Gaza humanitarian crisis deepens

On November 7, the Israeli High Court of Justice gave Israeli PM Ehud Olmert's government one week to present data to back up its assertion that its newest economic sanctions against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip — planned electricity supply cuts in particular — will not cause "unreasonable harm" to its 1.5 million residents.

The court had earlier heard appeals from 10 human rights organisations charging that cutting electricity to Gaza is illegal collective punishment, because Gaza remains dependent on Israel for most of its electricity and all of its fuel.

In September, Israel declared the Gaza Strip a "hostile entity", clearing the way for economic sanctions.

On October 22, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OCHA OPT) issued a statement saying that drastic measures must be taken in order to relieve the situation facing Palestinians in Gaza.

"The economic noose continues to tighten around the necks of the people of Gaza, who are being manifestly punished as part of a political strategy", UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs John Holmes said.

In an October 29 statement, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said that he "believes strongly that punitive measures taken by Israel which harm the well-being of the entire population of the Gaza Strip are unacceptable".

The statement noted that the Karni crossing, the main crossing into Gaza for the commercial goods, has been closed by Israel since June 13 and that the number of medical drugs unavailable in the Gaza Strip increased from 61 items in September to 91 in October.

It noted that the World Health Organisation had reported that in Gaza's primary health care clinics, there were zero stocks of pediatric drugs, including antibiotics and vitamin A and D supplements, and a shortage of chronic disease drugs.

"The quantity of commercial and humanitarian goods allowed into the Gaza Strip continues to decline", the UN statement noted. "Only 1494 truckloads entered Gaza during the month of October, compared to 1508 in September and 2468 in August. The amount of goods entering Gaza has decreased by 71% since before the Karni closure, from an average of 253 truckloads per day in April to an average of 74 in October."

The statement also noted that the "Israeli Air Force conducted 11 air strikes in the Gaza Strip in October compared to 6 in September. On 29 October and 1 November, the air strikes missed their targets and damaged two schools in Beit Hanoun... IDF tanks and bulldozers entered northern and eastern Gaza seven times in October to conduct levelling and excavation operations.

"Twenty-eight Palestinians were killed by Israeli military air strikes and ground operations inside the Gaza Strip, including two children and one disabled man. Seventy others were injured, including three women and nine children. Two of the children were aged less than three years old."

In an August 17 report, John Duggan, the UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on the OPT, accused Israel of violating "the most fundamental rules of international humanitarian law" in its "war on terrorism".

He stated that, "Terrorism is a relative concept, particularly in the context of occupation, as opposition to the occupying power will always be seen as terrorism by the occupying power and its accomplices. French resistance fighters were viewed as terrorists by the German occupation, and members of the South West Africa Peoples' Organization that opposed South Africa's occupation of Namibia were seen as terrorists by the South African regime. Today such resistance fighters are seen as heroes and patriots. This is the inevitable consequence of resistance to occupation."

Israel's repeated breach of Palestinian human rights, however, will not be up for discussion at the upcoming US-sponsored "peace summit" in Annapolis, Maryland, later this month. Instead, the focus will be on demanding further concessions from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to ensure Israeli's "security".

Writing in the October 18 British Guardian, Ali Abunimah, one of the founders of Electronic Intifada website and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, described the Annapolis conference as nothing more than a "big budget Broadway extravaganzas" that will achieve nothing. This is primarily because, Abunimah noted, neither Olmert nor Abbas have "the credibility or strength to negotiate on behalf of those whom they purport to represent", and without Hamas attending the conference "there can be no serious peace talks".

The November 7 Tel Aviv Haaretz reported that Israeli military intelligence also "believes any chances of the Annapolis conference being a success is 'close to nil'", because "Abbas' inner circle is cut off from the Fatah rank and file, and has difficulty exerting its authority over the various military wings of Fatah (the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in the various West Bank cities) and its political activists".