29 December 2009
The United Nations independent expert on Palestinian rights has again called for a threat of economic sanctions against Israel to force it to lift its blockade of Gaza, which is preventing the return to a normal life for 1.5 million residents after the devastating Israeli offensive a year ago.
“Obviously Israel does not respond to language of diplomacy, which has encouraged the lifting of the blockade and so what I am suggesting is that it has to be reinforced by a threat of adverse economic consequences for Israel,” Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, told UN Radio.
“That probably is something that is politically unlikely to happen, but unless it happens, it really does suggest that the United States and the Quartet and the EU [European Union] don’t take these calls for lifting the blockade very seriously and are unaffected by Israel’s continuing defiance of those calls,” he said, referring to the diplomatic Quartet of the UN, EU, Russia and US, which have been calling for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), the main UN body tending to the needs of some 4 million Palestinian refugees, said today Gaza had been “bombed back, not to the Stone Age, but to the mud age,” because UNRWA was reduced to building houses out of mud after the 22-day offensive Israel said it launched to end rocket attacks against it.
“The Israeli blockade has meant that almost no reconstruction materials have been allowed to move into Gaza even though 60,000 homes were either damaged or completely destroyed. So we in UNRWA have been saying ‘let’s lift this senseless blockage,’” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told UN Radio.
“We are the United Nations and we always hope that diplomacy will prevail, and it will prevail above the rationale of warfare. But if you look at what is going on in Gaza, and if you look at the continued blockade and the fact that that blockade is radicalizing a population there, then one has to have one’s doubts.”
In a statement last week, Mr. Falk stressed that the “unlawful blockade” was in its third year, with insufficient food and medicine reaching Gazans, producing further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population.
Building materials necessary to repair the damage could not enter Gaza, and he blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings.
Mr. Falk also deplored the wall being built on the borders between Gaza and Egypt.
“I’m very distressed by that, because it is both an expression of complicity on the part of the government of Egypt and the United States, which apparently is assisting through its corps of engineers with the construction of this underground steel impenetrable wall that’s designed to interfere with the tunnels that have been bringing some food and material relief to the Gaza population,” he told UN Radio.
“And of course, the underground tunnel complex itself is an expression of the desperation created in Gaza as a result of this blockade that’s going on now for two and a half years, something that no people since the end of World War II have experienced in such a severe and continuing form.”
As a Special Rapporteur, Mr. Falk serves in an independent and unpaid capacity and reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.
In a new policy brief, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), entrusted with promoting the integration of developing countries into the world economy, reported that more than 80 per cent of Gaza’s population are now impoverished; 43 per cent unemployed; and 75 per cent lack food security. “In view of the eroded productive base, poverty is likely to widen and deepen unless reconstruction begins in earnest and without further delay,” it warned.