NGOs: Gaza civilians continue to suffer

Israel’s measures to “ease” the illegal blockade of Gaza in the face of significant international pressure have done little to change the plight of Gaza’s civilians, said Amnesty International UK and 21 other human rights and aid groups in a report published today.In the report, Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade the organizations have called for renewed international action to ensure an immediate, unconditional and complete lifting of the blockade.The international community has eased its pressure on Israel, but too little has been done to effectively ease the restrictions on the daily lives of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom are children, said the report. Not only has Israel neglected to address major elements of the blockade in its “easing” measures, such as lifting the ban on exports from Gaza, but it has failed so far to live up to key commitments it did make.Israel promised to expand and accelerate imports of desperately-needed construction materials for UN and other international projects such as schools, health centres, houses and sewage plants, many of which were damaged or destroyed during the military operation in December 2008-January 2009. But in reality the report shows that progress has been slow and limited since this pledge.Israel has so far only approved the import of materials for 25 United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) construction projects for schools and clinics, a mere seven per cent of UNRWA’s entire reconstruction plan for Gaza. Even for these approved projects, only a small fraction of the required construction materials have actually been permitted to enter Gaza so far. More generally, the UN has estimated that Gaza needs 670,000 truckloads of construction materials for housing alone in Gaza. An average of only 715 truckloads of construction materials have entered the Gaza Strip per month since the “easing” announcement, says the report. At this rate, it would take many decades to build the needed homes. And because UNRWA has been unable to get construction materials to build new schools, 40,000 eligible children could not be enrolled at UN schools at the start of the new academic year.”Only a fraction of the aid needed has made it to the civilians trapped in Gaza by the blockade,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Director of Oxfam International.“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.”Moreover, the “easing” has had no impact on exports which remain banned until now. This leaves two thirds of Gaza’s industrial businesses closed and the rest operating at partial capacity, while increased inflows of finished consumer goods undercut local producers who cannot export or restart their businesses, say the groups.The movement of people has also seen little change. Despite the Israeli government’s stated commitment to streamline entry and exit to and from Gaza for humanitarian aid workers, the report shows that there has in fact been an increase in refusals of entry and exit for UN agencies’ local humanitarian staff since the “easing” measures were announced.Meanwhile, the general population of Gaza remains locked in, as their freedom of movement to travel, work, study or visit family members and friends outside Gaza continues to be denied. Despite a rise in the number of businesspeople allowed to travel, there has been no increase in the overall number of Palestinians allowed to leave Gaza through the Israeli crossings, which remains below one per cent of levels prior to the second intifada in 2000. Commenting recently, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton stated that, “We think that what’s happened with Gaza is unsatisfactory, that Israel has failed to live up to its commitments on easing the blockade on the Gaza strip.” Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: “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. The only real easing has been the easing of pressure on the Israeli authorities to end this cruel and illegal practice.”The organizations in the coalition that released the report are: Amnesty International UK; Broederlijk Delen; CAFOD; CCFD; Terre Solidaire; Christian Aid; Church of Sweden; Cordaid; Diakonia; Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network; Handicap International; IKV Pax Christi; International Federation for human rights (FIDH); Medical Aid for Palestinians; Medico International; MS ActionAid Denmark; Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Oxfam; Quaker Council for European Affairs; RCT; Redd Barna; Save the Children UK and Trocaire.