Israel accused over ‘cruel’ Gaza blockade
Report calls for end to embargo, saying easing agreed by Israel six months ago has done little to improve plight of Gaza civilians
Gaza’s 1.5 million people are still suffering from a shortage of construction materials, a ban on exports and severe restrictions on movement six months after Israel agreed to ease its blockade on the territory, according to a report from 21 international organisations.
The loosening of the embargo has done little to improve the plight of Gaza’s civilians, according to the coalition, which includes Amnesty, Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid and Medical Aid for Palestinians. It calls for fresh international action to persuade Israel to unconditionally lift the blockade.
Israel agreed to ease its restrictions on goods and materials allowed into Gaza following its attack on a flotilla of aid boats in May, in which nine Turkish activists were killed. Since then the import of food and many other consumer items has resumed, although there is still a ban on exports and severe restrictions on construction materials. Israel argues that the latter could be used by militants for military purposes.
Tony Blair, the representative of the Middle East Quartet of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia, echoed the call for Israel to accelerate its easing of its blockade in an interview at the weekend. “There has been significant change in Gaza, but not nearly as much as we need,” he told the Associated Press.
According to today’s report, Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade, imports of construction materials are 11% of the 2007 pre-blockade levels. Despite having agreed to allow in materials for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to rebuild its schools and clinics damaged or destroyed in the three-week war in 2008-09, Israel has permitted only 7% of the necessary amount.
Many of the thousands of homes and businesses hit during the war are still unrepaired almost two years later because of the shortage of building materials.
Exports remain banned with the exception of strawberries and carnations for European markets. Israel now allows clothing factories to import fabric, but blocks the export of finished items.
But some businesses are still unable to import raw materials they need. According to the report, two-thirds of Gaza’s businesses have closed since the blockade was tightened in June 2007, and the rest are operating at restricted capacity.
Israel is maintaining an overall ban on the movement of people, with the number of permits granted to people to leave Gaza less than 1% of the number 10 years ago, the report says. There has been a rise in the number of businesspeople allowed to travel, “but ordinary Gaza residents are still denied access to their friends and family, and to educational opportunities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and abroad”.
There has been no change on the “buffer zone” around Gaza’s perimeters, which swallows 35% of Gaza’s arable land and 85% of maritime fishing waters “with devastating impact on the economy and people’s rights and livelihoods … Boundaries of the restricted areas are highly arbitrary and enforced by live fire,” says the report. Since the blockade was eased six months ago, six civilians have been killed and 50 injured by Israeli fire in the buffer zone.
“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,” said Amnesty director Kate Allen. “The only real easing has been the easing of pressure on the Israeli authorities to end this cruel and illegal practice.” Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam, 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.”
The coalition calls for renewed international pressure on Israel over Gaza. “There cannot be a just and durable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without an end to the isolation and punishment of people in Gaza,” the report says. “The government of Israel and parts of the international community remain reluctant to fully lift the blockade as long as Hamas holds power in Gaza. Yet upholding the rights and needs of civilians in Gaza must not be conditional on other political objectives.”
In a statement, COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for Gaza, said the report’s claims were “biased and distorted and therefore mislead the public”. It said the number of trucks entering the Gaza Strip every day had increased by 92% since last June. There were security and logistical issues regarding exports of goods and and the import of construction materials, it added.
“Israel will not allow any hidden agenda party to disrupt the process to which both the government of Israel and the international community are fully committed”.