Right to livelihood denied to Gazans

In Perspective


Like the Biblical strongman Sampson, the international community remains blind to the grim realities of Gaza. Instead of exerting pressure on Israel to lift its siege and blockade of the Strip and its 1.5 million Palestinian inhabitants, the world’s leaders provide them with a pittance which keeps people alive but poor.

Eighty-five per cent of Gazans subsist on UN aid. Israel, which controls all the goods crossings into the Strip, permits only basic humanitarian supplies to enter in strictly limited amounts. No raw materials and no cemment, no steel, no glass and no aluminium for construction come through Israeli-controlled crossings. Consequently, water, sewage, and other infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the Israeli war early this year have not been repaired or reconstructed. Some 50,000 Palestinian families have not been able to rebuild homes wrecked by Israeli bombs and shells; the homeless live with relatives or in flats too expensive for their budgets. Unemployment is running at 40-50 per cent. Skilled workers who once had jobs in Israel are sweeping the streets in temporary employment schemes and thousands more are working in smuggling tunnels running under Gaza’s southern border into Egypt. Imports through the tunnels provide Gazans with the goods they want and need and create an illusion that there is an economy.

Lifeline

The shelves of shops that have survived siege and sanctions are filled with household items, fresh and tinned food, and cheap clothing. Women cook with gas bottles dragged through the tunnels and cars run on petrol and diesel piped through fuel tunnels.
Livestock and even cars emerge from larger tunnels. Although Israel routinely bombs one or two, the remaining 1,300-1,500 tunnels have created a new class of entrepreneurs. They not only stock the shops but also cafes and restaurants which are doing good business.

On Thursday night, before the Friday holiday, the streets of Gaza city were packed with horn-hooting cars, the shops on the main thoroughfares were decked out inbright lights to attract custom. The Mazaj Cafe on Omar al-Mukhtar street was filled with affluent young men and women sipping coffee and delving into chunks of dark cho- colate cake smothered in cream. But most Gazans cannot afford rich cake or even the modest price of masala tea at this cafe.

Gazans breathe a bit easier these days but are not optimistic about their future. They see no hope for the lifting of the siege and blockade. They fear that the Hamas government in Gaza will not be able to reconcile with the Fateh government in the West Bank since their differences remain wide on a whole range of issues, including reform of the security agencies, elections, and inclusion of Palestinians in the diaspora in decision-making.

In an appeal to the international community to act, John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that cares for the refugee populace here, called for financial aid for the cash-strapped agency. “The people are prevented from sustaining themselves because of the illegal siege on Gaza. Well, if we’re not capable politically of getting the siege lifted... then the minimum that we must do is pay the financial price of keeping them alive.”

Hope lost

He told Deccan Herald, “Eighty-five per cent depends on handouts of food from the UN to survive. All aspects of life are a struggle. People are losing hope. The whole society is being broken down and the mindset is being transformed so that a decent, civilised people becomes hostile. The most vulnerable are the children, half the population. They are susceptible to the environment, which gives opportunities to extremism.”

Opening the borders to allow imports of materials for reconstruction, manufacturing, and agriculture and to permit exports would “unleash the potential” of the workforce and of “entrepreneurs who remain committed” to Gaza, Ging stated.

But Palestinians are not optimistic that anything will be done to relieve the unbearable pressure on them.

So far, the international community has refused to insist on an end to Israel’s siege and blockade and the application of the ‘rule of law’ which prohibits collective punishment.
Gazans are being punished for voting for Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election and for failing to oust Hamas after it seized control of the Strip in 2007. “But the people of Gaza, struggling to put bread into their childrens’ mouths, cannot do anything,” said Hala over her cup of coffee in the upmarket Mazaj Cafe. “The world’s leaders have to act,” added Safa. Najla asserted, “Palestinians cannot even work to support our cause. We are in a situation where he cannot help ourselves.”

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