Gaza blockade continues to exact high humanitarian toll – UN rights expert

22 October 2010
Petrol is often sold in bottles because of restrictions on imports to the Gaza Strip by Israel since 2007

The people of Gaza continue to suffer from the humanitarian consequences of the Israeli blockade of the area, despite the recent partial easing of the restrictions, a United Nations independent human rights expert said today.

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 ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.

“The situation in Gaza remains very serious from a humanitarian perspective. The blockade has been eased in some respects, but it has been maintained in other respects, and it continues to put the population there under great psychological and physical stress,” Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, told reporters at the UN Headquarters in New York.

“One has to understand that this population has been trapped in this crowded small area now for three years … and even before then it was a very difficult place to live – largely impoverished, too crowded and a lot of internal chaos,” he said.

Israel’s continued refusal to allow export of goods from Gaza has destroyed its internal economy, and young people from Gaza continue to be denied the right to visit their families in the West Bank and East Jerusalem or to attend universities in other parts of the territories, said Mr. Falk, who presented his latest report to the General Assembly earlier this week.

The Gaza blockade and the accelerated expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, he said, exact an enormous human cost on every Palestinian. Other practices making the lives of the people of Gaza difficult include demolitions of their houses, evictions and revocation of residency permits.

“But beyond that [it] has made the vision of peace based on the two States consensus, premised on Israeli withdrawal, almost, clearly a political impossibility at this stage,” he said. “You have the disconnect between an intergovernmental peace process that appears to be premised on an illusion, the illusion that at the end of this process is an independent, sovereign Palestinian State.”

In his report, his last in his capacity as Special Rapporteur, the expert reminded the world of the dire situation of residents of the West Bank. “Because so much attention has been devoted to Gaza during the course of the last several years, it is often assumed that material conditions in the West Bank are acceptable,” he said.

But a recent study, he pointed out, has found that in Area C, which is totally under Israeli military control and comprises nearly two-thirds of the West Bank, the conditions of more than 40,000 Palestinians are worse than they are in Gaza.

Presenting his report to the Assembly, Mr. Falk underlined that “the cumulative effects of the settlements, the security wall, and the extensive settler-only road network has been to convert the conditions of de jure ‘occupation’ into a set of circumstances better understood as de facto ‘annexation.’”

He told journalists today that civil society initiatives are an important way to establish solidarity with Palestinian efforts to achieve the right of self-determination, as well as to challenge what he described as the “unlawful dimensions of the Israeli occupation.”


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