EYAD AL-SARRAJ AND SARA ROY
Ending the stranglehold on Gaza
By Eyad al-Sarraj and Sara Roy | January 26, 2008
AN ISRAELI convoy of goods and peace activists will go today to Erez,
Israel's border with Gaza, and many Palestinians will be on the other
side waiting. They will not see one another, but Palestinians will
know there are Jews who condemn the siege inflicted on the tiny
territory by Israel's military establishment and want to see an end to
the 40-year-old occupation.
Israel's minister of justice, Haim Ramon, had pushed for cutting off
Gaza's "infrastructural oxygen" - water, electricity, and fuel - as a
response to the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel. Last Sunday,
Ramon's wish came true: Israel's blockade forced Gaza's only power
plant to shut down, plunging 800,000 people into darkness. Food and
humanitarian aid were also denied entry. Although international
pressure forced Israel to let in some supplies two days later, and the
situation further eased when Palestinians breached the border wall
with Egypt, the worst may be yet to come.
strategy, saying that it is "inconceivable that life in Gaza continues
to be normal." The rapid and deepening desperation of Gaza's sick and
hungry is of no moral concern to her. For Livni, like Ramon, the siege
is a tactical measure, a human experiment to stop the rockets and
bring down a duly elected government.
The siege on Gaza and the West Bank began after Hamas's 2006 electoral
victory with an international diplomatic and financial boycott of the
new Hamas-led government. Development assistance was severely reduced
with the improbable aim of bringing about a popular uprising against
the very government just elected to power. Instead, this collective
punishment resulted in a steady deterioration of Palestinian life, in
growing lawlessness, and a violent confrontation between Fatah and
Hamas, which escalated into a Hamas military takeover of Gaza in June
Since then, the siege has been tightened to an unprecedented level.
Over 80 percent of the population of 1.5 million (compared to 63
percent in 2006) is dependent on international food assistance, which
itself has been dramatically reduced.
In 2007, 87 percent of Gazans lived below the poverty line, more than
a tripling of the percentage in 2000. In a November 2007 report, the
Red Cross stated about the food allowed into Gaza that people are
getting "enough to survive, not enough to live."
Why is this acceptable?
The reduction in fuel supplies that the Israeli government first
approved in October not only threatens the provision of health and
medical services but the stock of medicines, which is rapidly being
depleted. This has forced the critically ill to seek treatment outside
the Gaza Strip.
However, according to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, many
patients are being denied permission to leave, because of new
bureaucratic restrictions imposed on top of an already inefficient and
arbitrary system. The organization has also accused the Israeli
intelligence service of forcing some patients to inform on others in
order to be granted passage.
Since June, Israel has limited its exports to Gaza to nine basic
materials. Out of 9,000 commodities (including foodstuffs) that were
entering Gaza before the siege began two years ago, only 20
commodities have been permitted entry since. Although Gaza daily
requires 680,000 tons of flour to feed its population, Israel had cut
this to 90 tons per day by November 2007, a reduction of 99 percent.
Not surprisingly, there has been a sharp increase in the prices of
Gaza also suffers from the ongoing destruction of its agriculture and
physical infrastructure. Between June and November 2006, $74.7 million
in damage was inflicted by the Israeli military on top of the nearly
$2 billion already incurred by Palestinians between 2002 and 2005.
Over half the damage was to agricultural land flattened by bulldozers,
with the remainder to homes, public buildings, roads, water and sewage
pipes, electricity infrastructure, and phone lines.
The psychological damage of living in a war zone may surpass the
physical. According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem,
between Sept. 1, 2005, and July 25, 2007, 668 Palestinians were killed
in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli security forces. Over half were
noncombatants and 126 were children. During the same period, Qassam
rockets and mortar shells killed eight Israelis, half of them civilians.
Gaza is no longer approaching economic collapse. It has collapsed.
Given the intensity of repression Gaza is facing, can the collapse of
its society - family, neighborhood, and community structure - be far
behind? If that happens, we shall all suffer the consequences for
generations to come.
Eyad al-Sarraj is founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.
Sara Roy is senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University.