Israel 'using food and medicines as weapons'

By agency reporter
November 20, 2008

Israel is collectively punishing innocent civilians by withholding and controlling food and medicine to Gaza, says Christian Aid.

"With the recent upsurge in violence it is Palestinian and Israeli civilians who will pay the price of failure and silence, and lose hope itself", says William Bell, middle-eastern advocacy officer at Christian Aid.

Despite repeated calls from the international community, Gaza remains closed to food and medicine. For almost one and a half years, 1.5 million Palestinians have endured collective punishment as a result of Israel’s tight closure of Gaza.

In recent weeks the situation has once again deteriorated further with a resurgence of violence.

Last week, UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for assisting Palestinian refugees, announced that it had run out of food to distribute. With 80 per cent of the population dependent upon food aid, the situation is critical but the crossings into Gaza – the only points of entry for people and goods - remain tightly closed.

Increasingly goods are smuggled through tunnels from Egypt into Gaza, but the high cost of items brought in this way, are out of reach for many ordinary Gazans.

"There is a huge concern for November food supplies. UNRWA only works with registered refugees, but what about non-refugees? Tunnels are the only way of getting food and other goods, but this is only for people with money", says a Christian Aid partner in Khan Younis.

The international community has failed to develop a new strategy for ending the closure of Gaza. Similarly reconciliation between Palestinian factions has remained elusive leaving Palestinians without a genuinely representative body to press for a solution to the crisis.

"Simply letting food into Gaza is not enough", says Costa Dabbagh, from Near East Council of Churches, a Christian Aid partner.

"We are fed and kept alive without dignity and the international community should be blamed for it. We are not given hope. …it is not acceptable for us to be waiting for food to come. We want to live freely with Israel and other countries in peace, we are not against any individual or government, but we are against imprisonment."

Despite an agreement on cessation of violence since June 2008, Gazans remain isolated from the world and continue to live in abject poverty. Although getting food supplies into Gaza is a vital first step, Christian Aid believes steps must be taken to resolve the political crisis before people will see a real change in their lives.

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