It's no secret that the situation in the Gaza Strip has deteriorated seriously as the ongoing blockade bites ever deeper into everyday life. The humanitarian catastrophe has been made even worse — if ever that was possible — by Israel's brutal military offensives over the past few years, and its frequent, often deadly, incursions.
It is time to ask free people around the world, human rights organisations, humanitarian and aid agencies, and the wider international community how many victims they are waiting to fall before their collective conscience awakens sufficiently to have the inhumane Israeli-led siege lifted?
Two million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, but they are not simply statistics; they are human beings, and just like all other human beings they deserve life opportunities, dignity, employment, health, education and freedom of movement. The alarms bells are ringing. Take a close look at the catastrophic situation in the Gaza Strip, where all sectors essential to life are at breaking point.
Consider, for example, the fact that society in the Gaza Strip is close to collapse in terms of the basic requirements of family life. With the poverty rate standing at 80 per cent, 65 per cent are existing below the extreme poverty line. The unemployment rate in the besieged enclave is 50 per cent, half of which are young people and university graduates.
As a result, a staggering three-quarters of Palestinians in Gaza depend on emergency relief, which is no longer easily available; 40 per cent of children have anaemia and malnutrition; 17,000 orphans suffer because humanitarian sponsorship has not been forthcoming thanks to the banks closing charity bank accounts and blocking the transfer of essential funds. Fifty thousand people with disabilities need treatment and rehabilitation, but there is just no money available to pay for this.
In fact, Gaza's health sector is in a critical condition, possibly the worst since the imposition of the blockade by Israel. Many patients have died due to the lack of treatment or because there is no possibility of traveling abroad for treatment.
Around half of the medicines on the "essential drugs list" are unavailable in Gaza. Hospitals are lacking even the most basic medical supplies and medicines, including the disposables necessary for them to work effectively.
The Israeli blockade means that spare parts for hundreds of important medical devices cannot be imported, leaving them to lie unused and unusable. Cancer patients — 13,000 at the last count — need vital treatment, but can't access it at home or abroad. Indeed, in the whole Gaza Strip, there are thousands of Palestinians, especially the poor, who are chronically ill. The whole sorry state of the health sector is made even worse by the daily power cuts and lack of fuel for emergency generators, which are in any case meant for emergencies, not semi-permanent use.
The environment is one of the most important sectors affected by the Israeli siege, military offensives and the targeting of Palestinian infrastructure, all of which pose a clear and present danger to people's lives. The situation has been getting worse day by day, but now at least 95 per cent of the water in the Gaza Strip is not fit for human consumption according to World Health Organisation standards.
Coupled with this, is the fact that 150,000 cubic metres of untreated sewage are pumped daily onto the land and into the sea due to the destruction of the sewage treatment works and the lack of spare parts for repairs. The regular and lengthy electricity power cuts make matters worse.
The economic situation in the Gaza Strip is dire, due almost entirely to Israel's siege and military offensives. Around 80 per cent of Gaza's once-booming factories have closed either completely or partially. Even if they were open, the blockade means that goods can be neither imported nor exported, and the local market alone cannot sustain production levels. Business owners are estimated to be losing around $250 million directly and indirectly every year, and the blockade is entering its 11th year.
Attacking the education sector has always been a basic objective for the Israeli occupation authorities. The siege is in part designed to complete this. Despite the periodic destruction of their facilities, the enclave's universities are seeing thousands of new graduates each year. Sadly, as many as 10,000 a year fail to find permanent or temporary employment. At least 85 per cent of university students are unable to pay their study fees.
At primary and secondary level, 400 schools operate two shifts per day to accommodate the growing demand for places. In UNRWA schools, there are, on average, 50 students per class.
About 80 per cent of the students from poor families do not have their daily expenses, and suffer from malnutrition because they cannot buy food. Poverty affects teachers as well; many are not paid their full salaries, if they get paid at all.
The Israeli occupation government restricts the entry of
many construction materials, making reconstruction of the Gaza Strip virtually impossible. Furthermore, several countries have failed to fulfil their financial commitments to aid the reconstruction process, despite a well-publicised "donor conference" in Cairo.
This means that 40 per cent of homes completely destroyed in the 2014 Israeli military offensive have not yet been rebuilt, leaving thousands of families still living in rented accommodation that is not intended for family units. In fact, thousands of "homes" are actually unsuitable for human habitation, with more than a quarter of a million families still homeless because of the poverty and devastation caused by Israel's wars against the Gaza Strip.
The daily electricity cuts and lack of fuel continue to have a hugely negative effect on life in the Gaza Strip. All residents are affected as power cuts occur for between 12 and 20 hours every day. Tragically, 31 people, including 23 children, have been burned to death since 2010 due to accidents caused by the enforced use of candles and insecure lighting.
One of the most serious manifestations of the siege suffered by the people of the Gaza Strip is the closure of the border crossings, which means that the territories' Palestinians are denied freedom of movement. The vital Rafah Crossing on the border with Egypt, for example, was only open for 21 days in 2017. All of the commercial crossings into and out of Gaza are closed, except for the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom. The number of trucks allowed to use the crossing is severely restricted and insufficient to fulfil the basic needs of the Palestinians in the territory. At least 400 items are in any case prohibited by the Israelis from being imported into the Gaza Strip, mostly raw materials and construction materials.
Although the Beit Hanoun/Erez Crossing at the north end of the Gaza Strip is technically open, many patients and business people are denied permission to cross into Israel and the world beyond. A number of people trying to cross have been detained by the Israelis, who use entry permits as a bribe to try to get patients and their relatives in particular to spy for them.
In the face of this catastrophic situation, the Charity Association in the Gaza Strip has issued a list of urgent requirements of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the international community:
- We call on the Palestinian Authority to take urgent action to ease the suffering of the people in the Gaza Strip and to remove its punitive measures as a matter of urgency.
- We call upon the international community to take urgent action to end the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and to provide the Palestinians therein with the basic necessities of life.
- We call on the Egyptian government to open the Rafah Border Crossing permanently for pedestrian traffic and goods and to facilitate the access of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
- We call upon the Arab, Islamic and international humanitarian aid institutions, charities and other bodies to launch an urgent relief campaign to save the Gaza Strip from this human and entirely man-made catastrophe.
- We call upon the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to provide essential services to all Palestinians in need without delay.
- We call upon the banks to stop closing the accounts of charitable associations and institutions so that relief work can continue unhindered, serving orphans, widows and the poor.
- We call upon the world's media to report honestly on the situation in the Gaza Strip, as well as the "Save Gaza" campaign.
The Charity Association in the Gaza Strip is launching an appeal to all free people around the world and those who have consciences and hearts in order to take action without delay. The "Save Gaza" campaign is intended to move the world into providing humanitarian assistance to more than two million Palestinians besieged in the Gaza Strip, which has become a disaster zone. Gaza deserves to live. The Palestinians in Gaza deserve to live. Anything less would be a travesty of human rights and international law.
Dr Essam Yousef is the head of the Popular International Committee to Support Gaza.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.