Tag Archives: Gaza

Flotilla News

DFAT legitimises Israeli blockade of Gaza by urging against participation in Flotilla

This just in from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade:

We refer to your email of 3 November that raises issues about Mr Michael Coleman’s presence on a vessel that is currently sailing to Gaza.

The travel advice for Israel, Gaza Strip and the West Bank strongly advises against travelling by sea to the coast of the Gaza Strip in breach of Israeli naval restrictions or participating in any attempt to break the naval blockade.

Further information is available in our travel bulletin on “Flotillas to Gaza” at the following link:

http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/TravelBulletins/Flotillas_to_Gaza

DFAT is committed to providing a high level of consular service to all
Australians in difficulty overseas, in accordance with the consular
charter. This consular support has been provided to Australians
participating in flotillas in the past, and would again be offered to Mr Coleman if necessary.

In the event he is detained by Israeli authorities, the Government of
Israel is well aware of Australia’s expectation that we would be granted early access to him to offer consular assistance.

You can contact DFAT and request they make direct representation to the Israeli authorities urging Israel

to not intervene in the peaceful Freedom Waves to Gaza flotilla. Israel has indicated it intends to stop the boats reaching Gaza.

DFAT Telephone: 1300 555 135 (select option 6)
DFAT NSW Email: dfat.nsw@dfat.gov.au

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Flotilla News

Palestinian youth march in Gaza calling for international protection of “Freedom Waves” boats

For Immediate Release, 3 November 2011

Who: Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip
What: March demanding international protection for “Freedom Waves to Gaza” flotilla
Where: Haidar Abdel Shafi Square, Gaza, Palestine
When: 12:30 pm Thursday, 3 November

Palestinian youth will march today in Gaza to demand that the United Nations and international community protect the “Freedom Waves to Gaza” flotilla against Israeli attacks.

“I support the flotilla because Israel says it’s no longer occupying Gaza,” said Rana Baker, a 20-year-old business administration student at Islamic University. “This would include the sea and freedom of movement. But this is not true, and the flotilla will once again prove this and confront a siege illegally imposed upon a mostly-civilian population.”

The gathering will begin in Gaza’s Haidar Abdel Shafi Square at 12:30 pm.

The youth will march by the nearby United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) building before holding a press conference in the Gaza Seaport.

“We support these boats,” said Hussien Amody, a 19-year-old computer engineering student at Al-Azhar University. “We want to prevent any Israeli attacks and break this illegal blockade.”

The demonstration will coincide with a 12:30 pm rally in Ramallah’s Manarah Square.

Contacts:
Rana Baker, (059) 962-5468
Jehan Alfarra, (059) 216-6994
Hussien Amody, (059) 972-5117

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a Palestinian-led non-violent resistance movement committed to ending Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land. We call for full compliance with all relevant UN resolutions and international law.

Statement originally published here.

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Flotilla News

Track the Tahrir as it heads across the sea to Gaza

The Tahrir is currently on it’s way to Gaza.

It is making its way through international waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

Click here to watch the progress of the Tahrir as it sails to Gaza.

On board is Australian delegate Michael Coleman. Michael joins delegates from a number of countries, including Canada, comprised of six journalists, five activists and the captain.

As at 11am (AEST) Thursday 3 November, the Tahrir was in the following location:

This via Electronic Intifada, tracking the Freedom Waves flotilla in real time:

A second boat from Ireland, the MV Saoirse, is also currently in international waters making its way to Gaza as part of the Freedom Wave.

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Occupation News

Gaza: The End of Tunnelnomics

Is Hamas’s lucrative underground trade about to come to a screeching halt? May 4, 2011

RAFAH, Egypt — “I recently lost one of my tunnels,” Abu Jawad told me nonchalantly. “An Israeli drone flew by, identifying its coordinates, and within minutes an IDF jet had dropped a precision-guided missile, destroying its exit.”

To Abu Jawad, a Palestinian tunnel entrepreneur and owner/operator of several tunnels, this was another workplace hazard. He cut an imposing figure at over 6 feet tall, with a glaring black moustache and a high-tech hunting vest worn over his traditional galabiyya, with several walk-talkies, pulley grips, and other bits of equipment stuffed in it. “I would fix it for about $10,000, but it’s not worth the re-investment as the Israelis already have its coordinates,” he concluded with a shrug. “I might just have to build another.”

My friend and I had set off from Cairo to the Egyptian-Israeli border hoping to cross into Gaza to report on the state of the border after the Egyptian revolution in January, and to show our solidarity with the Palestinian people. We were now receiving a crash course in Tunnelnomics — the unique capitalist math behind the smuggling tunnels connecting Egypt with Gaza.

Since Israel’s 2008 assault on Gaza, which it termed Operation Cast Lead, there has been a virtual blockade on the territory. Israel and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime allowed only minimal humanitarian supplies into Gaza, and prohibited all other shipments. Israel controls the airspace, sea passageways, and all the land crossings into Gaza — except for the one at Rafah, which straddles the border.

Since the Egyptian revolution, tunnel owners have indicated that it is still “business as usual” along the border. However, there are indications that Egypt’s current rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), are loosening the blockade on Gaza. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil El Araby said in late April that the Rafah crossing would soon be open on a permanent basis, describing Egypt’s previous policy on Gaza as “shameful.”

But while Egypt sorts out its post-revolutionary politics, Gaza continues to suffer. A report by the World Food Program and the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that, since the 2008 offensive, more than 61 percent of Gazans now suffer from food insecurity and rely on humanitarian aid agencies to feed their families. “Restrictions imposed on the civilian population by the continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip amount to collective punishment, a violation of international humanitarian law,” the report argued.

Tunnels, or “lines” as they are known locally, are a profitable business in an otherwise economically impoverished area, both on the Egyptian and the Palestinian side of the border. In Gaza, the tunnels are the lifeline of both Hamas and the approximately 1.5 million people living there. They are used to smuggling supplies, cars, weapons, fuel — even livestock.

But the tunnels at Rafah are an equally precious asset for the impoverished residents on the Egyptian side of the border. The Bedouins who inhabit the Sinai Peninsula were furious that Mubarak, after reassuming control from Israel in 1982, continued to neglect the economic development of the region. Instead, the former president directed billions of dollars of investment toward seaside resorts such as Sharm El Sheikh, where he kept a chic modern seaside residence, while completely neglecting the less glamorous parts of Sinai. The Bedouins, therefore, see the tunnels as a golden opportunity to improve their livelihood in an otherwise economically stagnant area.

“What other opportunities do I have here?” asked Abu Mukhtar, an Egyptian tunnel part-owner. “Open a grocery? Work in a hotel in Sharm El Sheikh? Neither option will make much money. I can partner in a tunnel and make a decent living for myself and my family.”

Like any industry, there are start-ups and well-established businesses. According to Abdel Jawad, the cost of a tunnel can start at $15,000 for a four foot-high by three foot-wide tunnel used to smuggle cartons of cement (resembling more of a hole than a tunnel), and can reach up to $150,000 for a state-of-the art, 10 by 6-foot tunnel used to smuggle cars.

As Rafah is effectively one city divided between two sides, Palestinians and Egyptians enter into partnerships to build and operate the tunnels. Tunnels usually start under a house in Egypt, and end up in a house in Gaza. Each side is manned by an “operations manager” who is in close contact via cell phones and walkie-talkies with his counterpart on the other side. When a delivery comes through, it is either carried or pulled through tunnels with a pulley system. Some tunnels use ropes to lift the cargo up on the Palestinian side, while others even make use of electric elevators.

An entrepreneurial Egyptian or Palestinian can pocket a tidy profit from a tunnel.

A ton of cement can cost between $200 and $300. Cars assembled locally in Egypt, such as the Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruise, can cost around $2,000. More luxurious sedans like the Honda Accord — several of which we observed cruising around Rafah with no license plates, presumably destined for the tunnel trade — could cost more than $3,000.

The operation is a closely regulated industry, with Hamas appointing a “head of Tunnels Authority” to oversee the operation, maintain quality standards, levy taxes, and impose fines for “illegal” transport of goods and people, meaning transfers unauthorized by Hamas. According to Yezid Sayigh of King’s College London, Hamas earned an estimated $200 million from tunnel taxes in 2009.

The dangers are as great as the potential rewards. Smugglers risk tunnel collapses, Israeli strikes, as well Hamas’s wrath should they attempt to smuggle unauthorized and unregistered cargo. Nonetheless, considering the economic situation on both sides of the border, it is a risk many are willing to take. Material passes through during the night and day; I have witnessed trucks laden with construction materials, such as cement and iron bars, cross Egyptian Rafah’s central plaza only to appear later, empty, having discharged their cargo.

Non-Palestinians trying to get into Palestinian Rafah are vetted by Hamas, which charges a $100 fee to cross. To have our visit approved, we had to submit an email application to our contact in Gaza, who then presented it to the Tunnel Authority. It explained who we are, what we do, and why we were attempting to enter the strip. Our contact returned with a negative response: The authority refused our application out of fear of jeopardizing Hamas’s relations with Egypt’s new government.

Hamas is hoping that its improving ties with the new military government in Cairo will finally bring an end to the blockade on Gaza. High-ranking Hamas officials have been shuttling in for meetings with Egyptian authorities since the revolution, signifying an end to Mubarak’s hostility toward the group. These talks recently culminated signing of a reconciliation accord between Hamas and Fatah, the dominant party in the West Bank.

The shifting political terrain in Egypt may indeed convince the government to reopen the Rafah crossing. Egypt’s newly empowered Muslim Brotherhood is set to make major gains in upcoming future elections. The Brotherhood, which enjoys close historical ties to Hamas, has long championed the Palestinian cause and supports a full reopening of the border.

One potential motive for opening the border, then, may be to take away one of the Brotherhood’s campaign issues and gain popular support by reversing Mubarak’s detested policy on Gaza. El Araby’s announcements have been hailed in the media and have so far resonated very well with the Egyptian people. The prime minister, Essam Sharaf, also visited Sinai at the end of April to apologize publicly for years of neglect toward the region.

The moment may be approaching when Egypt opens the Rafah border unconditionally to cargo and people, thus bringing an end to the tunnel industry. The Bedouin, however, have been promised many things, only to see the government fail to deliver. “We have heard a lot of talk of this before. I will believe it when I see it,” Abu Mukhtar said. “If it happens, I will have to find another job.”

Until that day, tunnelnomics continues to rule in Rafah.

This article was written by Adel Abdel Ghafar, and first published on Foreign Policy on May 4, 2011.

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News Occupation News

I wish to tell you about Gaza

The Palestine Chronicle, 24 October 2011

Gaza life exists in a cage, an open air prison that has been kept mostly isolated from the world. Its citrus trees have been uprooted. Flowers are no  longer exported. Nor are vegetables, fruit or olives, formerly a thriving  export business.

Since 2000, the Israeli army destroyed 114,000 olive trees. The rest were destroyed during the 2008-9 war, much of it uprooted from white phosphorous and other chemicals. Farming is now difficult and in some areas impossible.

Much of Gaza looks like a war zone, bullets holes visible on the sides of  buildings. Gaza is without proper sewage pumps, bombed as they are rebuilt.  Mediterranean waters are infested with raw sewage, while a 3 mile limit, closely watched by the Israeli navy collectively destroys a once flourishing fishing industry, the waters now stagnant from sewage and overfishing.

It is the grimmest of war stories, unimaginable horror where tunnels, miles of mazes function to alleviate the suffering as goods are brought in from Egypt. Dangerous the tunnels for they are regularly bombed by rockets and missiles. Many of the young brave men who work in the tunnels to bring needed goods to Gaza take a daily chance on their lives. Articles to sustain life come through the tunnels. Diesel oil and gasoline are pumped through the tunnels at 1/3 the prices the Israelis charge. In addition, building materials, cement, medicines, bandages, first aid, even cars and washing machines find their way into Gaza. Articles sent through Ashdot, Israel, often must wait months before they are inspected and often never arrive in Gaza.

Electricity remains scarce and backed up generators used in hospitals can turn on 12 times a day. They consistently break down often during surgery. Repair of generators and equipment in general is a difficult problem since replacements take months to arrive from countries that have donated the generators. The same is true of new imaging equipment that stand idle when often the smallest repair is needed. Once something breaks down, one must wait often more than a year for replacements which come from participating NGO countries who support the Palestinians. Sadly (as far as I can learn) the US no longer contributes and congress recently defeated the use of funds for NGO agricultural development.  This is a tragedy for the Palestinians in
Gaza who feeds its own population.

Many who are ill are unable to receive advanced treatments. 40% of
medications for necessary treatment are not available. Chemotherapy drugs do not exist for they are too expensive. Also missing are gloves, needles sutures, antibiotics and frequently the most basic necessities. Some wheelchairs are donated from participating countries. They are in working condition for the many young people who have had limbs blown off. I was told a wheelchair sent by Israel was not usable as many parts were missing. How can this be? Hospitals are bombed and rebuilt. Without the tunnels, there would be a total paralysis in rebuilding construction.

Only the sickest who need advanced treatments, the most vulnerable patients have been sent to Israeli hospitals. The trip is long and arduous with many checkpoints. Some cannot survive. Children must go unaccompanied for parents are not given permission to accompany and comfort. Now patients are more readily sent via Rafah to Cairo for treatment, also an arduous undertaking but preferable since border restrictions create more of a possibility to arrive at an Egyptian hospital for treatment.  It remains however still difficult and lengthy. I have seen the crowds wait for hours at the border to have their passports and documents approved, a tedious procedure even for
those who are physically well.

Al-Shifa Hospital (translates as “Healing” in Arabic) is the largest and main referral hospital in the Gaza Strip. It has 700 beds and sees 1200 patients a day. The effect of the Israeli Siege on Health has been nothing less than devastating. I am exceedingly impressed with the commitment of the Hospital staff workers who care for the sick and wounded with limited equipment. Palestinian men and women work side by side.

I am impressed by the beauty of the Palestinians and their drive towards dignity and freedom. I am impressed by the parents of their sick children who tend them with love and much tragedy etched on their faces. So much of what I saw and heard in Gaza has left a deep black hole in my consciousness for I am aware that the crimes committed by the Zionists of Israel and completely complicit with the US are one of the greatest crimes against a population that fails to be seen as human beings. Instead Palestinians are demonized, dehumanized in an attempt to obliterate their history, their dignity and their right to exist in safety and peace. From my perspective, this is nothing short of the final chapter of the Holocaust, a tragedy from which there is no forgiveness.

I will continue to write about the land of sad oranges, the land where citrus plants have been pulled out of the earth and trees have been exported to Israel for their profit. Everything is for profit and greed while human beings cease to be human.

I wish to tell you about the depleted uranium and white phosphorus found after the war, three weeks of endless bombings night and day. I have seen teachers in the “Save Our Children” project work with 2 eight year old boys who to this day are not able to speak after operation Cast Lead. Still to this day one finds the continued use of chemicals in the soil and in the bodies of the children who are born prematurely with cancer and disfigurement. Yes and 33 additional toxic chemicals that change with each round of bombings have been isolated. In case you do not know this, over 55% of the population of Gaza are under 18. I shudder to think of what the continuous brutalization of this young generation will lead to in the coming years. Still the Palestinians with the help of the NGO’s are trying to preserve the well being of the Palestinian children who are crowded in refugee camps and have the most beautiful faces.

There must be hope as the children come up to me with peace signs and we chant Viva Palestina together.

My work has just begun. I too must hang on to hope. The world must listen and resist.

Lillian Rosengarten, a refugee from Nazi Germany is a Buddhist practitioner, poet, writer and a pacifist. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact her at: truthpoem@gmail.com.

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Flotilla News News

A call from Gaza: We are waiting for your boats at our shores

Besieged Gaza, Occupied Palestine, September 30, 2011

We the Palestinians of the Besieged Gaza Strip, are calling on the world: enough inaction, enough discussion, enough waiting – the illegal closure on the Gaza Strip must end.  While attention is focused on the Palestinian bid for statehood in the UN do not forget that the blockade and the suffering continue in Gaza.

Shortly after 2006 democratic election which was supervised by people and bodies from the international community, nations formerly supporting aid and cultural organizations in Gaza withdrew their support.  In mid-2007, our borders, controlled by Israel and Egypt, fully closed, locking Palestinians within and preventing imports and exports from crossing our borders.

From December 27 2008 to January 18 2009, Israel waged an all-out slaughter on Gaza, killing over 1400 Palestinians, the vast majority innocent civilians and among them nearly 400 children, and destroying thousands of homes, businesses, factories and buildings including universities, schools, hospitals and medical care facilities, and damaging vast tracts of our water and sanitation system.

Almost three years following after Israel’s attacks, almost no homes and few buildings have been rebuilt, our sanitation and sewage system is more dire than ever, raw waste continues to be pumped into our sea –for want of proper treatment facilities –polluting our water and the fish along the coast which fishermen are forced to harvest because the Israeli navy shoots at them if they try to fish more than three miles from the Gaza coast—contaminating our drinking water and food supply.

Our farmers continue to be shot at, maimed and killed by Israeli soldiers along our border, prevented from working, growing and harvesting their land, denying us a rich supply of produce and vitamins.  Nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition continue to rise, affecting our children’s growth and their ability to study.  Our economy is shut down by lack of functioning factories and electricity.  Our students hold little to no prospects of exiting for study abroad, even when placements and scholarships have been secured, due to the Israeli control of the Erez crossing and the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing being closed more often than opened. Our sick suffer for want of necessary medications and medical supplies and equipment.

Since 2005, over 170 Palestinian organizations have called for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to pressure Israel to comply with international law. Since 2003, Palestinians have weekly met in villages in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, to protest Israel’s occupation policies.

Creative civilian efforts such as the Free Gaza boats that broke through the blockade five times, the Gaza Freedom March, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and the many land convoys must never stop their siege-breaking efforts, highlighting the inhumanity of keeping 1.5 million Gazans in an open-air prison.

On the 2nd of December, 2010, 22 international organizations including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid, and Medical Aid for Palestinians produced the report ‘Dashed Hopes, Continuation of the Gaza Blockade’ calling for international action to force Israel to unconditionally lift the blockade, saying that despite the reported June 2010 “easing” of the closure, the Palestinians of Gaza continue to live in the same devastating conditions.  Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive report “Separate and Unequal” that denounced Israeli policies as Apartheid, echoing similar sentiments by South African anti-apartheid activists.

We call on the citizens of the world oppose this deadly, medieval blockade. The failure of governments and world bodies to condemn such crimes is tantamount to complicity. Only civil society is able to mobilize to demand the application of international law and put an end to Israel’s impunity. The intervention of civil society was effective

in the late 1980s against the apartheid regime of South Africa. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have not only described Israel’s oppressive and violent control of Palestinians as Apartheid, they have also joined this call for the world’s civil society to intervene again.

We call on the nations and citizens of the world to continue and/or reinitiate their plans to sail to Gaza to challenge and break the Israeli blockade. The civil society initiatives of the Freedom Flotillas are about taking a stance of justice and solidarity with besieged Palestinians when your governments will not. We call on the Flotilla movement to continue to sail until the blockade of Gaza is entirely lifted and Palestinians of Gaza are granted the basic human rights and freedom of movement citizens around the world enjoy.

Signed:

University Teachers’ Association

Palestinian Nongovernmental Organizations Network

Al-Aqsa University

Palestine Red Crescent Society in Gaza

General Union of Youth Entities

Arab Cultural Forum

General Union for Health Services Workers

General Union for Public Services Workers

General Union for Petrochemical and Gas Workers

General Union for Agricultural Workers

Union of Women’s Work Committees

Union of Synergies—Women Unit

Union of Palestinian Women Committees

Women’s Studies Society

Working Woman’s Society

Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel

One Democratic State Group

Palestinian Youth against Apartheid

Association of Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Info

Palestine Sailing Federation

Palestinian Association for Fishing and Maritime

Palestinian Women Committees

Progressive Students Union

Medical Relief Society

The General Society for Rehabilitation

Afaq Jadeeda Cultural Centre for Women and Children

Deir Al-Balah Cultural Centre for Women and Children

Maghazi Cultural Centre for Children

Al-Sahel Centre for Women and Youth

Ghassan Kanfani Kindergartens

Rachel Corrie Centre, Rafah

Rafah Olympia City Sisters

Al Awda Centre,

Rafah Al Awda Hospital,

Jabaliya Camp Ajyal Association,

GazaGeneral Union of Palestinian Syndicates

Al Karmel Centre,

Nuseirat Local Initiative,

Beit Hanoun Union of Health Work Committees

Red Crescent Society Gaza Strip

Beit Lahiya Cultural Centre

Al Awda Centre, Rafah

Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Information Society

women section -union of Palestinian workers  syndicate

Middle East Childrens’  Alliance -Gaza

Local Initiative -Beit Hanoun

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Flotilla News News

UN independent panel rules Israel blockade of Gaza illegal

Report to UN Human Rights Council by five independent UN rights experts contradicts findings of Palmer Report that Israel used ‘unreasonable force’ in 2010 raid on Gaza flotilla, but that naval-blockade of Gaza legal.

Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip violates international law, a panel of human rights experts reporting to a UN body said on Tuesday, disputing a conclusion reached by a separate UN probe into Israel’s r aid on a Gaza-bound

aid ship.

The so-called Palmer Report on the Israeli raid of May 2010 that killed nine Turkish activists said earlier this month that Israel had used unreasonable force in last year’s raid, but its naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled strip was legal.

A panel of five independent UN rights experts reporting to the UN Human Rights Council rejected that conclusion, saying the blockade had subjected Gazans to collective punishment in “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The four-year blockade deprived 1.6 million Palestinians living in the enclave of fundamental rights, they said.

“In pronouncing itself on the legality of the naval blockade, the Palmer Report does not recognize the naval blockade as an integral part of Israel’s closure policy towards Gaza which has a disproportionate impact on the human rights of civilians,” they said in a joint statement.

An earlier fact-finding mission named by the same UN forum to investigate the flotilla incident also found in a report last September that the blockade violated international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says the blockade violates the Geneva Conventions.

Israel says its Gaza blockade is a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea.

The four-man panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer found Israel had used unreasonable force in dealing with what it called “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers.”

Turkey has downgraded ties with Israel over the incident.

Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and one of the five experts who issued Tuesday’s statement, said the Palmer report’s conclusions were influenced by a desire to salve Turkish-Israeli ties.

“The Palmer report was aimed at political reconciliation between Israel and Turkey. It is unfortunate that in the report politics should trump the law,” he said in the statement.
About one-third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures, said Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, another of the five.

At least two-thirds of Gazan households lack secure access to food, he said. “People are forced to make unacceptable trade-offs, often having to choose between food or medicine or water for their families.”

The other three experts were the UN special rapporteurs on physical and mental health, extreme poverty and human rights, and access to water and sanitation.

* First published 20:28 13.09.11 By Reuters

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News Occupation News

UN refugee agency marks 5 years of Gaza siege

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — “If the aim of the blockade policy was to weaken the Hamas administration, the public employment numbers suggest this has failed,” a UNRWA spokesman said Tuesday as the UN marks Gaza’s fifth year under intense Israeli siege.Commenting on a report released by the UN agency charged with providing care and services for the one million refugees living in the Gaza Strip, on the fifth anniversary of the siege, spokesman Chris Gunness added “it has certainly been highly successful in punishing some of the poorest of the poor in the Middle East region.”According to UNRWA, wages in Gaza fell 34.5 per cent since the first half of 2006, while unemployment reached 45.2 percent in the second half of 2010.

“These are disturbing trends,” Gunness said, “and the refugees, which make up two thirds of Gaza’s 1.5 million population were the worst hit in the period covered in this report. It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution.”

In June 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections. At the end of July that same year, militants in Gaza captured an Israeli soldier. In retaliation for the capture, and spurred by distrust for Hamas following its election win, Israeli forces entered the West Bank and abducted eight Hamas ministers and 21 party lawmakers from their homes and offices. Imports and exports into and out of Gaza were scaled down to a fraction of normal levels in an attempt to pressure the ruling party Hamas to return the soldier.

Hamas, negotiating on behalf of the factions which captured the soldier, are demanding the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for his release.

Israel tightened the siege, restricting access to coastal fishing waters in October 2006, reducing the fishing limit from 20 nautical miles down to six. Then following Israel’s offensive on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, the fishing limit was reduced to three nautical miles, effectively quashing the industry.

Imports between 2006-2010 were restricted to a short list of goods, with reports suggesting calculations had been made to import only the minimum necessary food supplies to sustain the population. After an international aid flotilla sailed to Gaza in June 2010 and Israeli commandos shot and killed nine of the activists on board, world outcry against the siege prompted a slight easing, with more commercial goods permitted in.

Prohibitions on industrial goods and building materials remain, however, making reconstruction of the 6,000 homes destroyed during Israel’s winter offensive impossible without intervention from international agencies.

Israel says materials used in construction of homes could be used to manufacture weapons.

A massive tunnel import industry grew in the southern Gaza Strip after the blockade was imposed, allowing building materials, cars foodstuffs and weapons to be brought into Gaza. The goods are too expensive for most Palestinians in the Strip to afford.

Exports of goods and produce from Gaza have effectively been stopped, with only a few hundred loads of strawberries and carnations having been exported to Europe under a Dutch government program since the imposition of the siege.

During the past five years, UNRWA noted in its report, that the private sector had been hit particularly hard in comparison with the public sector. While private businesses were forced to cut nearly 8,000 jobs in the second half of 2010, the Hamas dominated public sector grew by nearly three percent over the same period.

“Our research indicates that since 2007, Hamas has been able to increase public employment by at least one-fifth,” said Gunness. “Even more striking, in what should have been a relatively good year for the Gaza private sector with the supposed easing of the blockade, the public sector generated 70% of all net job growth as between second-half 2009 and second-half 2010.”

UNRWA has stated that it will continue to operate in the health and education sectors in Gaza, with some 213,000 children currently attending UNRWA run schools. However, the report stated that since the start of the blockade, the number of people living on less than one dollar a day has tripled to nearly 300,000 since the blockade was imposed.

“With many reconstruction projects still awaiting approval, the future looks bleak” Gunness said.

 
* Frist published Tuesday 14/06/2011 (updated) 23/06/2011 20:11 Maan News Agency
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