In what the UN has described as collective punishment, the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip continues.
Notwithstanding 56% of the 1.5 million Gazan population consists of children, Israel has shut down access to the region refusing to allow desperately needed food trucks to reach their destination.
UN food agencies in Gaza that have had their food supply cut by the Israeli blockade say they are facing a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
World media continues to ignore the desperate situation, Israel however has contributed to that by barring journalists from entering Gaza, a move condemned earlier this week by the Foreign Press Association. The UN appears to be a lone voice in trying to engineer some relief.
Karen AbuZayd, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said the human toll of this month’s sealing of Gaza’s goods crossings was the gravest in eight years.
“It’s been closed for so much longer than ever before and we have nothing in our warehouses. It will be a catastrophe if this persists, a disaster,” said AbuZayd, whose agency is the largest aid body providing services to Palestinian refugees.
“They are not just under occupation, they are under siege, it’s a word I don’t usually use, they are completely closed off,” she added.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who issued a statement saying he supported statements by the Gazan office, telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday urging him to provide access for UN food trucks. Olmert said he would look into the situation on an urgent basis.
By Friday Ban had received no word back from Olmert, so he bypassed him and telephoned Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to stress the urgency of the situation. Livni however rebuffed the UN Secretary-General’s plea saying the world should be condemning Palestinian rocket attacks.
“Whoever thinks that a situation of them firing at us, while everything continues as usual, can exist is mistaken,” her office said in a statement. “The international community must be more decisive in making itself heard, and in using its influence, in the face of these attacks.”
Israeli human rights organization Gisha in a letter to the Israeli army on Thursday from its attorney Yadin Elam said the closure of crossings, “is done with the illegal intention of inflicting pressure on the civilian population in an attempt to affect the behavior of militants and political elements. The closure of the crossings is therefore in violation of the absolute prohibition in International Law against collective punishment.” THe UN also this week described the Israeli crackdown as collective punishment.
The blockade is now putting Gaza at breaking point which many believe is the objective of the Jewish nation. A ceasefire, between Hamas and Israel, which had largely held until November 4, was broken when the Israeli army entered Gaza and carried out a raid which killed five militants. Rocket fire into Israel followed, and since then the Israeli army has stepped up activities and closed off more access points. A further 12 Palestinian militants have died. There have been no casualties on the Israeli side as most of the 140 rockets fired into the country have failed to hit any tangible targets.
In addition to preventing access for food supplies Israel has refused to allow European Union-funded fuel supplies into Gaza, starving the power generation plant of fuel which has caused widespread blackouts up to 16 hours a day. Water facilities, including access to clean drinking water, and the treatment of raw sewage continue is also being severely disrupted by fuel shortages. Fifty to sixty million litres of untreated and partially treated sewage are being dumped into the Gaza Strip Mediterranean Sea daily, posing a public health risk.
On Thursday the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, the BBC and other major news organizations wrote a joint letter to Olmert, protesting the ban on journalists entering Gaza to cover events there. “We are gravely concerned about the prolonged and unprecedented denial of access to the Gaza Strip for the international media,” the letter said.
“We would welcome an assurance that access to Gaza for international journalists will be restored immediately in the spirit of Israel’s long-standing commitment to a free press.”
The letter has been ignored.