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Response to the Israeli Cabinet’s Decision to Ease the Siege on Gaza

Bianca Zammit | ISM Gaza

28 June 2010

On June 17th 2010, the Israeli Cabinet decided to take steps to ease the Israeli-imposed siege on Gaza by allowing more items to enter. These items include mayonnaise, ketchup, chocolate, sweets and children’s toys, all of which have been prohibted from entering Gaza for the last 3 years. Some other items which will be allowed to enter will be going to civilian projects under the auspices of international NGOs.

While welcoming this Israeli initiative, the fact remains that many people in Gaza are living below the poverty line and cannot afford to buy these items. 80% of the population in Gaza is dependent on the UNRWA for food staples and basic living amenities. Now in its fourth year, the siege has created a miserable and unsustainable reality for all. The majority of the population albeit educated and skilled is unemployed and is forced to rely on foreign aid in order to get by. Factory workers can no longer operate since the siege halted raw materials from entering Gaza. In addition, Israel has impeded factories from exporting their goods to the outside world. Since the start of the siege 90% of Gaza’s factories are defunct. During Operation Cast Lead, factories were a major target and have remained so to date. In March 2010, Israeli warplanes struck a cheese factory in a deliberate attack, destroying equipment and machinery. Items which enter Gaza are screened for their possible usage in factories. A tahina factory in Gaza requested the entry of plastic containers. In response, Israel declared that it would not allow containers in but instead it would allow tahina made in Israel to enter. To allow Gaza to export products and import raw materials is a critical step in ending the humanitarian crisis brought about by the siege.

The siege has forced 60% of Gaza’ population into unemployment. Besides targeting factory workers, the siege has also direct implications for the traditional farming and fishing industries. Israel has tightened its grip on both sea and land and imposed new policies which fall short of international law and agreements. Live ammunition is used, with deadly consequences, against farmers and fisherpersons working in internationally-recognized Gazan sea and land. The potentially lethal risk faced by these workers has forced many into unemployment. Further injuring the industries, Israel has banned all equipment related to farming and fishing.

The siege has caused more than half of the population into unemployment and dependency on foreign aid. The siege also puts a complete halt to freedom of movement. Every border crossing in Gaza is closed, including the sea and air on which Israel exerts full control. The only Gazans allowed to exit are people requiring treatment in a foreign hospital, students and pilgrims. Even for these people, exit is never guaranteed and often requires days of sleeping at the border and humiliating security checks. The wait can be so long that many people die before they can visit a specialist hospital outside of Gaza. Families spread between Gaza and the West Bank or other counties outside the Occupied Palestinian Territories are not permitted to meet. A new policy enacted in April 2010 seeks to deport to Gaza all Gaza-born Palestinians living in the West Bank. This policy creates further suffering, causing families to become separated. This policy has direct implications for Gazan students studying at West Bank universities, as they can be arrested and brought to Gaza at any time, preventing them from completing their studies.. For the last three years, families who have a member in an Israeli jail have also been denied prison visit permits.

Over time, Israeli will perhaps take further measures to ease the assault on daily life Gaza. However, until Israel permits exports out of Gaza, raw materials to enter, and freedom of movement, no amount of chocolate and mayonnaise can ease the misery the siege is causing.

Bianca Zammit is a Maltese activist with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza.