Issam Younis
Bitterlemons (Blog)
June 6, 2011 - 12:00am

Since 1967, Israel has controlled the movement of individuals and goods in the Gaza Strip through force, military orders, and executive measures and policies. This "over-control" has only served the interests of Israel, connecting the Israeli economy to the Gaza Strip through its six crossings.

The Oslo accords signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Israeli government asserted the territorial unity of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but Israeli actions implemented the exact opposite. In the last 10 years, Israel has sought to push responsibility for the Gaza Strip towards Egypt, completely absolving itself. Indeed, the rule in the relationship between Israel and Gaza has been "closure"--and the exception has been its partial easing.

Since the take-over of Gaza by Hamas in June 2007, Israel (supported by the Quartet conditions) has imposed an unprecedented and complete blockade on the territory. It suspended the customs code of the Gaza Strip and prevented the entry of raw materials needed for industry.

This has turned the Gaza Strip issue, which is basically political, into a humanitarian one. The Israeli siege imposed on the Gaza Strip has led to a serious deterioration in humanitarian conditions. About 85 percent of Palestinian families in Gaza directly depend on aid, particularly that provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Because the international community refuses to deal with the de facto government in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA has expanded its work, taking over that role. Meanwhile, the international community continues to "handle" the humanitarian crisis in Gaza without dealing with the root causes of that crisis.

Following last year's international condemnation of Israel's attack on the Freedom Flotilla fleet carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, criticism of Israel's actions has veered towards the demand to ease the siege. Israel subsequently allowed the entry of some commodities to Gaza, while preventing the entry of others--particularly construction materials--under the pretext of security. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, however, those commodities allowed into Gaza did not result in a significant improvement in people's livelihood, depleted over three years of tight blockade. The unemployment rate in Gaza decreased by less than two percentage points (from 39.3 to 37.4 percent), remaining one of the highest in the world. Coupled with a significant rise in food prices, this minor improvement in employment has had little or no impact on the high rates of food insecurity prevailing throughout Gaza (affecting 52 percent of the population). Despite the flow of some goods, the lack of Gazan purchasing power hinders utilizing them.

Moreover, tens of thousands of families whose houses were destroyed by Israeli forces continue to suffer from the lack of construction materials and the inability to rebuild. The Gaza Strip needs the construction of approximately 40,000 houses as over 21,000 people remain displaced after the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip codenamed "Operation Cast Lead". Two years later, tens of thousands of Gaza residents continue to live a life of displacement.

More than 25 jobs such as smithery, carpentry and so on are directly related to these absent construction materials. The entry of construction materials would mean a decline in unemployment.

Israel claims that it prevents the entry of construction materials because it is afraid they will be used by armed groups to build tunnels and fortifications. By that rationale, Israel should prevent the entry of medicine, food, and milk because a "terrorist" might consume them.

The movement of individuals is still very limited. The travel of individuals from the Gaza Strip through Israeli crossings is subject to a tight system of permits that are issued to a very limited number of patients and businessmen. According to OCHA, an insignificant increase was recorded in the volume of people travelling through the Erez crossing in the second half of 2010 compared to the previous half--from 106 to 114 persons a day.

Thus, Israeli claims that it has eased the siege on the Gaza Strip are false, as it has not mitigated the humanitarian crisis. The international community must intervene and take effective actions to bring about an end to this illegal blockade, exerting pressure on Israel to uphold its responsibilities under international law.

The Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt is a vital entry and exit route, but it is not more important than the other six crossings that connect the Gaza Strip with the State of Israel. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is created by the Israeli occupation through its siege and blockade. The Gaza Strip must be dealt with as a political issue, not a humanitarian one, and Israel must be made to uphold its responsibilities to it.


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