Six months after the end of the Israeli Militarys operation in Gaza, a report from the International Committee of the Red Cross highlights the on-going reconstruction struggle.

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Gaza_red_cross ICRC

Gaza: 1.5 million people trapped in despair

source – www.icrc.org

The International Committee of the Red Cross has published a report (June 2009) entitled

Gaza: 1.5 million people trapped in despair

The report states

Six months after Israel launched its three-week military operation in Gaza on 27 December 2008, Gazans still cannot rebuild their lives. Most people struggle to make ends meet. Seriously ill patients face difficulty obtaining the treatment they need. Many children suffer from deep psychological problems. Civilians whose homes and belongings were destroyed during the conflict are unable to recover.

During the 22 days of the Israeli military operation, nowhere in Gaza was safe for civilians. Hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties, including small children, women and elderly people. Medical personnel showed incredible courage and determination, working around the clock to save lives in extremely difficult circumstances. Meanwhile, daily rocket attacks launched from Gaza put thousands of residents at risk in southern Israel. Medical workers in Israel provided care for the traumatized population and treated and evacuated casualties.

Many children witnessed violence during the military operation. Bedwetting, insomnia and agitated behaviour are widespread. Thousands of children and adults need counselling to deal with emotional scars and post-traumatic stress.

Many people in Gaza lost a child, a parent, another relative or a friend. Israel’s military operation left thousands of homes partly or totally destroyed. Whole neighbourhoods were turned into rubble. Schools, kindergartens, hospitals and fire and ambulance stations were damaged by shelling.

This small coastal strip is cut off from the outside world. Even before the latest hostilities, drastic restrictions on the movement of people and goods imposed by the Israeli authorities, particularly since October 2007, had led to worsening poverty, rising unemployment and deteriorating public services such as health care, water and sanitation. Insufficient cooperation between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas administration in Gaza had also hit the provision of essential services. As a result, the people of Gaza were already experiencing a major crisis affecting all aspects of daily life when hostilities intensified in late December.

Six months later, restrictions on imports are making it impossible for Gazans to rebuild their lives. The quantities of goods now entering Gaza fall well short of what is required to meet the population’s needs. In May 2009, only 2,662 truckloads of goods entered Gaza from Israel, a decrease of almost 80 per cent compared to the 11,392 truckloads allowed in during April 2007, before Hamas took over the territory.

Breaking the cycle of despair and destitution

The report concludes –

Over the last two years, the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip have been caught up in an unending cycle of deprivation and despair as a result of the conflict, and particularly as a direct consequence of the closure of the crossing points.

The ICRC has repeatedly pointed out that Israels right to address its legitimate security concerns must be balanced against the right of the population in Gaza to lead a normal and dignified life. Under international humanitarian law, Israel has the obligation to ensure that the population’s basic needs in terms of food, shelter, water and medical supplies are met.

The ICRC once again appeals for a lifting of restrictions on the movement of people and goods as the first and most urgent measure to end Gaza’s isolation and to allow its people to rebuild their lives.

The almost 4.5 billion dollars that donor countries pledged for reconstruction at an international summit in Egypt in March 2009 will be of little use if building materials and other essential items cannot be imported into the Gaza Strip.

In any case, reconstruction alone does not offer a sustainable means of getting Gaza back on its feet. To go back to the situation prior to the latest military operation would be unacceptable, as that would only perpetuate Gazas plight.

A lasting solution requires fundamental changes in Israeli policy, such as allowing imports and exports to and from Gaza, increasing the flow of goods and people up to the level of May 2007, allowing farmers to access their land in the de-facto buffer zone and restoring fishermen’s access to deeper waters.

Humanitarian action can be no substitute for the credible political steps that are needed to bring about these changes. Only an honest and courageous political process involving all States, political authorities and organized armed groups concerned can address the plight of Gaza and restore a dignified life to its people.

The alternative is a further descent into misery with every passing day.