February 23, 2011

Meanwhile in Gaza…

You might remember that last June, Israel, after coming under international condemnation for murdering nine humanitarian aid workers aboard the Mavi Mamara, promised that it would ease its blockade on the people of Gaza.  “The announcement, which offered few details, said that the security cabinet had decided to ‘liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza’ and to expand the inflow of construction materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision” (NY Times).

Well it turns out—brace yourselves for this—that Israel hasn’t substantially changed its policy.  According to a December 2010 report issued by Amnesty International and a host of other human rights organizations, Israel has continued banning items that don’t fall under “the international definition of dual-use items” and has kept total imports into Gaza to just 35% of pre-blockade levels.  The report also stated that:

  • “[Israel] has so far only approved 7 per cent of the building plan for UNRWA’s projects in Gaza, and of that 7 per cent only a small fraction of the necessary construction material has been allowed to enter for projects including schools and health centres.” 
  • “Although there has been a significant increase in the amount of food stuffs entering Gaza, many humanitarian items, including vital water equipment, that are not on the Israeli restricted list continue to receive no permits.”
  • “Two thirds of Gaza’s factories report they have received none or only some of the raw materials they need to recommence operations.”
  • “More Palestinian businesspeople than before have been allowed to leave Gaza, but ordinary Gaza residents are still denied access to their friends and family, and to educational opportunities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and abroad.” (Amnesty et al.)

After the European Union admonished Israel for “fail[ing] to live up to its commitments on easing the blockade” and urged Israel to both increase the number goods entering Gaza and also begin allowing exports out of the territory (Haaretz), Israel’s cabinet, sensing the need for some quick damage control, announced on December 8 that it would “significantly increase exports of goods from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and abroad” (Haaretz).  According to the above Amnesty report, “[e]xcept for the humanitarian activity of exporting a small amount of strawberries, not a single truck of exports has left Gaza since the ‘easing until now.’”

The importance of allowing exports from Gaza cannot be stressed enough.  Gaza’s businesses, just like businesses in most small economies, depend upon exports for their survival.  “[P]revious goods regularly exported from Gaza included 76 percent of all Gaza-manufactured furniture products, 90 percent of garments and 20 percent of all food products.”  Not surprisingly, then, as a result of the blockade, 95 percent of Gaza’s “industrial establishments were forced to shut down and “the remaining five percent were forced to reduce their level of activity” (OCHA).  Today, 39% of Gazans are unemployed and 80% of Gazans depend upon international aid for their survival (Amnesty et al.). So, in other words, without the ability to export goods, Gaza’s economy can’t survive, which means that, even are satisfactory number of goods are entering Gaza, few people can afford to buy them. 

Well it turns out—again brace yourselves for this—that Israel still isn’t allowing exports to leave Gaza, this according to a recent report from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Just thought I’d remind ya’ll that Palestinians are still suffering. Most people’s attention lately has been on Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, etc., and understandably so. But let’s be sure not to forget Palestine.

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