GAZA STRIP – Over two weeks have passed since a ceasefire was agreed to on Aug. 26 between Israel and Hamas. However, the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt has not been lifted nor has any partial easing of it occurred. This non-easing of the border sanctions has been much to the ire and angst of the international community and the Palestinian people.
Various aid and rebuilding materials are desperately needed in Gaza after a 50 day Israeli bombing campaign and a partial land invasion by Israeli troops that left over 2,000 dead and thousands wounded and caused the large-scale destruction of much of Gaza’s physical infrastructure. Most of those killed and wounded were civilians.
In the days following Aug. 26, it was widely reported that along with the ceasefire, there would come an easing of Israel’s border sanctions. However, this has not occurred.
A blockade by both sea and land has been enforced by Israel and Egypt on Gaza since 2007 when Hamas came to power. This blockade has exacted a heavy toll on Gaza’s civilian populace.
Currently 34 percent of Gaza’s workforce, this including half of its youth, is unemployed. Since the blockade’s implementation, nearly 30 percent of Gaza’s businesses have closed and an additional 15 percent have laid off 80 percent of their staff. As a direct result of this, 80 percent of individuals in Gaza require aid in order to get by.
In addition to this, according to a report issued by Oxfam in 2012, 90 to 95 percent of water from Gaza’s underground water aquifer is unsafe to drink. This is occurring as the blockade is preventing and delaying vital construction materials and the spare parts needed to repair the water and sanitation network in Gaza. The report also states that Gaza is suffering from a shortage of 230 schools and 85 percent of schools still in use have to run on half day, double shifts. This has led to a reduction in children’s class time and the elimination of extracurricular activities. Since 2008, the sea blockade has reduced 90 percent of Gaza’s fishermen to poverty.
A key issue concerning the current sanctions is that they reduce the amount of materials that are currently limited in supply for those in Gaza. Fertilizers, cement, steel cables and some fabrics are currently among the items banned. These are vital materials to both Gaza’s agriculture and reconstruction efforts, however they are unavailable as Israel lists them as “dual use” items. This means that while they are needed by the civilian populace, Israel fears that these items could potentially be used by Hamas in military attacks.
Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for authorities on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom crossing – one of the two main crossings between Israel and Gaza – has said that officials on the border were expecting an immediate easing of sanctions after the ceasefire. Since this has not occurred, Omar has expressed uncertainty over what will eventually happen saying, “Honestly, we are going to have to wait and see what the days [ahead]hold for us.“
Aid agencies are deploring this current non-easing of sanctions with the U.K.-based group Medical Aid for the Palestinians explaining that there is an acute need for medical supplies in Gaza.
The blockade and its continued existence is expected to be discussed in the coming weeks by Israel and Hamas. However, any easing of border sanctions can only occur if some semblance of common ground can be reached and this seems unlikely as both sides seem unwilling to accede to the other’s key demands.
Hamas, in addition to ending the blockade, desires Israel to release hundreds of prisoners and allow for a port and airport to be constructed in Gaza. The lone airport inside Gaza is the Yassar Arafat International, which has fallen into disuse ever since it was bombed by Israel in 2000, two years after its construction. Israel, meanwhile, wants the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. Both of these groups are incredibly unlikely to have their demands accepted.
This diplomatic stalemate seems likely to result in the continuation of the current situation with the restrictive blockade on Gaza remaining. This would be to the extreme detriment of all of Gaza’s inhabitants.
Hugh Lovatt, the Israel and Palestine project coordinator at the European Council of Foreign relations, has expressed fears over the continuation of the status quo resulting in an inhibition of foreign aid and investment in Gaza. “If you are talking from the point of view as a European taxpayer, your money is going into Gaza to build things and then Israel comes and bombs it. There is an accountability issue”
Currently food items are able to easily cross into Gaza’s borders, with loads generally having to wait one or two days at the crossings. However, while the availability of food is a critical issue, the provision of food is only a short term fix for the issues Gaza’s inhabitants are facing. With Gaza’s infrastructure largely destroyed there is a dire need for reconstruction materials such as concrete and heavy machinery to be allowed in. At some point, instead of the continued importation of water bottles, Gaza’s own water facilities will need to be reconstructed.
For now, as a result of Hamas and Israel’s inability to compromise, it seems that the blockade is here to stay for the indefinite future, much to the indignation of the international community and the detriment of the Palestinian people.
– Albert Cavallaro