WORLD powers betrayed the besieged Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip by failing to end the Israeli blockade of the territory in the wake of last winter’s Israeli bombing blitz.
That is the verdict of 16 human rights and international aid groups in a hard-hitting new report.
The groups sponsoring the new report include Amnesty International, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Mercy Corps and Oxfam International.
The report, ‘Failing Gaza: No rebuilding, No recovery, No more excuses’, criticises the stances taken by the European Union in particular.
It says that major powers like the EU failed to ensure that aid pledged to Gaza, after it was badly damaged by Israeli bombs a year ago, actually reached its intended recipients.
Since the end of the three-week Israeli offensive (dubbed Operation Cast Lead) in mid-January this year, Israel has allowed only 41 truckloads of construction materials into the Gaza Strip.
All of those materials were destined for NGOs implementing piecemeal reconstruction efforts, or repairs to the electricity and sewage networks.
Thousands of truckloads of reconstruction materials are needed to rebuild the tens of thousands of homes, businesses, schools, mosques and other buildings destroyed and damaged during the war.
But because only a tiny trickle of aid has got through since January, thousands of Gazans are still living in tents, and the Gaza Strip’s economy remains in ruins.
‘The wretched reality endured by 1.5 million people in Gaza should appal anybody with an ounce of humanity,’ says Amnesty International’s UK Director Kate Allen.
‘Sick, traumatised and impoverished people are being collectively punished by a cruel, illegal policy imposed by the Israeli authorities,’ she added.
‘Israel’s responsibility to protect its citizens does not give it the right to punish every man, woman and child of Gaza.’
Allen said the world has an obligation to act to end the Gaza blockade.
‘All states are obliged under international law to intervene to put an end to this brutal blockade, but their leaders are failing in this fundamental measure of their own humanity,’ she commented.
After years of increasing closure, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 in the wake of an overwhelming victory for Hamas in the Palestinian elections in 2006.
Gaza’s 1.5 million people are banned from travelling, and imports to the territory were slashed to one-fifth of pre-blockade levels. Exports all but ceased.
Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs also stressed that the world’s powers are complicit in the blockade.
‘It is not only Israel that has failed the people of Gaza with a blockade that punishes everybody living there’, said Hobbs.
‘World powers have also failed and even betrayed Gaza’s ordinary citizens,’ he added.
‘They have wrung hands and issued statements, but have taken little meaningful action to attempt to change the damaging policy that prevents reconstruction, personal recovery and economic recuperation.’
The report on Gaza notes that as the occupying power, Israel is responsible for safeguarding the welfare of the population there.
But the international community offered to rebuild Gaza after Israel had destroyed infrastructure and slaughtered more than 1,400 Palestinian men, women and children in its December 2008-January 2009 offensive.
International donors pledged $4 billion to rebuild Gaza at a conference in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm Ash-Sheikh in March.
The EU pledged $1 billion of this figure.
But because of the ban on construction materials, virtually none of the aid has materialised.
The report blames the EU for failing to even seek compensation from Israel for the destruction of facilities relating to EU-funded projects in Gaza.
(The United Nations charged Israel $11.4 million for damages to its facilities).
Meanwhile, Ahmad Bahar – a Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member – has called for an urgent meeting between all PLC blocs, to discuss the consequences of the Egyptian wall being built along Gaza’s southern border.
The wall, 10 kilometres long and 24 metres deep, will run along the Gaza-Egypt border, and aims to cut off the passage into Egypt via hundreds of underground tunnels, which have been Gaza’s lifeline as Israel’s siege continues.
‘The construction of Egypt’s wall is a sign of an impending attack on Gaza by Israel,’ Bahar warned.
Bahar said the construction of the wall goes against the good relations between Gaza and Egypt, and urged the Egyptian authorities to reconsider their decision.
‘This is a dangerous step against the Palestinians,’ he said.
He condemned Israel for imposing a ‘strict and stifling siege’ on Gaza, and wondered, ‘Why is Egypt the one to increase the intensity of the siege on the people of Gaza when they are supposed to be the side helping to end it?’
The PLC member called on the Arab League and international forces to step in and end the siege on Gaza.
l As rumours of a pending prisoner exchange circulate, Israel’s Hebrew daily ‘Yedioth Ahronoth’ has published the names of nine Palestinian prisoners that the Zionist Israeli apparatus is currently refusing to free in exchange for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The nine are: Marwan Al-Barghouthi, Abdallah Al-Barghouthi, Abbas Al-Sayyed, Ahmad Sa’adat, Ibrahim Hamid, Yahia Sanwari, Ahlam Tammimi, Amneh Muna and Qahera Al-Sa’di.
The nine were allegedly on the list of 450 names specified by Hamas negotiators for release.
The release of the other 550 prisoners under the deal would be up to Israeli discretion.
Marwan Al-Barghouthi was jailed in 2003 and is the leading member of the Fatah movement on the West Bank.
As the commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, he led the fight against the Israeli occupation army and the settlers, while opposing attacks on soft targets within Israel itself.
Under his leadership, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade became a very efficient fighting force.
Today he is the most popular member of Fatah and calls for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas before there can be any new general election.
His policy remains to negotiate while at the same time fighting the occupation.