Reducing Gaza to Destitution

Sunday, February 3, 2008 12:21 PM

For the present deplorable situation is Gaza, brought about by an economic embargo, see below an article by the commissioner general for UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. 

As a practical matter, the much-vaunted "international community" boils down to Washington, the EU, and the UN Security Council. Washington has become a client-state of Tel Aviv and a surrogate of the U.S. "Israel Lobby". That much is now clear to most neutral observers. As for the EU, it is dominated by its economic powerhouse, Germany, which must as a matter of course follow the dictates of Tel Aviv, or else be ostracized and demonized. Thanks to history, Germany is incapable of possessing an independent foreign policy when it comes to the Middle East. In effect, Washington and Berlin dance to the tune played by Tel Aviv, as accompanied by Tel Aviv's international orchestra. 

In New York, the UN Security Council is dominated by Washington and the EU. The UN General Assembly is window-dressing and of no consequence. Ergo, when it comes to Mideast policy, the public agenda of the "international community" is dominated by Tel Aviv and its U.S. "Israel lobby". Under these circumstances, there should be little wonder that the Gaza Strip has been embargoed by Washington and that the EU has gone along with this shameful policy. For the same reasons, Tel Aviv has been getting away with murder for decades in occupied Palestine. Is it really such a mystery why all current U.S. presidential candidates studiously avoid the issue of Palestine, even though the plight of the Palestinians is at the heart of Mideast instability and conflict? 

U.S. politicians dare not touch this "third rail" of American politics, because it would mark the end of their professional careers, and they know it. Should it have come as a surprise that Washington invaded Iraq? Is it so surprising that many Democratic and Republican leaders are comfortable with the idea of bombing Iran? American and German politicians are not going to be serious about confronting realities that would deprive these small-minded individuals of their precious jobs. Is the so-called "war on terror" unavoidable and inescapable? Why do you think this confrontation got started in the first place? Wrapping oneself in the American flag and calling for "victory" is not just a convenient evasion of the issue. It is active collaboration in a fraudulent, self-destructive enterprise. Or, under a best case scenario, an indication of rank stupidity. Sometimes it is combination of all three.


The Middle East's Leading English Language Daily

Sunday 3 February 2008 

Reducing Gazans to Destitution Won’t Bring Peace 

Karen Koning AbuZayd, Arab News —

Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and — some would say — encouragement of the international community. An international community that professes to uphold the inherent dignity of every human being must not allow this to happen.

Across this tiny territory, 25 miles long and no more than 6 miles wide, a deep darkness descended at 8 p.m. on Jan. 21, as the lights went out for each of its 1.5 million residents. A new hallmark of Palestinian suffering had been reached.

There have been three turns of the screw on the people of Gaza, triggered in turn by the outcome of elections in January 2006, the assumption by Hamas of de facto control last June, and the Israeli decision in September to declare Gaza a “hostile territory”. Each instance has prompted ever-tighter restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. Each turn of the screw inflicts deeper indignity on ordinary Palestinians, breeding more resentment toward the outside world.

Gaza’s border closures are without precedent. Palestinians are effectively incarcerated. The overwhelming majority cannot leave or enter Gaza. Without fuel and spare parts, public health conditions are declining steeply as water and sanitation services struggle to function. The electricity supply is sporadic and has been reduced further along with fuel supply in these past days. Unicef reports that the partial functioning of Gaza City’s main pumping station is affecting the supply of safe water to some 600,000 Palestinians.

Medication is in short supply, and hospitals are paralyzed by power failures and the shortage of fuel for generators. Hospital infrastructure and essential pieces of equipment are breaking down at an alarming rate, with limited possibility of repair or maintenance as spare parts are not available.

It is distressing to see the impact of closures on patients who need to travel outside Gaza to get medical treatment. The demand for such treatment is rising as medical standards fall inside Gaza. But the permit regime for medical referrals has become more stringent. Many have had their treatment delayed or denied, worsening their medical conditions and causing preventable deaths.

Living standards in Gaza are at levels unacceptable to a world that promotes the elimination of poverty and the observance of human rights as core principles: 35 percent of Gazans live on less than two dollars a day; unemployment stands at around 50 percent; and 80 percent of Gazans receive some form of humanitarian assistance. Concrete is in such short supply that people are unable to make graves for their dead. Hospitals are handing out sheets as funeral shrouds.

As the head of a humanitarian and human development agency for Palestinian refugees, I am deeply concerned by the stark inhumanity of Gaza’s closure. I am disturbed by the seeming indifference of much of the world as hundreds and thousands of Palestinians are harshly penalized for acts in which they have no part.

In discharging its mandate, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) delivers a variety of services to improve living conditions and prospects for self-reliance. It is impossible to sustain our operations when the occupying power adopts an “on, off”, “here today, gone tomorrow” policy toward Gaza’s borders. To take one example, last week we were on the verge of suspending our food distribution program. The reason was seemingly mundane: Plastic bags. Israel blocked entry into Gaza of the plastic bags in which we package our food rations.

In today’s Gaza how can we foster a spirit of moderation and compromise among Palestinians, or cultivate a belief in the peaceful resolution of disputes? There are already indications that the severity of the closure is playing into the hands of those who have no desire for peace. We ignore this risk at our peril.

What we should be doing now is nurturing moderation and empowering those who believe that Gaza’s rightful future lies in peaceful coexistence with its neighbors. We welcome the new efforts to resuscitate the peace process, revive the Palestinian economy and build institutions. These pillars, on which a solution will be built, are the very ones being eroded.

Last week, the people of Gaza received a temporary reprieve when the occupying power allowed fuel and other supplies to enter: 2.2m liters of fuel per week for the Gaza power plant and 0.5m liters a week for industrial usage, hospitals and clinics. We have been informed that the crossings into Gaza will be partially open, allowing UNRWA and other organizations to bring in about 50 trucks a day. No one knows how long the reprieve will last as the resumption of Qassam rocket fire, which we ourselves strongly condemn, will lead to further closures.

The people of Gaza have been spared from reaching new depths of anguish — but only for the moment.

There has never been a more urgent need for the international community to act to restore normality in Gaza. Hungry, unhealthy, angry communities do not make good partners for peace.

— Karen Koning AbuZayd is commissioner general for UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Copyright: Arab News