One year on from the end of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, Amnesty International has called on Israel to lift its “suffocating” blockade, as the globally recognised human rights NGO released a new briefing on the plight of Palestinians living under the blockade.
In Suffocating: The Gaza Strip under Israeli blockade, Amnesty says that Palestinians are finding it all but impossible to survive, let alone rebuild, after the devastation of Operation “Cast Lead” (27 December 2008 -18 January 2009).
The organisation is calling on the Israeli authorities to allow fuel, food, building materials and other essential goods into Gaza without restrictions, as well as allowing exports out of the territory.
In December 2009, Amnesty and 15 humanitarian and human rights groups warned that the Israeli authorities had allowed just 41 truckloads of construction materials into Gaza since the end of the offensive. Before the blockade was imposed in 2007, an average of 7,400 truckloads entered Gaza every month. With over 3,500 houses totally destroyed and another 50,000 damaged during the military offensive, Gazans have been unable to rebuild since the conflict.
Meanwhile, one year after Operation “Cast Lead” ended, some 20,000 Palestinians are still living in temporary accommodation.
Mohammed and Halima Mslih and their four young children, for example, fled their home in the village of Juhor al-Dik, south of Gaza City during the fighting. Their home was later demolished by Israeli army bulldozers. Six months after the ceasefire, the family was still living in a flimsy nylon tent that leaked rainwater and they have only recently begun building a simple home. They fear that continuing Israeli military incursions could destroy what little they have salvaged.
Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director, Malcolm Smart, commented: “The blockade is strangling virtually every aspect of life for Gaza’s population, more than half of whom are children. The increasing isolation and suffering of the people of Gaza cannot be allowed to continue."
He added: “The Israeli government must comply with a binding legal obligation, as the occupying power, to lift the blockade without further delay. The blockade constitutes collective punishment under international law and must be lifted immediately.”
During Operation “Cast Lead” some 1,400 Palestinians were killed and thousands more injured; while 13 Israelis were killed, including three civilians in southern Israel, where dozens more were injured in indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups.
In Gaza, Israeli attacks damaged or destroyed civilian buildings and infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, the water and electricity systems. An estimated 280 of Gaza’s 641 schools were damaged and 18 destroyed. Over half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 18 and the disruption to their education through the conflict and blockade is having a devastating impact, warned Amnesty.
Hospitals have also been badly affected. Trucks of medical aid provided by the World Health Organisation have repeatedly been refused entry to Gaza without explanation by Israeli officials.
Patients with serious medical conditions which cannot be treated in Gaza are also being prevented or delayed from leaving by the Israeli authorities. Since the closure of crossings into and out of Gaza, patients have been made to apply for permits, which are frequently denied.
On 1 November 2009, Samir al-Nadim, a father of three children, died after his exit from Gaza for a heart operation was delayed by 22 days.
Meanwhile, unemployment is spiralling as remaining businesses struggle to survive under the blockade. In December the UN reported that unemployment in Gaza stood at over 40 per cent.
The new report Suffocating: The Gaza Strip under Israeli blockade can be downloaded (in *.PDF Adobe Acrobat format) here: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_20057.pdf
Amnesty is urging people to write to join the lobby against the blockade here: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions_details.asp?ActionID=626