By Stephen Lendman
A December 2009 report prepared by Oxfam International, Amnesty International UK, United Civilians for Peace, Christian Aid, and a dozen other international NGOs (called NGOs below) titled, "Failing Gaza: No rebuilding, no recovery, no more excuses" is hard-hitting and to the point.
It says a year after Operation Cast Lead, extensive damage hasn’t been repaired and thousands "are being prevented from rebuilding their shattered society." It’s not from a lack of commitment or enough resources with over $4 billion in pledged aid. It’s because Israel blocks goods and equipment from entering Gaza. The world community and Arab world do nothing to stop them, so much of the Strip still lies in ruins.
Following Hamas’ January 2006 electoral victory, all outside aid was cut off. Sanctions and an economic embargo were imposed, and the democratically elected government was falsely designated a terrorist organization and isolated. Stepped up repression followed as well as regular IFD attacks, killings, targeted assassinations, property destruction, and more. Gazans have been imprisoned ever since.
Since June 2007, the Strip has been under siege, described in an August 2009 OCHA report ("Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip") as a:
"protracted human dignity crisis with negative humanitarian consequences." At its heart is the "degradation (of) living conditions," the erosion of livelihoods, the lack of vital services in the areas of health, water, sanitation and education, and the collapse of essential infrastructure in the wake of Operation Cast Lead.
Gazans can’t leave, export anything, or live freely on their own land. In addition, Israel lets in restricted amounts of essential goods, far too inadequate to relieve the grave humanitarian crisis by design to essentially starve its residents into submission, or perhaps eliminate as many of them as possible by slow motion genocide.
In addition, all materials needed to rebuild are prohibited, including cement, glass, wood, gravel, steel bars, spare parts, and more. In May, the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce reported unemployment reached 65%, poverty 80%, and the longer the siege continues, the higher these figures go. Further, 96% of Gaza’s industrial capacity was destroyed and closed, and well over 80% of the population is aid-dependent. Yet most get below minimal amounts of virtually everything.
Expressing alarm and frustration, the NGOs say:
"Israel has the primary responsibility to end the blockage." So does the world community to stop the illegal collective punishment of 1.5 million people. "The people of Gaza have been betrayed (by powerful nations) which can and must do far more to end the illegal and inhumane blockade:" an unconscionable grievous crime against humanity.
The NGOs’ report focuses on what the international community can do, especially the EU as "a major funder of humanitarian and development programmes in (Occupied Palestine) and Israel’s largest export market."
Thus far, its nations have abstained, as have others able to help. In a March 2008 report, many of the NGOs warned that the siege caused the most deplorable conditions in Gaza since the 1967 war and occupation. Then in September, they examined the Quartet’s record (the US, Russia, EU and UN), warning that:
"if the cessation of violence ends, the consequences for civilians – both in terms of violent attacks against civilians and the humanitarian situation – will be dire. To this end, all Quartet members should demonstrate robust, public support for the cessation of violence and take further steps to deepen it."
The two and a half year siege, compounded by Operation Cast Lead’s mass killings and devastation "left a legacy of destruction and loss. It is time to allow the people of Gaza to begin to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives and rebuild, by ending the blockade that prevents them. There must be no more excuses."
Israel’s Agenda: Siege and Blocked Rebuilding
Before the blockade, on average 70 daily Gazan truckloads were exported and 583 let in with essential and other goods. During the siege’s first two years, about one-fifth of previous amounts got in while nearly all exports were prohibited.
Currently, Israel lets in only about 35 categories of items compared to 4,000 pre-siege. Yet no published list exists, so there’s no consistency on what is or is not allowed as well as amounts. For example, fruits entering one day are prohibited on another as luxuries, and the same qualification applies to virtually everything as pure harassment and collective punishment.
Also, needless delays are imposed. For shelter kits, on average 85 days; health and pediatric kits, 68; and household items like bedding and kitchen utensils, 39.
Banning them prevents essential rebuilding of houses and other structures. As a result, thousands of homes, factories, businesses, schools, hospitals, mosques, and other structures, totally or partly destroyed, are affected. So are razed agricultural lands, destroyed farms, fields, crops, olive trees, and irrigation systems depriving farmers of their livelihoods and Gazans essential food in amounts to sustain health.
Pre-siege, construction materials comprised over half of Gaza’s imports, around 7,400 truckloads monthly. After June 2007, it dropped to an average 31, and in the past year, it’s a bare four loads a month trickle. Case-by-case exceptions are made but in small amounts, then cancelled merely to harass. For example, a promised cement shipment to rebuild Gaza’s flour mill was denied for no apparent reason, and most entering is smuggled through Gaza’s tunnels into Egypt. But it’s too little and at inflated prices so unaffordable for most people.
Exceptions permitted "demonstrate how possible it is to allow (in everything needed. Gazans) desperately need (a) systematic, large-scale reconstruction operations – and (a) change of policy that would allow this. Piecemeal and patchwork initiatives simply make no impact on the scale of the destruction which people in Gaza are living with a year on" from the war.
The Cost: No Reconstruction, No Recovery
International assessments of Gaza’s destruction range from $659 – $892 million. Others estimate $1 billion or more because so much of the Strip was affected, including homes, agriculture, government and private structures, and vast amounts of infrastructure. The war’s toll left an estimated 600,000 tons of rubble, most still in place, and clearing it entails 200,000 or more person-days to complete.
The UN estimated around 53,000 homes sustained minor damage, but over 15,000 were destroyed or heavily damaged, displacing 100,000 residents forced to live with relatives, in tents, or if lucky in habitable rented apartments. Many are still there.
Industry and Jobs
Hundreds of private factories and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged, amounting to millions in losses not recovered. Gaza got a double blow. "Not only is cement largely denied by the blockade, but according to the UN, 19 of Gaza’s 27 ready mix concrete plants were also either badly damaged or destroyed….including (its) only cement packaging and storage plant."
Pre-siege, it was substantial, producing up to 400,000 tons annually. A third included tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, flowers and fruit, much of it in greenhouses. Farms supplied a portion of Gaza’s food needs and employed over 40,000 people or 13% of its workforce. The war took its toll destroying an estimated 17% of tillable land, including open fields, olive, date, and other fruit orchards. In addition, bombing and bulldozing demolished greenhouses, livestock shelters, irrigation channels, wells and pumps "on a huge scale."
Then in May, Israel declared a 300-meter "buffer zone" no-go area around Gaza’s perimeter (in some places extending up to two km) affecting up to one-third of the Strip’s agricultural land and putting half or more of it all out of production.
The war caused extensive long-term damage on top of earlier attacks putting it on the verge of collapse. During the conflict, Gaza’s main power station closed for 10 days for lack industrial diesel from Israel. In addition, most power lines supplying electricity from Israel and Egypt were destroyed, causing a 75% or greater shortfall.
During the offensive, one million Gazans had no power, and a half million no running water. In addition, sewage couldn’t be treated so it was dumped into the Mediterranean polluting beaches or ran in streets causing a severe health problem.
Bombing destroyed transformers, pylons, cabling, and the main stores and vehicles of the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO). While key power lines are restored, 90% of residents endure power cuts of four – eight hours daily. Affected are homes and all other facilities, including hospitals forced to rely on back-up generators, themselves vulnerable for lack of spare parts.
Industrial fuel is also restricted causing the power plant to switch on and off when it’s designed to stay running. As a result, it’s wearing out and may end up beyond repair.
Water and Sanitation
Its infrastructure is badly damaged enough to need millions for restoration. Over 30 water network km were damaged or destroyed. Most are partly repaired, but nothing in Gaza functions properly given shortages of everything, including spare parts.
The conflict also destroyed or damaged 6,000 rooftop water tanks, 840 household connections, and key storage tanks throughout the Strip. A lack of cement prevents rebuilding. Generator imports also are prohibited, essential to supply water during power outages that increase in winter. Besides water stoppages, lost pipe pressure pollutes groundwater sent through them to households compounding the ongoing health crisis.
The WHO estimated that the war destroyed or damaged half of Gaza’s 122 health facilities, including 15 hospitals, 41 primary care centers, and 29 ambulances. Most now function but far short of optimally given the siege’s constraints. There’s a chronic shortage of everything, including specialized medical personnel to deal with severe war injuries requiring extensive or complicated surgeries as well as the proper equipment to perform them.
Besides the siege’s affects, war destruction greatly exacerbated a bad situation, unrelieved by an inability to rebuild. As a result, in the past year, 82% of government schools and 88% of UNRWA ones operated on double shifts to accommodate Gaza’s children.
During the war, 18 schools were destroyed, and at least another 280 damaged, affecting thousands of students. "To date, almost nothing has been rebuilt or repaired as a result of the" construction materials ban also affecting textbooks and other educational supplies. New schools are needed and damaged ones repaired to begin to restore Gazan education to normality.
Isolating Gaza isn’t new. Since 2000, it’s been subject to closures, but near totally since mid-2007 in defiance of international law. By enforcing Gaza’s blockade, "Israel is violating the absolute prohibition on collective punishment in international humanitarian law…."
Responsibility of the International Community, Especially the EU
As the occupying power, Israel is obligated under international law to assure the safety and well-being of civilians – "protected persons" as defined by Fourth Geneva’s Article 4.
At the March 2009 donor’s conference, over $4 billion in reconstruction aid was pledged, of which $1 billion came from EU countries. "The EU and the rest of the international community have again taken responsibility for repairing damage cause by (Israel), but failed" to see it’s delivered.
For their part, EU nations haven’t sought compensation for damage to their funded projects, estimated at tens of millions in 2000.
Fourth Geneva obligates third parties to conform to international law in all respects. So far, effective action is absent despite the May 2008 Quartet’s call for a "new approach" on Gaza. None followed nor from the Security Council’s January 8 Resolution 1860 (adopted 14 in favor with Washington abstaining) calling for an "Immediate, Durable, Fully Respected Ceasefire in Gaza Leading to Full Withdrawal of Israeli Forces (followed by) Unimpeded Humanitarian Assistance" and reopening of Gaza’s crossings.
So far, the Security Council has done nothing to implement its order, only binding on Israel if enforced. Yet, the EU expressed clear opposition to the siege, most recently at a December Foreign Affairs Council session saying:
"the continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive. It has devastated the private sector economy and damaged the natural environment, notably water and other natural resources."
It also called for "an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza," but keeps abstaining from backing its words with action. It also hasn’t recognized the siege as "collective punishment" under international law, leaving its statements toothless, disingenuous, and contemptible.
So while its members extend new economic and trade privileges to Israel (after freezing their upgrading during the war), it denies Gazans the basics of life and contemptuously sells Israel weapons to batter them again. Also, few of its officials visited Gaza to view the devastation and assess its affects first.
In fact, the Quartet contributed to Gaza’s isolation by not recognizing Hamas, the Occupied Territory’s elected government, not Fatah under Mahmoud Abbas and the appointed prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who usurped it in the West Bank illegitimately.
Diplomatic Initiatives and Plans
"The international community appears to have accepted the blockade, seeking little more than small concessions." Yet in May 2009, the UN formulated a specific plan to deliver construction materials for a number of stalled health, housing, and education projects. It guaranteed Israel’s security in return for letting it proceed. Then negotiations got diverted to a few pilot projects, not the full package, so:
"almost nothing has been allowed into Gaza under this plan….The international community’s failure to do enough (perhaps nothing beyond rhetoric) to halt the blockade is a sign of the wider failure to hold all parties to account for violations of international humanitarian law."
In June 2009, Jimmy Carter, like others with similar comments, said:
"Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than human beings….Never before in history has a large community been savaged by bombs and missiles and then deprived of the means to repair itself. The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem (under Netanyahu), Cairo (under Mubarak), and Washington (under Obama who treats Palestinians as contemptuously as George Bush and the worst Republican extremists)."
Call to Action
Stopping this outrage demands action, what the NGOs urgently call for, saying "no more excuses." They want the Quartet, EU, and international community to commit to ending the siege, pressure Israel to assure it, have its government compensate Gazans for their losses, and hold guilty parties accountable under international law. Otherwise, they’ll be "no rebuilding, no recovery," and no measures to prevent further attacks or to end decades of illegal occupation.
Israel, of course, responded, like it always does when cornered with no credible defense, so it attacks critics like respected human rights groups, accusing them of organizing a campaign of false allegations, misinformation, and malicious personal attacks.
It also uses Zionist front groups like the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor to disseminate propaganda, debase the legitimate human rights community, and promote a pro-Israeli agenda defending the indefensible.
It countered with its own report titled, "Trojan Horse: The Impact of European Government Funding for Israeli NGOs," with its president, Gerald Steinberg saying:
"These (international NGOS) continue to exploit moral, legal and humanitarian principles in order to promote political warfare against Israel. Many of the claims in (their) report are not supported by credible evidence, and reflect double standards. Through this systematic bias regarding Israel, these NGOs have lost respectability, and the European governments that fund such attacks share responsibility for this abuse."
Never mind the array of respected human rights organizations, jurists, and activists universally condemning Israel’s war crimes, documenting them extensively in detailed reports, and calling for accountability.
Never mind Israeli officials fearing arrest in European cities, advised to contact the Judge Advocate General’s office prior to traveling, and a UK arrest warrant issued for former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, for war crimes under the universal jurisdiction principle, by which nations may prosecute alleged criminals for offenses committed outside their borders.
According to Richard Goldstone, former South African Constitutional Court justice and head of the UN Human Rights Council’s Goldstone Commission, its precedent was Israel’s Adolph Eichman seizure, trial, conviction on 15 charges (including crimes against humanity and the Jewish people), death sentence, and June 1, 1962 hanging.
Despite Israel’s denial, coverup, and protestations, plus help from what James Petras calls the "Zionist Power Configuration (ZPT)" and supportive front groups like NGO Monitor, the evidence is clear, extensive, and conclusive. Israeli officials committed decades of the most grievous crimes of war and against humanity against defenseless Palestinian civilians, Operation Cast Lead one of the worst, but many others also particularly horrendous that still continue near daily.
Those responsible must be held accountable under the law, the same as Adolph Eichman and convicted Nazis at Nuremberg. Globally, people of conscience, including many thousands of Jews, demand and deserve no less.
A Final Comment
On December 27, B’Tselem launched a "public campaign" to lift the Gaza siege, saying:
"This is necessary to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip from the destruction wrought by the hostilities….The siege has led to economic collapse, isolating one and a half million Gazans….and reduc(ed) most of them to poverty and a life of unemployment, extremism and hopelessness."
Most of them need outside aid. Many thousands are still homeless, and can’t rebuild because materials can’t enter. "Not only is the siege unlawful and immoral, it is also utter folly." Hamas is more popular than ever. Global outrage keeps building for resolution and an end to the occupation. Yet one year after Operation Cast Lead, there’s been no accountability for Israel’s lawlessness nor justice for a beleaguered, oppressed people. No longer can this outrage be tolerated nor should it.
– Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: email@example.com.