The United Nations is calling for the urgent lifting of Israeli military restrictions on civilian access to Gaza’s land and sea, which has eroded the livelihoods of Palestinian residents and worsened the plight of a population already under an economic blockade.
Over the past 10 years, the Israeli military has expanded restrictions on access to farmland on the Gaza side of the 1949 Armistice Line between Israel and Gaza – also known as the ‘Green Line’ – and to fishing areas along Gaza’s coast, with the stated intention of preventing attacks by Palestinian armed factions.
“This regime has had a devastating impact on the physical security and livelihoods of nearly 180,000 people, exacerbating the assault on human dignity triggered by the blockade imposed by Israel in June 2007,” states the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Food Programme (WFP), which carried out a study on the impact of the restrictions.
Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza, where some 1.5 million Palestinians live, over three years ago for what it called security reasons after Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.
Most farmers interviewed for the study reported that their income from agriculture had been reduced by less than a third of the previous amount since the expansion of the restricted area in 2008, while others said their incomes were wiped out.
In addition, the income lost in the fishing sector as a result of the access restrictions is estimated at some $26.5 million over a five-year period.
The study said that the erosion of livelihoods has forced affected families to develop a variety of coping mechanisms. For example, farmers affected by the destruction or loss of access to fruit orchards or greenhouses have shifted to the cultivation of open-air crops, mostly wheat and barley.
One coping mechanism in the fishing sector has been to sail into Egyptian waters to buy fish from Egyptian fishermen, which is subsequently sold in markets in Gaza. The trips to the sites where these transactions are conducted are long and dangerous, lasting between six and 10 hours in each direction, and expose fishermen to the risk of coming under fire or being arrested by Israeli or Egyptian naval forces.
Other fishermen opt to import Egyptian fish through tunnels running under the Gaza-Egypt border.
Some Palestinians also report the gradual liquidation or renting of personal and productive assets to generate income – from selling off women’s jewellery and gold, to selling or renting land, equipment, greenhouses, and livestock.
The restrictions also affect access to schools, seven of which are located within the restricted areas, and have significantly impeded the maintenance and upgrade of existing wastewater and electricity infrastructure, negatively impacting the provision of services to the entire population of Gaza, according to the study.
“To start addressing the dire situation of one of the most vulnerable segments of Gaza’s population, the current restrictions on civilian access to Gaza’s land and sea must be urgently lifted to the fullest extent possible,” OCHA and WFP stated.
They also cited the need for larger and better targeted humanitarian assistance to mitigate the impact of the ongoing erosion of livelihoods and to prevent a further deterioration of the situation for Gaza’s inhabitants.