Eighteen leading NGOs have called on the European Union (EU) to press for Israel's blockade on Gaza to be lifted.
Organisations including Christian Aid, CAFOD, Amnesty International, Pax Christi and War Child UK issued a joint statement to coincide with the visit of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton to Gaza this week. The EU Foreign Affairs Council is expected to discuss Gaza at its meeting on Monday (26 July).
“The EU must insist on the full lifting of the blockade of Gaza, not just its easing, if it is serious about helping the economy of Gaza recover and allowing its people to rebuild their lives,” declared the NGOs.
In a joint letter to Ashton and to EU governments, they wrote, “While the changes in the blockade policy announced by the government of Israel on 20 June and 5 July represent steps forward, they fall short of what is needed to rebuild Gaza’s economy and what is required by international law”.
They called on the EU to press the parties on the ground for action in five “key areas”: ending the ban on exports from Gaza; allowing movement of people into and from Gaza; ensuring sufficient capacity and efficiency of the crossings; allowing the entry of construction materials for the private sector; and ensuring access to Gaza’s agricultural land and fishing grounds.
They declared that, “securing clear commitments on these issues - rather than only the implementation of the announced changes - should now be a top priority”.
Amnesty International's UK Director, Kate Allen, said “Banning the vast majority of exports and the general movement of people has destroyed the economy of Gaza and pushed its population into poverty, dependency and despair”.
She added, “Instead of collectively punishing the civilian population, Israel must comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade in its entirety so Gazans can rebuild their shattered lives”.
On exports, the groups point out that even under the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, signed by Israel, the target for exports was set at 400 truckloads of exports a day. In contrast, just 259 truckloads in total have left Gaza since the blockade began over three years ago.
Recent announcements make no provision at all for opening up exports - and yet "there can be no economic recovery in Gaza without exports", say the groups. Prior to the blockade Gaza’s economy was heavily reliant on exports, especially to Israel and the West Bank, in sectors such as furniture, clothing and textiles, and food and farm products.
The groups also stress that the ban on movement of people to and from Gaza must be lifted to allow people to trade, work, study, receive medical treatment and visit family members. Particularly vital is movement between Gaza and the West Bank, which is essential for the “healthy functioning of Palestinian society and for the development of its economy”, they add.