Israel's siege strangles Gaza

July 8, 2011

The campaign of repression, slander and sabotage against the Freedom Flotilla II in its efforts to break the blockade of Gaza shows how desperately Israel and its supporters wish to keep the conditions in the besieged Palestinian enclave out of the world's view.

The illegal Israeli blockade, in place since 2007, has crippled the Gazan economy and brought widespread misery to Gaza's 1.5 million people. A secret US diplomatic cable from October 2008, released by WikiLeaks in January, revealed the situation was intentionally created by Israel.

“Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that  they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis,” the cable said.

“As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed … on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” said on July 3 that people in Gaza suffer from “80% aid dependency, 95% of water is undrinkable, a mere 20% is food secure ... and 38% [are] living below the poverty line”.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said on June 30 that unemployment in Gaza had reached 45.6%. UNRWA also said on June 13 that real wages in Gaza had fallen “34.5 per cent since the first half of 2006”.

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said the blockade “has certainly been highly successful in punishing some of the poorest of the poor in the Middle East region”.

Gaza's medical supplies hit a new low in June, with 180 out of a list of 480 essential drugs completely out of stock, Inter Press Service said on June 20. The figure is up from 80-90 items out of stock reported soon after the blockade began in 2007.

Israel has maintained a constant military offensive on the strip, which includes frequent deadly offensives that kill Palestinian fighters and civilians alike.

More than 20 Gazans ― including civilians ― were killed by the Israeli military in March and April, as the Israeli government talked up the possibility of another war on Gaza.

Years of bombing have also destroyed key infrastructure, such as roads, medical facilities and factories, causing serious day-to-day problems for Gaza residents. Much of this infrastructure is not able to be rebuilt due to the blockade.

Also denied is the right to freedom of movement. A recent study by the Lancet found Israeli roadblocks, along with being a constant inconvenience and site of humiliation, caused major delays for 10% of women seeking hospital during childbirth. reported on July 6 that 35 babies and five mothers died waiting at Israeli checkpoints throughout the occupied territories between 2000 and 2007.

This system of human rights abuse is supported by Israel's allies. A July 2 statement released by the Middle East Quartet ― which includes the US, UN, European Union and Russia ― said “Israel has legitimate security concerns that must continue to be safeguarded”, while it was working to “prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza”.

A September 2010 US Congressional Research Service report said the US government had given Israel about US$3 billion in military aid every year since 1985.

The Middle East Quartet's statement called on governments to stop any future aid flotillas to Gaza, while tacitly acknowledging the 2010 flotilla's role in forcing Israel to ease the blockade.

Israel now faces what its media has called an “air flotilla”, with hundreds of activists planning to arrive at Ben Guiron airport in Tel Aviv. Dubbed the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign, activists intend to make explicit their intention to travel to the West Bank when interviewed at customs.

Israeli authorities have threatened to stop the activists entering, with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying arrival of the protesters “is a continuation of the efforts to undermine Israel’s right to exist”, reported on July 5.

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