Gaza still waiting for relief

RAMALLAH – Under intense international pressure, Israel declared last week it would ease its crippling blockade on Gaza by permitting an additional but limited number of daily items, including food, into the coastal enclave.

Mel Frykberg, Asia Times, 17 June 2010

Following Israel’s deadly assault on the Free Gaza (FG) flotilla several weeks ago in international waters, during which nine activists were shot dead and dozens wounded as the flotilla tried to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid to the besieged strip, Israeli authorities came under enormous pressure to lift the blockade.

Israel finally relented after it was informed that in exchange for a slight easing of the closure the international community would accept Israel establishing its own investigation into the raid, not an independent one as was initially demanded. (See All at sea over flotilla probes, June 16)

Two international observers, however, will be permitted to monitor the investigation. But the inquiry has already been written off as a whitewash by critics who demanded a more credible one.

One of the observers is David Trimble, a former leader of the right-wing Ulster Unionist Party and former first minister of Northern Ireland. Trimble is also a life peer of Britain’s Conservative Party. On the day of Israel’s bloody flotilla raid Trimble established an Israeli advocacy group named “Friends of Israel”.

However, the easing of the siege has yet to materialize, and if and when it does it will not address the underlying issues which have reduced Gaza’s population of 1.5 million, most of whom are civilians, to abject poverty and turned the enclave into a humanitarian basket-case.

“Permitting mayonnaise and potato chips [two of the items Israel is now considering allowing] into Gaza is really irrelevant in dealing with the root causes of the crisis,” says Maxwell Gaylard, United Nations deputy special and humanitarian coordinator for the Middle East.

“What we need to see is an improvement in Gaza’s water, sanitation, power grid, educational and health sectors. Gaza’s economy is shot to pieces and its infrastructure is extremely fragile. Something dramatic has to happen soon if Gaza is to be seriously rehabilitated,” Gaylard told Inter Press Service (IPS).

Currently approximately 80 items are now allowed into Gaza. A year ago only 40 items were permitted entry. Prior to June 2007, when Hamas took control of Gaza, 4,000 types of goods were allowed in per month on about 10,400 trucks. Now only 2,500 trucks are allowed in monthly.

Israel argues that the siege is for security reasons. But following a lawsuit by the Israeli human-rights organization Gisha, the Israeli government was forced to acknowledge that the siege was a political move.

“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare’,” the government said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), however, says the siege on Gaza is a violation of international law since it is a form of collective punishment against civilians.

Cecelia Goin from the Red Cross in Jerusalem says that any easing of the blockade is a step in the right direction, but adds that there are bigger issues at stake.

Tom Sullivan