Gaza’s civilians ’betrayed’ by international community says NGO coalition

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Dec 22 2009 |

Joint statement from Amnesty International UK, Broederlijk Delen, CAFOD, CCFD Terre Solidaire, Christian Aid, Church of Sweden, Diakonia, Finn Church Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians, medico international, medico international schweiz, Mercy Corps, MS ActionAid Denmark, Oxfam International, Trocaire, United Civilians for Peace (a coalition of Dutch groups - Oxfam Novib, Cordaid, ICCO, and IKV Pax Christi)

The international community has betrayed the people of Gaza by failing to back their words with effective action to secure the ending of the Israeli blockade which is preventing reconstruction and recovery, say a group of 16 leading humanitarian and human rights groups in a new report released today (22 December) ahead of the anniversary of the start of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.

The Israeli authorities have allowed only 41 truckloads of all construction materials into Gaza since the end of the offensive in mid-January, warn the groups, which include Amnesty International, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Mercy Corps and Oxfam International. The task of rebuilding and repairing thousands of homes alone will require thousands of truckloads of building materials, they add.

Little of the extensive damage the offensive caused to homes, civilian infrastructure, public services, farms and businesses has been repaired because the civilian population, and the UN and aid agencies who help them, are prohibited from importing materials like cement and glass in all but a handful of cases, says the report.

The blockade, which began in June 2007 after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, has sharply increased poverty, helping make 8 out of 10 people dependent on some form of aid. Businesses and farms have been forced to close and lay off workers. An almost complete ban on exports has hit farmers hard, compounded by the offensive which wrecked 17% of farmland together with greenhouses and irrigation equipment, and left a further 30% unusable in no-go ‘buffer zones’ expanded by the Israeli military after the end of the offensive.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said :
“The wretched reality endured by 1.5 million people in Gaza should appal anybody with an ounce of humanity. Sick, traumatised and impoverished people are being collectively punished by a cruel, illegal policy imposed by the Israeli authorities.

“Israel’s responsibility to protect its citizens does not give it the right to punish every man, woman and child of Gaza. All states are obliged under international law to intervene to put an end to this brutal blockade but their leaders are failing in this fundamental measure of their own humanity. All states must insist that the Israeli government end its blockade and let the people of Gaza rebuild their shattered lives.”

The report argues that, while Israel has a duty to protect its citizens, the measures it takes must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law. By enforcing its blockade on Gaza, Israel is violating the prohibition on collective punishment in international humanitarian law, it says. In the report the groups call on Israel to end the blockade. But they also say, ‘the people of Gaza have been betrayed by the international community which can and must do far more to end this illegal and inhumane blockade’. They urge the EU, for example, to take immediate and concerted action to secure the lifting of the blockade of Gaza so that the close of Spain’s six-month presidency of the EU in June 2010 does not also mark the third anniversary of the blockade being imposed.

The report’s authors also call on European foreign ministers and the EU’s new High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton to visit Gaza to see for themselves the impact of the blockade on its people. Securing an immediate opening of the Gaza crossings for building materials to repair ruined homes and civilian infrastructure as winter sets in would be an important step towards an end to the blockade, say the organisations.

The EU should confirm publicly that the upgrading of relations with Israel is put on hold, pending tangible progress in Israel’s respect for human rights and
international humanitarian law, which should include its actions with regard to the blockade of Gaza.

Click here to download the report, Failing Gaza : No rebuilding, no recovery, no more excuses (PDF, 1.92MB)