Churches join condemnation of 'collective punishment' by Israel

By staff writers
January 27, 2008

Christian Aid and other church groups say that the breach of the border between Gaza and Egypt demonstrates the desperation of a people held hostage to both a policy of collective punishment and an inadequate peace process.

Christian Aid, the UK-based international development agency backed by 40 of Britain's main churches and denominations, "condemns in the strongest possible terms Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which did not begin last week as commonly thought, but has been going on since June 2007".

A statement released at the end of last week noted that Israel’s decision to allow in limited shipments of fuel and basic humanitarian supplies "will not ease the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza."

"Since Hamas took power last June, Gaza has been subjected to severe restrictions on movement that have allowed in only a drip-feed of aid, preventing a full-scale humanitarian emergency but keeping the population in a perpetual state of economic crisis," said Janet Symes, Christian Aid’s Head of Middle East Programme.

The blockade has affected fuel supplies which led to Gaza's only power plant shutting down on Sunday night, leaving homes, hospitals and factories without electricity. The lack of fuel also has implications for Gaza’s water supply and sanitation infrastructure with rivers of untreated sewage already flowing through the streets and into homes in this densely populated strip of land.

The Near East Council of Churches may have to shut down some health services at its clinics due to a lack of fuel for their refrigerators. They also only have two days of fuel for their vehicles – an essential part of getting emergency relief assistance to poor families.

"I just can’t cope. I don’t know what to do. None of my sons can find work. There is no money to buy food. I have 25 mouths to feed but nothing to give them. I rely on the kindness of friends and neighbours, but I can’t continue like this. I’ve never been so desperate. Somebody has to help us," a tearful woman in Gaza told a Christian Aid oficial.

Over the past week, there has been a resurgence in violence by both sides with each claiming they are acting in self defence. Israel states its blockade is necessary to prevent mortar attacks – a policy that is clearly not having the desired impact.

The European Union has criticised Israel’s ‘collective punishment’ of Gaza's 1.5 million residents, while the United Nations has warned it could be forced to stop distributing food to hundreds of thousands of people unless Israel opened the crossings to allow in supplies.

In November 2007, Christian Aid and 40 other international, Israeli and Palestinian NGOs called for an end to the isolation of Gaza in the interests of ending the escalating crisis.

In addition to condemning the illegal policy of collective punishment, they said: "Isolating Gaza has not stopped Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel and the entire population of Gaza remains vulnerable to continuing Israeli military attacks. All civilians, Israeli and Palestinian, must be protected under international law."

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