The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is having ever more serious consequences on its population. In the past month the supply of humanitarian aid and basic necessities to Gaza has been reduced from a trickle to an intermittent drip.
The blockade has become tighter than ever since the breakdown of a five-and-a-half-month ceasefire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants on 5 November.
“The Israeli authorities might be allowing through enough for the survival of Gaza’s population, but this is nowhere near enough for the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza to live with dignity,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
As supplies are being further withheld, most mills have shut down because they have little or no grain. People who have long been deprived of many food items now cannot even find bread at times.
Reserves of food have long been depleted and the meagre quantities allowed into Gaza are not even enough to meet the immediate needs. Families never know if they will have food for their children the following day.
When people do have food, they generally have no cooking gas or electricity with which to cook it. Last week, less than 10 per cent of the weekly requirement of cooking gas was allowed into Gaza.
“This is entirely a man-made crisis. Desperately needed supplies are languishing in aid agencies’ warehouses a few kilometres away, even though they’re ready to be dispatched,” said Donatella Rovera. “The only obstacle is a gate that is kept locked by the Israeli army. There is no acceptable reason to deny passage to essential humanitarian aid and necessities”
Shortages of fuel, electricity and spare parts are causing water and sanitation infrastructure and other crucial services to deteriorate a bit more every day. Eighty per cent of the wells are now only functioning at reduced capacity and water supply is only available for a few hours every few days.
At times when water is available, there is no electricity or fuel to pump it into apartment buildings. Shortages of chlorine increase the risk of waterborne diseases.
Routine blackouts disrupt every aspect of life for everyone. Hospitals are struggling to power life-saving machinery and it is ever more difficult to maintain laundry and other essential services.
Even patients in need of medical treatment unavailable in Gaza, are often denied passage out of Gaza. Scores of people have died in the past year when they could have been saved if only they had been allowed to travel.
Karima Abu Dalal, a 34-year-old mother of five young children, died on 25 November. She suffered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph glands that is curable in more than 90 per cent of cases. She was denied access to the treatment she desperately needed as Israel refused her a permit to travel to the hospital in Nablus in the West Bank in November 2007.
In a medical report accompanying her permit request an Israeli cancer specialist had written: “This is a young woman who will die in the absence of treatment and with treatment her chances of recovery are excellent” (underlined in the original).
The Israeli authorities nonetheless refused to let her leave Gaza and the Israeli High Court of Justice refused to intervene. Earlier this year, she eventually managed to leave Gaza to Egypt as an exceptional case, but by then her condition had deteriorated irreparably and she returned to Gaza to be with her family. Subsequent requests for her to travel to Israel to receive at least palliative care to relieve her pain were in vain.
“So long as the Israeli authorities and armed forces control Gaza’s land borders, airspace and territorial waters, they have responsibilities under international law to ensure the welfare of Gaza’s civilian population. At present, Israel is not fulfilling its responsibilities,” said Donatella Rovera.
Israeli forces have killed some 20 Palestinians, mostly militants, but including two children, in air strikes and other attacks since 4 November. Palestinian armed groups have resumed firing rockets from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns and villages, injuring two Israeli civilians and several soldiers.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on Palestinian armed groups, including the armed militias of the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza, to put an end to the launching of rockets, which are indiscriminate and endanger the lives of Israeli civilians.
“Targeting civilians can never be justified, no matter what the reason invoked. Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups must immediately cease attacks and actions which put the lives of the civilian populations of Gaza and southern Israel at risk,” said Donatella Rovera.