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“Little improvement” in Gaza despite easing of blockade

A coalition of 22 development, human rights and peace-building organisations has today published a report calling for the complete lifting of the blockade to Gaza. Entitled ‘Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade’, the report has been compiled by charities active in the region such as Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Save the Children, Oxfam and the Catholic Agency for Oversees Development (CAFOD).

According to the group of 22 organisations, any loosening of Israel’s embargo six months ago has meant “little improvement” to the daily lives of Gaza’s 1.5 million citizens, half of which are children. The director of Oxfam International, Jeremy Hobbs, says that “only a fraction of the aid needed” has reached the population in Gaza and with the blockade still in place, it is proving impossible to provide civilians with access to “clean water, electricity, jobs and a peaceful future

Imports such as food and consumer goods have been rising since the easing of the embargo, though they still only represent just over a third of the level going into the region before the blockade was tightened in 2007. And according to the writers of the report, the continued ban on exports (apart from strawberries and flowers) is “crippling” the local economy. Two-thirds of Gaza’s businesses have closed since June 2007 and the remainder are operating at a reduced capacity. For example, clothing factories in the region are now allowed to import fabrics, but the blockade prohibits them from exporting any finished goods. Movement within the region also remains restricted with travel permits for Gazans running at less than 1 per cent of the number granted ten years ago. Though business people are being allowed to leave the territory, ordinary citizens are unable to visit relatives or access educational opportunities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or abroad.

The report also highlights the desperate need for more construction materials, which are currently brought into Gaza at around one tenth of 2007 pre-blockade levels. The United Nations (UN) has only received 7 per cent of the necessary materials for its planned reconstruction programme of schools, clinics and housing. The humanitarian organisations say it will take decades for the UN’s Relief and Works Agency to complete its projects at the current rate of supply.

Overall, the director of Amnesty International, Kate Allen, believes the ‘easing’ has done little to change a “cruel and illegal blockade collectively punishing the entire civilian population”. In a counter statement, the Israeli military body which controls crossings into Gaza (COGAT), called the report’s claims “biased and distorted” and points to the security and logistical issues which still surround the export of goods and import of construction supplies.

However, some experts on the situation say security arguments carry less weight since a freedom of information request forced the Israeli government to release certain documents last month. These files revealed the original tightening of the blockade was intended to put pressure on Hamas by “deliberately reducing” basic goods into Gaza. In today’s report, the coalition of organisations therefore argues that “upholding the rights and needs of civilians in Gaza must not be conditional on other political objectives.

Laurinda Luffman signature