The Gaza Siege – Punishing Some Of The Poorest Of The Poor

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‘If the aim of the blockade policy was to weaken the Hamas administration, the public employment numbers suggest this has failed’ a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman said on Tuesday as the UN marks Gaza’s fifth year under intense Israeli siege.

Commenting on a report released by the UN agency charged with providing care and services for the one million refugees living in the Gaza Strip, on the fifth anniversary of the siege, spokesman Chris Gunness added: ‘It has certainly been highly successful in punishing some of the poorest of the poor in the

According to UNRWA, wages in Gaza fell 34.5 per cent since the first half of 2006, while unemployment reached 45.2 per cent in the second half of 2010.

Gunness said: ‘These are disturbing trends’ and the refugees, which make up two thirds of Gaza’s 1.5 million population were the worst hit in the period covered in this report.

‘It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution.’

On June 14 2006, militants in the Gaza Strip captured an Israeli soldier patrolling its border.

In retaliation for the capture of a soldier, Israeli forces entered the West Bank and abducted eight Hamas ministers and 21 party lawmakers from their homes and offices.

Imports and exports into and out of Gaza were scaled down to a fraction of normal levels in an attempt to pressure the ruling party Hamas to return the soldier.

Hamas, negotiating on behalf of the factions which captured the soldier, are demanding the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for his release.

Israel tightened the siege, restricting access to coastal fishing waters in October 2006, reducing the fishing limit from 20 nautical miles down to six.

Then following Israel’s offensive on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, the fishing limit was reduced to three nautical miles, effectively quashing the industry.

Imports between 2006-2010 were restricted to a short list of goods, with reports suggesting calculations had been made to import only the minimum necessary food supplies to sustain the population.

After an international aid flotilla sailed to Gaza in June 2010 and Israeli commandos shot and killed nine of the activists on board, world outcry against the siege prompted a slight easing, with more commercial goods permitted in.

Prohibitions on industrial goods and building materials remain, however, making reconstruction of the 6,000 homes destroyed during Israel’s winter offensive impossible without intervention from international agencies.

Israel says materials used in construction of homes could be used to manufacture weapons.

A massive tunnel import industry grew in the southern Gaza Strip after the blockade was imposed, allowing building materials, cars, foodstuffs and weapons to be brought into Gaza.

The goods are too expensive for most Palestinians in the Strip to afford.

Exports of goods and produce from Gaza have effectively been stopped, with only a few hundred loads of strawberries and carnations having been exported to Europe under a Dutch government programme since the imposition of the siege.

During the past five years, UNRWA noted in its report, the private sector had been hit particularly hard in comparison with the public sector.

While private businesses were forced to cut nearly 8,000 jobs in the second half of 2010, the Hamas dominated public sector grew by nearly three per cent over the same period.

Gunness said: ‘Our research indicates that since 2007, Hamas has been able to increase public employment by at least one-fifth.’

‘Even more striking, in what should have been a relatively good year for the Gaza private sector with the supposed easing of the blockade, the public sector generated 70 per cent of all net job growth as between second-half 2009 and second-half 2010.’

UNRWA has stated that it will continue to operate in the health and education sectors in Gaza, with some 213,000 children currently attending UNRWA-run schools.

However, the report stated that since the start of the blockade, the number of people living on less than one dollar a day has tripled to nearly 300,000 since the blockade was imposed.

Gunness said: ‘With many reconstruction projects still awaiting approval, the future looks bleak’.

Yesterday, the Palestinian health sector community organizations called for urgently supplying the Gaza Strip with medicines and medical supplies.

The statement said the continuing shortage is causing a crisis in hospitals and medical centres in Gaza and threatening the lives of a large number of patients.

The community organizations considered Israeli measures of preventing the entry of medicines to Gaza a violation of one of the Palestinians’ inalienable rights.

Israeli authorities refuse to allow medical supplies into Gaza within the framework of Israel’s ongoing military siege of the Strip.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health has prepared $10 million worth of medical supplies and medicines for Gaza, which are awaiting Israeli approval to enter, said head of Public Relations Office of the Health Ministr y, Omar Nasr.

The health sector also called on President Mahmud Abbas to intervene immediately to end the medical crisis and on international and Arab donors to aid Gaza by sending medicines and medical supplies.

l The fifth Palestinian political leader detained since the start of May, Fatah leader in Qalqiliya Muhammad Walwil and his brother were taken from their family home before dawn on Tuesday morning.

The detention followed a home raid and search which family members said took place at 3am prompting immediate condemnation from Fatah officials.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed that the two were detained, but said he could not yet comment as to why.

Fatah in Qalqiliya issued a statement after the detentions calling on human rights organisations to intervene.

The continued detention of Palestinian leaders, Fatah said, ‘shows Israel does not want peace in the region’.

Walwil is the second Fatah leader to have been detained by Israeli forces in the past month and a half, and the fifth political figure including three Hamas officials that have been detained in recent weeks.

On May 5th, Fatah leader and unity proponent Hussam Khader was detained by Israeli forces for unknown reasons, and has been remanded to administrative detention with an expected term of six months.

A court will decide on the term, though Khader remains uncharged on Sunday.

Hamas leader Adnan Abu Tabanah was one of three detained in Hebron by Israeli forces on the morning of May 12, one week after elected Hamas leader Issa Khairy Aj-Ja’bari was taken from his home in Hebron’s Namra neighbourhood.

On May 3rd Palestinian Legislative Council member Ali Romanin was taken from his home north of Jericho.