Israel imposed a stifling blockade on the Gaza Strip after the success of the Islamic Resistance Movement in the 2006 Palestinian elections; its grip was tightened in the summer of 2007. The blockade controls the flow of fuel and electricity as well as everyday items such as food, fresh water and medicine; fishermen are prevented from sailing beyond a punishing 3 mile limit and the border crossings between Gaza and Israel are more or less kept closed.
Since 2007, Israel has only allowed 2 crossings out of 7 to open to any degree. It has kept the Karm Abu Salem crossing between Egypt, Gaza and Israel as the only route for commercial goods, through which it allows a severely limited number of trucks to enter Gaza. The Beit Hanoun-Erez crossing in the north of the Gaza Strip is the only passenger crossing kept open by the Israelis, and even that is limited, with permission to leave or enter restricted.
The leaders of the military coup in Egypt are helping to enforce the blockade by closing the Rafah crossing, Gaza's only meaningful route to the outside world. Smuggling tunnels which have been used to take basic necessities, including fuel and medicines, into Gaza are being destroyed by the Egyptian army. These tunnels have been described by outsiders as "Gaza's lifeline".
Palestinian economists have pointed out that the cost of the blockade is estimated at $460 million. On top of that there is the food insecurity for almost 60 per cent of the population of Gaza, with 30,000 jobs lost since the coup in Egypt at the beginning of July. Unemployment in Gaza now stands at 43 per cent of the available work force. When all of this is added to the serious shortage of medicines, with around 50 per cent of the drugs on the Essential Drugs List unavailable due to the blockade, it can be seen that it is having very serious repercussions. Four hundred children under 15 years of age have died due to the lack of suitable drugs to treat them; they are testimony to the deadly nature of the siege.
Gaza is facing a humanitarian catastrophe. The demand for food by a rising population is not being met by the supply. The number of lorries being allowed into Gaza with commercial goods is less than 50 per cent of the required number to meet daily needs across all sectors, let alone food or building materials to rebuild after the destruction of Operation Cast Lead and subsequent Israeli attacks on the population and infrastructure.
Pressure needs to be brought to bear on the Egyptian authorities so that goods can be taken legally into the Gaza Strip, boosting the economy and making it less dependent on Israel and susceptible to Israeli blackmail and sanctions.
Various studies show that Israel's economic policies have had serious effects on the living conditions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For political reasons, the effects are more serious in Gaza due to the scarcity of various goods and materials there, not to mention the population growth and resultant pressure on the economy and job market. Of the 1.6 million people in the Gaza Strip, 52 per cent are children under 15 years of age. Data suggests that everyone in work in Gaza supports 5 people currently not working.
As the losses mount during the siege (estimated at $1.5m daily), GDP has fallen by 50 per cent and more than two-thirds of the Palestinians in Gaza live below the official poverty line of $2 per day. The average per capita income in 2012 was $1,200, a figure which is expected to fall below $1,000 by the end of this year.
A total collapse of the economic system has been avoided in part by the extent of social solidarity through Zakat Committees, neighbourhood centres and money transfers from abroad.
After looking into the effects of the Israeli blockade, the closure of the Rafah crossing and the destruction of the tunnels it has become essential to put in place mechanisms to ease the suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It may be best to entrust this task primarily to Arab financial institutions which have the potential to fund small and medium projects which can help to reduce the worsening unemployment in the territory and make people less aid dependent. Such a fund could also be used to help the fishing sector; around 40,000 Palestinians depend on fishing for their livelihood. They need up to 40,000 litres of fuel a day if they are to operate at anywhere near normal levels.
It remains to say that the situation requires pressure to be imposed by Arab countries on the coup regime in Egypt to keep the Rafah crossing open in both directions and stop the demolition of the tunnels. If all of these "lifelines" are destroyed, it will put the people of Gaza back to the first, dark, stifling days of the blockade. The Egyptian government has it within its control to limit the catastrophic consequences of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Will it take the opportunity to do so?
This is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared on Al Jazeera net on 11 October, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.