Although the devastating Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip against Hamas came to an end three months ago, life for Gazans remains extremely difficult, the United Nations humanitarian chief has stressed.
The three-week offensive Israel launched late last December, with the stated aim of ending rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups, killed at least 1,300 Palestinians and injured some 5,000 others. The heavy bombardment and fighting also reduced homes, schools, hospitals and marketplaces to rubble.
“For the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip to improve, lifesaving assistance must be decoupled from the security and political agendas,” said John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
“If the Israeli-Palestinian peace that has been sought for over 60 years, and more recently inter-Palestinian reconciliation, remain preconditions for improving living conditions, the Gaza Strip risks being dependent on handouts for years to come,” he warned, appealing for the reopening of all land borders to allow urgently-needed humanitarian and reconstruction supplies into Gaza.
Last month in Egypt, over $5 billion was pledged for reconstruction efforts in Gaza, “possibly the most significant show of donor support for Gaza in the history of the occupied Palestinian territory,” Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Relief Coordinator, said.
However, “for once, money is not the main problem,” he noted, adding that the funds are not “hitting [the] mark” with three-quarters of Gazans requiring some form of aid.
The sweeping Israeli ban on the import of construction materials, spare parts for public infrastructure and the industrial sector in Gaza, along with restrictions on the entry of cash, has prevented work to start on almost all of the planned early recovery projects, according to last month's report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on the situation in Gaza.
In addition, a ban on exports, apart from a few truckloads of flowers, has exacerbated the situation by crushing Gaza's job-creation industries, said Mr. Holmes. “The ruin of hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods appears to be seen by Israel as the collective price that Gaza''s civilians must pay for the acts of a few among them.”
Over 20 per cent of the population able and willing to work is unemployed and nearly half live below the poverty line, according to the latest survey of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics cited in the OCHA report.
It also indicated that the continued blockade on the livelihoods of Gazans – especially farmers, herders and fishermen – has been exacerbated by Israeli restrictions on access to farmland along the border and to fishing areas beyond three nautical miles from the shore.
This grim humanitarian situation was compounded for chronically ill patients as access to specialized medical treatment outside Gaza was dramatically tightened after Hamas took over the Referral Abroad Department (RAD) in late March. Subsequently, the Palestinian Authority-controlled Ministry of Health has not approved or funded applications for treatment outside of Gaza, and without its consent neither Israel nor Egypt will allow patients to exit the Strip.
“While Israel has primary responsibility for this terrible crisis of human dignity in Gaza,” Mr. Holmes stressed that “Hamas must also should its part of the blame because of the indiscriminate and pointless rocket attacks it committed from Gaza for so long,” as well as for its three-year silence over the fate of Israeli captive Gilad Shalit.
The Israeli offensive may have ended in late January with unilateral ceasefires by both sides, but violent clashes – some resulting in deaths – occurring almost daily, according to OCHA.
“In Gaza today, humanity has taken a back seat to politics, and a measly trickle of items has become the most the world can offer civilians trapped by a political stalemate not of their making,” the Under-Secretary-General said.
“Protection, food, water, healthcare and shelter are basic human needs, not bargaining chips,” he underscored. “It is high time that fact is recognized by all the parties responsible for the immense suffering in Gaza today.”