Lifting blockade crucial to Gaza recovery

14th Aug 2014

Full recovery from the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza will be impossible unless Israel's blockade is lifted permanently, Oxfam warned today as it held a demonstration in Parliament Square to highlight the suffering the blockade causes.

Oxfam, along with other members of the Disasters and Emergency Committee, is delivering urgent humanitarian aid but reconstruction efforts have not yet begun in earnest. The need to rebuild destroyed civilian infrastructure alone makes it more urgent than ever to lift the blockade.

Even before the destruction of the past month, seven years of blockade had turned urban essentials like power, clean water, and sewage systems into scarcities. Under the blockade 80 per cent of people in Gaza are reliant on aid.

Under the blockade, the entirety of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. This constitutes collective punishment and is illegal under international law.

Oxfam is now challenging the UK government to clarify what it is doing to bring an end to this collective punishment-the best step toward securing a lasting peace. In Parliament Square, 150 men, women and children will be squashed inside boxes to illustrate the conditions faced by the people in Gaza who are trapped by the blockade.

Nishant Pandey, head of Oxfam in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, said: "The international community will be guilty of a dereliction of duty if it stands by and watches the blockade continue to impose further misery on Palestinians in Gaza. Israel does have legitimate security concerns, but punishing everyone in Gaza will not achieve lasting peace and security for either Palestinians or Israelis. Enough is enough - the blockade must be lifted now."

Over the last few weeks the world has reacted in shock as we watched rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza and the disproportionate attacks from Israel that resulted in enormous civilian casualties. Much of Gaza has once again been turned to rubble - over 100,000 people have had their houses destroyed and are now homeless. Gaza must be rebuilt - for the last time.

The extent of destruction of civilian infrastructure is the worst Oxfam has witnessed in nearly 20 years of working in Gaza. At least 15 hospitals and 16 clinics have been damaged -including four supported by Oxfam. More than 200 schools have been damaged - 25 are completely destroyed. Gaza's only power plant has been destroyed. The bombing severely damaged dozens of wells, pipelines, and reservoirs, leaving half of Gaza's 1.8 million people without access to clean water and the other half receiving water only every five days.

Up to 90 per cent of water extracted from Gaza's aquifer is not fit for human consumption -and some people regularly spend up to a third of their income on drinking water. Recent bombing so severely damaged water and sanitation infrastructure, and destroyed Gaza's only power plant, that raw sewage is now spilling onto the streets and risking a health crisis.

Beyond basic humanitarian concerns, the blockade severely limits Gaza's ability to rebuild its economy in the aftermath of the crisis. Gaza used to depend on exports of strawberries to UK supermarkets, flowers to the Netherlands, and an abundance of goods to Israel and the West Bank. Today, Israeli restrictions cut off trade to Israel and the West Bank - Gaza's natural markets - and exports are at just two per cent of pre-blockade levels. Without access to external markets, Gaza's once vibrant economy is condemned to a future of aid dependency. 

Pandey said: "Even before the current crisis, Gaza's isolation was strangling its economy. There is a closing window of opportunity for international pressure to end this blockade, and the UK government should play a vital role. The people of this region deserve good news, and lifting the blockade is a necessary step toward a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis."

Notes to editors:

Oxfam is a member of the Disaster Emergencies Committee, which is appealing for public funds to support its DEC Gaza Crisis Appeal. To make a donation visit www.dec.org.uk, call the 24 hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900, donate over the counter at any high street bank or post office, or send a cheque. You can also donate £5 by texting the word SUPPORT to 70000.

Key facts on the impact of the blockade before Operation Protective Edge began:

  • More than 40 percent of the labour force in Gaza unemployed
  • GNP per capita in Gaza is $1,074, just over 3 per cent of Israel's
  • Two-thirds of Gaza's population only received clean water for domestic use only once every three to four days.
  • Tap water is not safe to drink in Gaza. Before the latest conflict, around 75-90 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza were forced to buy water from private vendors, with some spending as much as a third of their income on water.
  • Between January and June 2014, less than 200 people per day were allowed to exit Gaza via Israel compared to a daily average of 26,000 in the equivalent period of 2000.
  • Only three Gaza residents have been allowed to study in the West Bank in 14 years.
  • Up to 35 percent of Gaza's agricultural land is off limits or can only be cultivated with restrictions.
  • In the first half of 2014 less than one truckload of goods per day (on average) exited Gaza through the strip's commercial crossing-compared to a daily average of 38 before the imposition of the blockade in 2007.
  • The shortage of affordable fuel has caused a chronic energy crisis, with power cuts of 12-16 hours, even before the destruction of Gaza's power plant.