Gaza: Under Israel's tight grip

Last Updated : 07 September 2015, 18:24 IST
Last Updated : 07 September 2015, 18:24 IST

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Without urgent action to reverse accelerated “de-development,” Gaza may become uninhabitable by 2020 as a result of Israel's military operations and economic siege and blockade, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has warned in a report on the occupied Palestinian territories.

The organisation states that during the 2014 conflict, half a million people were displaced and 20,000 Palestinian homes, 148 schools, 15 hospitals and 45 primary health centres were destroyed or severely damaged. Gaza’s only power station, electricity lines, agricultural wells, factories, businesses and desalination plant were damaged too.

The cost of the conflict to the agricultural sector alone is estimated at $550 million. The report states, “Three Israeli military operations in the past six years, in addition to eight years of economic blockade, have ravaged the already debilitated infrastructure of Gaza, shattered its productive base, and left no time for meaningful reconstruction or economic recovery.”

Gazans are worse off than they have been for the last two decades. UNCTAD warns that unless the blockade is lifted, “donor aid...will not reverse the ongoing de-development and impoverishment.”

Before the 2014 conflict - which was far more devastating than the 2009 and 2012 wars - Israel’s blockade had “inflicted large-scale destruction on Gaza's local economy, productive assets and infrastructure.” Acute shortages of water, electricity, and fuel impacted the strip’s economic sectors as well as households. The electricity supply, essential for advancement, met less than 40 per cent of demand.

Since the imposition of the 2007 blockade, exports from Gaza have been “almost completely banned, imports and transfers of cash restricted and the most basic humanitarian goods suspended,” the UNCTAD wrote. Last summer’s war, “impacted an already paralysed economy at a time when...conditions” had fallen to the lowest level since Israel occupied the strip in 1967.

During the past year, Gaza’s GDP has shrunk by 15 per cent, unemployment has soared to 44 per cent, the highest recorded level, and “de-development” has been accelerated. The Gazans are more impoverished than they were before the [1993] Oslo Accords which were meant to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and more deprived than their compatriots in the West Bank “who are subject to significant but comparatively less destruction.”

Military operations and “economic siege” have “eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid.” Food insecurity affects 72 per cent of households, forcing the majority into dependency on humanitarian aid to meet basic needs. The number of Palestinian refugees who rely entirely on UN rations has ballooned from 72,000 in 2000 to 8,68,000 in May 2014.

A report, entitled, “Education Under Fire”, issued by the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, reveals that 13 million children in West Asia and North Africa are deprived of schooling by conflict and political upheaval. In Gaza, during the 51 day 2014 war, 551 Palestinian children were killed and 3,370 wounded. When the 2014-15 school year began, half a million children were unable  to return to school for several weeks because of damage inflicted on schools. The conflict “left deep scars in the psyche of children and their caregivers.”

Oslo accord
The UN has predicted that the population of the narrow coastal strip, with an area of 360 square kilometres, will be 2.1 million by 2020 and the population density will reach 5,800 people per square kilometre.

In 1993, Palestinians reached the Oslo Accord with Israel, gained limited self-rule and launched infrastructure construction and development projects. Gazan farmers exported flowers and seasonal fruit and vegetables to Europe, Gaza’s entrepreneurs built new hotels on the beachfront and set up factories on the border with Israel to manufacture clothing and other goods. Between 1998-2000, there were daily flights on small Palestinian commercial aircraft to Gaza’s international airport. There was hope that Gaza could become a tourist destination and an economic hub: self-supporting.

The honeymoon between Palestinians and Israelis ended in September 2000 when the second Palestinian uprising erupted due to Israel’s refusal to implement the Oslo accord and colonisation of land Palestinians demanded for their state. Since then Israel has used “security” as the pretext for restricting movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, stated Israel’s Gesha peace group.

After Israel’s 2005 withdrawal of soldiers and settlers, it remained in full control of Gaza’s access by air, land and sea. Bet-ween 2007-10, Israel permitted into Gaza only those goods considered “vital for the survival of the civilian population” – shoes, paper, coffee, tea, and construction materials were banned. Ga-zans dug tunnels under the str-ip’s border with Egypt and brought in essential supplies, commercial goods, fuel and arms.  
In 2010, Israel eased restrictions somewhat. But since 2013, Egypt has destroyed most of the tunnels, depriving Gazans of food, medicine, cement, and consumer items. Trapped between the hard regimes of Israel and Egypt, Gaza’s economy is declining, 1.8 million Gazans are suffering.

Published 07 September 2015, 18:24 IST

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