Israel must end its suffocating blockade of the Gaza Strip, which leaves more than 1.4 million Palestinians cut off from the outside world and struggling with desperate poverty, Amnesty International said one year on from the end of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
Amnesty International’s briefing paper Suffocating: The Gaza Strip under Israeli blockade gathers testimony from people still struggling to rebuild their lives following Operation “Cast Lead”, which killed around 1,400 Palestinians and injured thousands more.
“Israel claims that the ongoing blockade of Gaza, in force since June 2007, is a response to the indiscriminate rocket attacks launched from Gaza into southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups. The reality is that the blockade does not target armed groups but rather punishes Gaza’s entire population by restricting the entry of food, medical supplies, educational equipment and building materials,” said Malcolm Smart, Middle East and North Africa Director, Amnesty International.
“The blockade constitutes collective punishment under international law and must be lifted immediately.”
As the occupying power, Israel has a duty under international law to ensure the welfare of Gaza’s inhabitants, including their rights to health, education, food and adequate housing
During Operation “Cast Lead”, from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, 13 Israelis were killed, including three civilians in southern Israel, where dozens more were injured in indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups.
In Gaza, Israeli attacks damaged or destroyed civilian buildings and infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, the water and electricity systems. Thousands of Palestinian homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
An estimated 280 of the 641 schools in Gaza were damaged and 18 were destroyed. More than half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 18 and the disruption to their education, due to the damage caused during Operation “Cast Lead” and as a result of the continuing Israeli boycott, is having a devastating impact.
Hospitals have also been badly affected by the military offensive and the blockade. Trucks of medical aid provided by the World Health Organization have been repeatedly refused entry to Gaza without explanation by Israeli officials.
Patients with serious medical conditions that cannot be treated in Gaza continue to be prevented or delayed from leaving Gaza by the Israeli authorities – since the closure of crossings leading into and out of Gaza, patients have been made to apply for permits, but these permits are frequently denied. On 1 November 2009, Samir al-Nadim, a father of three children, died after his exit from Gaza for a heart operation was delayed by 22 days.
Amnesty International spoke to a number of families whose homes were destroyed in the Israeli military operation and one year on are still living in temporary accommodation.
Mohammed and Halima Mslih and their four young children fled their home in the village of Juhor al-Dik, south of Gaza City, during the conflict one year ago. While they were away their home was demolished by Israeli army bulldozers.
“When we returned everything was broken. People were giving us food because we had nothing,” said Mohammed Mslih.
Six months after the ceasefire the family was still living in a flimsy nylon tent and they have only now been able to construct a simple permanent home. The family fear, however, that continuing Israeli military incursions may destroy the little they have left.
Unemployment in Gaza is spiralling as those businesses that remain struggle to survive under the blockade. In December 2009, the UN reported that unemployment in Gaza was over 40 per cent.
“The blockade is strangling virtually every aspect of life for Gaza’s population, more than half of whom are children. The increasing isolation and suffering of the people of Gaza cannot be allowed to continue. The Israeli government must comply with binding legal obligation, as the occupying power, to lift the blockade without further delay,” said Malcolm Smart.