GAZA CITY – With nearly one million out of the Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million population living on handouts, the UN warned that the strip’s economy would collapse if its crossings continue to be closed by Israel, reported The New York Times on Thursday, July 19.
"If present closures continue, we anticipate that Gaza will become nearly a totally aid-dependent society, a society robbed of the possibility of self-sufficiency and the dignity of work," warned John Ging, UN Refugees and Works Agency (UNRWA) Director.
Israel has closed all crossings into Gaza since Hamas seized control of the strip last month after bloody conflict with rival Fatah.
The closures forced many factories to shut down, causing more than 68,000 workers to lose their jobs.
Around 85% of Gaza’s private-sector employees have gone out of work.
The inability of Gazans to export drove some 3,000 businesses to the wall last month alone.
"The siege of Gaza is destroying our economy, our communities and our sense of hope in the future," said Naser al-Helo, who is barely able to keep his business open.
"It is radicalizing the people of Gaza making your vision of bringing peace to the Middle East ever more distant dream."
Most of the 1.5 million people in the strip are now dependent on aid.
Up to 825,000 receive aid from UNRWA while an additional 250,000 people are being fed by the World Food Program.
A report by the Israeli human rights group Gisha early July said Israeli closures left 85 percent of Gazans living on aid and sent the Gaza economy on the verge of collapse.
Children raced to help parents collect food from UN aid distribution centers in the Gaza Strip as women sat in the shade near trucks, waiting for their names to be called to receive their food rations.
"There are many families who are in need of your help and they do not get it," said Saeed Darwish, a father of 10.
He added that UN food aid had become the "lifeline" for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the strip.
"We now have only God and then UNRWA," said Ahmed al-Jammal, a father of five, inside an aid center in Gaza City.
"We have no other source of income," he said as he received sacks of flour and rice and bottles of cooking oil.
Gazans receive aid packages every three months.
Umm Saleh said her family, including seven children, depended on UNRWA aid but had other things to worry about.
"We need money, we have children who study at schools and universities, they need clothes and stationery," she said at another aid distribution center in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.
UNRWA appealed to new Quartet envoy Tony Blair, due in Israel and the West Bank on Monday, July 23, to visit Gaza to see for himself the deteriorating economic situation in the impoverished coastal area.
"First he has to see what is going on and the best way would be if he came down to Gaza, at least to talk to those of us who live here," said Karen Abu Zayd, UNRWA commissioner-general.
"It is a time of great worry about the future."
(IslamOnline.net + News Agencies – July 19, 2007)