Forty international aid agencies and NGOs Say: End the Siege of Gaza!

June 22, 2009

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH Jun 20 (IPS) – Forty international aid agencies and
NGOs have released a joint statement condemning Israels
blockade of Gaza to mark the second anniversary of the coastal
territory being hermetically sealed off from the outside world.

We United Nations and non-governmental humanitarian
organisations express deepening concern over Israels
continued blockade of the Gaza Strip which has now been in force
for two years.

These indiscriminate sanctions are affecting the entire 1.5
million population of Gaza and ordinary women children and
the elderly are the first victims read the statement to mark
the anniversary Wednesday.

Simultaneously an increasingly concerned U.S. administration
is pressuring Israel to change its Gaza policy and alleviate
unnecessary suffering. Three weeks ago U.S. officials sent a
diplomatic letter to Israeli government officials expressing
alarm at the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem say the note was delivered
following agreement between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell
and senior administration officials.

The officials argue that Israels collective punishment of
Gazas mostly civilian population is counterproductive.

The U.S. has also rejected Israels argument that the opening
of Gazas borders is linked to the release of an Israeli
soldier captured by Palestinian guerrillas three years ago.

The Gaza embargo was one of the chief subjects of discussion
when Mitchell visited Israel recently. Clinton raised the
subject once again when Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman met her in Washington Wednesday.

Israel started a gradual blockade of Gazas borders when the
second Intifadah or Palestinian uprising broke out in 2000.
The closure was tightened when Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit was
captured by Hamas fighters in June 2006.

However following Hamass coup in June 2007 when the Islamic
resistance organisation routed western-backed Fatah forces
affiliated with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud
Abbas Israel hermetically sealed off the coastal territory.

Israel allows in only a bare amount of humanitarian aid. Most
food products and other goods including construction material
desperately needed to rebuild Gazas infrastructure devastated
by Israeli bombing during the war in January are forbidden.

So desperate are Gazans that several tried to smuggle nuts and
coffee into Gaza mixed into animal feed. Both items are banned
by Israel.

The Ad-Damir Human Rights Foundation warned this week that
animal feed comprises chemicals and waste and consuming the
nuts and coffee could have adverse health effects.

The situation is desperate devastating and unbearable. Each
day that passes brings more misery and suffering said John
Ging head of Gazas UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) one of
the signatories to the joint statement.

When asked what good the statement would do in light of years
of complaints falling on deaf ears Ging told IPS We will not
give up telling the truth. We have a responsibility to innocent

We are convinced that if the policy and decision makers behind
the blockade could witness the situation in Gaza first-hand
they would change their minds. Those who dont believe what we
are saying we invite them to come to Gaza and see the situation
for themselves first hand.

We were determined to mark the two-year sealing of the borders
with a coordinated effort said Mike Bailey of Oxfam another
signatory to the statement.

Bailey expressed frustration at the ever-changing list of goods
Israel allows in. School textbooks clothes shoes toys
lentils pasta pumpkin fruit juice chocolate cigarettes
toilet paper musical instruments and seedlings are amongst the
items banned.

Every month the list changes so we are not sure what will and
wont be permitted to enter the following month and this makes
it harder to coordinate relief Bailey told IPS.

A decision by the Israeli government in March to enable
unrestricted entry of all foodstuffs provided the source is
approved by the Israeli authorities has not been implemented.

Human rights groups argue that there is no security basis for
the list of banned goods. The U.S. administration has taken
this argument up and demanded answers from Israel.

A U.S. protest note sent to Israels foreign and defence
ministries and to the Prime Ministers office demanded a more
liberal opening of the border crossings to facilitate

The U.S. first wants adequate amounts of food medicine and
cash to be transferred into the territory. It also wants the
borders to be opened sufficiently to allow imports and exports
to rebuild Gazas decimated economy.

According to a
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

(OCHA) report released Jun. 15 the number of truckloads of
humanitarian goods entering Gaza on a monthly basis now is a
quarter of the number that entered prior to Israels blockade.

In May 82 drug items in Gaza were at zero level up from 65 in
April. At the same time 95 disposable items had reached zero
level up slightly from 90 in the previous month.

During May the World Health Organisation (WHO) coordinated the
entry of one shipment of medical drugs or disposables while
another four shipments of materials were put on hold by the
Israeli authorities. The latter shipments contain x-ray
materials as well as medical and IT equipment.

Petrol apart from small quantities for UNRWA and to operate
emergency generators at wastewater treatment plants and
hospitals has been banned since November last year. Gaza is
instead relying on deep underground smuggling tunnels from Egypt
for both petrol and other essentials. (FIN/2009)