Middle East conference will fail unless crisis in Gaza is on agenda

By staff writers
November 20, 2007

Christian Aid and some 40 other development and human rights organisations are warning world leaders attending the Middle East conference in Annapolis of the dangers of ignoring the humanitarian and political crisis in Gaza.

This week a joint statement signed by some 40 international, Israeli and Palestinian development and human rights organisations will be published in Israeli and Palestinian newspapers and sent to key figures attending the conference. It calls for an urgent end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, an end to the international isolation, and dialogue and reconciliation between Palestinian parties.

The statement adds that in order for any peace process resulting from Annapolis to have a chance of success, there must be concerted action by the international community to end the isolation of the Gaza Strip. The continuing isolation and collective punishment of 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip is both immoral and illegal, they say. Furthermore the policy of isolation has not stopped Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel and does not provide security for Israelis or Palestinians. It is only serving to deepen despair and frustration in Gaza.

Effectively imprisoned and with only a drip-feed of humanitarian aid, the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are entirely cut off from the West Bank and the outside world, say the agencies, facing a life without the essential requirements for survival let alone development. Over 80 per cent of the population in Gaza live on less than £1.50 a day.

In recent weeks Israel has begun cutting fuel supplies and threatening to cut off electricity to Gaza with enormous humanitarian implications.

Ahmed Sourani of Palestinian Agricultural and Relief Committees (PARC), a Christian Aid partner said: "The blockade makes export impossible so farmers are abandoning their crops. Israeli incursions result in huge destruction to lands and enterprises. Almost every industry in Gaza is facing ruin."

For a peace process to succeed all parties to the conflict must be brought to the table in order to have any credibility with the population, says Christian Aid. It is clear that Hamas will be excluded from the process at Annapolis and the international community is pursuing a ‘West Bank first’ approach to aid and diplomacy that effectively abandons the 1.5 million people in Gaza to poverty.

Middle East Envoy Tony Blair proposes to kick-start the Palestinian economy with industrial parks but the obstacles to economic development such as closures and restrictions on movement remain in place.

His proposals have little meaning for the people of Gaza say campaigners, where 85 per cent of factories have closed and 70,000 people have lost their jobs in the last six months due to the continuing Israeli blockade, while Gaza remains politically and economically isolated by the international community.

The spiralling crisis in the Gaza Strip threatens to undermine the credibility of any peace process with Israel and take the whole region further away from peace say the aid agencies.

Majeda Saqqa of Christian Aid partner, The Culture and Free Thought Association in Gaza, said: "We are living in fear of the devastation of our society. The siege of the Gaza Strip is a terrible crime. I want to tell the world: don't say that you didn't know."

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