situation.
The overwhelming message from, The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion,’ was the degree of urgency for a policy redirection on the Gaza issue. The report reinforced the common world perception that Israeli actions were unequivocally a breach of international humanitarian law. However, it did not undermine Israel’s right to defend itself but rather their draconian measures were only fuelling the deep resentment and discord felt my many Palestinians. Instead they stressed the need for dialogue to resolve problems between the two. Unfortunately and to the detriment of Palestinian civilians, we are all too aware today that their recommendations were to fall on death ears!!