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12 May 2008 07:19
Gaza’s population has been reduced to a “subhuman existence” where basic humanitarian needs are going unmet in the face of rapidly deteriorating conditions, according to a senior United Nations official.
An Israeli economic blockade on the Gaza Strip, home to 1,5-million Palestinians, has produced shortages of fuel and basic supplies and has closed most private businesses and pushed up poverty rates.
John Ging, director of operations in Gaza for the UN Refugee and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees, said the crisis and continuing toll of civilian deaths were feeding a “growing sense of injustice” among Gaza’s population.
“It is a disaster for everybody because it’s touching everybody in every aspect of their life, from the moment you get up in the morning until you go to bed at night,” he said. “The way things have been reduced here, there’s a very sub-human existence for the general population.”
Israel has significantly reduced the amount of fuel it sells to Gaza and there are now such shortages of diesel and petrol that many cars run on cooking gas or vegetable oil and that many schools can now longer bus their pupils to class.
Israel only allows 2,2-million litres of industrial diesel into Gaza for the strip’s sole power plant each week, which means it can produce just 45 to 55MW of electricity, compared to 80MW if it was fully fuelled, and the more than 100MW it was able to produce before the plant’s transformers were bombed by Israeli aircraft two years ago.
On Saturday, the power plant cut back its output even further, leaving most of Gaza City in darkness for several hours, because not enough fuel had been supplied.
Fuel shortages have affected water systems, leaving the 70Â 000 people who rely on water from fuel-pumped wells with a precarious supply, and meaning that 60-million litres of raw and partially treated sewage are being pumped straight into the sea every day.
Israeli officials argue that they will continue to allow in enough fuel, food and aid to avert a humanitarian crisis and claim that Hamas is manipulating the situation, partly by hoarding fuel. “Israel is facilitating the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip while at the same time it is being attacked from that territory,” the government said in a statement last week. “Israel holds Hamas fully responsible for these attacks and their consequences.”
Israeli officials also criticised the continued firing of rockets and mortars by militants into southern Israel. An Israeli man was killed last Friday when a mortar struck his home at the Kfar Aza collective farm, near the Gaza border, and hours later the Israeli military killed five Hamas policemen in an airstrike. Attacks by militants in Gaza have killed five Israeli civilians and five soldiers this year. Israeli military attacks on Gaza this year have killed at least 312 Palestinians, of whom 197 were unarmed civilians, including at least 44 children, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
Ging said the delivery of aid was “inadequate for the basic needs of the population”.
“The definitions of a humanitarian crisis are rather obscene when compared with just how people are having to struggle to survive here at the moment,” he said.
“For everybody here, they have a daily crisis in their life to survive and that crisis is created by a policy to close the Gaza Strip off from the outside world.”
He accepted there were “serious security challenges” in operating the crossings into Gaza, which have been attacked by Palestinian militants. “The challenge is to overcome those,” he said.
“The equation cannot be reduced to actions based on the illegal actions of others. The rocket attacks were illegal and to be condemned, he said. “But it doesn’t justify a retaliation that is also illegal.”
Several senior international officials, including Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the commissioner for external relations for the European Commission, have described Israel’s policy towards Gaza as “collective punishment”.
Ging noted that the crossings were able to operate enough to supply fuel to the power plant and for the UN—although the UN’s food distribution to nearly 800Â 000 people had to be briefly halted last month because of a lack of fuel—and should therefore be able to supply fuel for the civilian population.
Gaza’s crisis could be eased if the crossings were opened to imports and exports, in line with a key agreement on access to Gaza negotiated in late 2005 by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “The solution is simple: open the crossings,” Ging said.
The UN agency runs by far the largest aid operation in Gaza, providing food aid to around 80% of the population and educating 200Â 000 children, as well as operating health and social services and microfinance projects.
“The civilian population are not lost to civilisation. They have not given in to violence as the only way,” Ging said.
“They are actually struggling to protect themselves against that and they are getting no support. If this were understood—that Gaza is not lost to violence, that Gaza is not hopeless rather that the majority of people in Gaza are civilised—then the whole equation would change,” he said
“People respond much more positively to help than they do to force, coercion or violence.” - guardian.co.uk Â
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