Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, 70% of whom are refugees, have lived under a draconian siege imposed by Israel since 2007. The Israeli authorities unilaterally control the entry and exit of goods and people by land, sea and air, with the exception of the civilian Rafah Crossing with Egypt. Some basic humanitarian goods are allowed to enter into the Strip, but never enough, while other necessary goods are entirely forbidden. People also cannot exit and enter Gaza freely, not even for commercial and humanitarian purposes.
All of these restrictions are why many, including UN officials, have referred to Gaza as an “open air prison”.
Because Israel maintains control over the Gaza Strip, international law requires it to facilitate normal life for the Palestinians living there, including allowing access for civilian goods and people to enter into and exit from the Strip. Indeed, on 14 June 2012, the 50 organisations and agencies within the UN issued a joint statement saying that Israel’s siege is in violation of international law and calling “with one voice” to “end the blockade now”.
However, here we are in 2015 and the illegal siege of Gaza continues.
Since the beginning of the siege, Israel has also launched three protracted military assaults on Gaza: in 2008/2009, 2012 and 2014. Each of these attacks has worsened Gaza’s already dire humanitarian situation, with tens of thousands of homes, schools and office buildings destroyed. See the interactive timeline by Al-Jazeera English, “Gaza Under Attack”.
some must die because they are the vicinity
some must die because it was written
no army does not apologize has never
apologised authority chases paper assembly
occupation settles deeper
a great miracle here
the living are dying and the dying living
a festival of lights
a strip a land a blaze
the sea a mirror of fire
a casting of lead upon children
their heads roll off their shoulders into streets
their tops spin in hands
an army feasting on epiphany
driving future into history
carrying torches into women
— Suheir Hammad, from “Gaza: Poem”
In summer 2014, the latest humanitarian emergency was declared in the Gaza Strip, following the intense Israeli aerial and navy bombardment. A ceasefire came into force on 26 August, de-escalating, but not terminating, Israel’s military aggression. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): “the scale of destruction, devastation and displacement during the 50 days of conflict is unprecedented in Gaza, since at least the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967. The humanitarian impact of these hostilities comes against a backdrop of heightened vulnerability and instability in Gaza.”
UN figures show that as many as 80,000 Palestinian homes were damaged or destroyed during Israel’s summer 2014 military campaign, and as of December 2014, more than 106,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million remain displaced in UN shelters and with host families.
Read Mehdi Hasan’s article “Debunking Israel's 11 main myths about Gaza, Hamas and war crime”.
Read John Sigler’s article “Palestine: Legitimate armed resistance vs. terrorism”.
Up until recently, Shujayea was one of the largest neighbourhoods in Gaza City, normally housing around 100,000 Palestinians. During the summer 2014 military campaign, Israel launched a massive aerial assault on the neighbourhood, killing at least 100 Palestinians and forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee.
This is what Shujayea, which means “courage” in Arabic, looked like in December 2014:
Rebuilding the ruins has been next to impossible because the Israeli siege prevents construction materials from reaching the Strip. Furthermore, after the July 2013 military coup in Egypt, the Egyptian authorities have destroyed most of the underground tunnels that were built to resist the siege – Gaza’s last lifeline. And after summer 2014, Egypt also increased restrictions on the Rafah Crossing. Citing the Border and Crossing Authority in Gaza, OCHA reports that as of December 2014 there were around 10,000 registered people, including over a thousand medical patients, waiting to exit Gaza.
We call for an end to the siege now. As Oxfam states: “Only a full opening of all crossings to people and goods, including exports will enable Palestinian civilians in Gaza to restore their economy and escape the poverty the blockade has entrenched. The international community must press Israel for the blockade to be fully lifted, rather than only eased.”