The IMEU | June 25, 2011
As Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip enters its fifth year, a civil society flotilla – Freedom Flotilla II – made up of ten ships with civilians from 22 countries is setting sail for the Gaza Strip. Last May, Israel attacked Freedom Flotilla I, killing nine civilians including one U.S. citizen.
While this flotilla will be carrying a symbolic amount of humanitarian aid, the stated goal of the flotilla organizers is to challenge the illegality of the blockade itself. What is the situation in Gaza such that hundreds of civilians from tens of countries are risking their lives on the high seas to challenge Israel’s blockade?
The IMEU offers the following facts and figures on Israel’s blockade and how, after more than four years, it has affected life for the roughly 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.
1. Is Israel’s blockade of Gaza legal?
No. The stated aim of Israel’s blockade is to apply “pressure” or “sanctions” to weaken the economy of Gaza and decrease support for Hamas. This amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s civilians, and as such is a violation of international humanitarian law under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Further, as an occupying power, Israel is required under Articles 55, 59 and 60 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure free, unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief and is prohibited from impeding the full realization of the occupied people’s human rights. Israel’s blockade impedes Gazans’ rights to food, to an adequate standard of living, to work, and to the highest attainable standard of health, and therefore is a violation of international law.
2. Israel claims that it allows necessary humanitarian provisions to enter Gaza. Is this true?
No. The amount of goods allowed into Gaza by Israel falls far short of the minimum required to avoid malnutrition, poverty, and prevent or treat a variety of illnesses. The United Nations’ fact-finding mission regarding Israel’s attack on the 2010 humanitarian flotilla found that “a deplorable situation exists in Gaza” that “is totally intolerable and unacceptable in the twenty-first century. It is amazing that anyone could characterize the condition of the people there as satisfying the most basic standards.” Consider the following statistics:
- 54 percent of households face food insecurity, defined as inadequate physical, social or economic access to food. An additional 12 percent are considered vulnerable to food insecurity. Only 20 percent of Gazan households are food secure.
- 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
- Since the blockade began, the number of Palestinian refugees completely unable to secure access to food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water (‘abject poverty’) has tripled to 300,000.
- 75 percent of households polled by the World Food Programme in the Gaza Strip received outside aid.
- Gaza’s hospitals are at “zero stock levels” for 178 of 480 essential medications, with another 69 at low stock. Of 700 essential medical supplies, 190 are at “zero stock levels” and another 70 at low stock.
- Due to lack of fuel, the Gaza Power Plant runs at 45 percent capacity, leading to daily blackouts of eight to twelve hours. Given this fuel shortage, 90 percent of private cars are no longer driven and of public services, only 15 percent are operational. (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, The Illegal Closure of the Gaza Strip: Collective Punishment of the Civilian Population, December 10, 2010)
- The Gaza aquifer provides 90 percent of Gaza’s water. Only ten percent of that water meets the standards of being suitable for consumption. Water-borne diseases cause 26 percent of illnesses in Gaza.
- Because of lack of treatment capacity and electricity, Gaza authorities must release around 80,000 cubic meters of sewage into the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis.
- The construction of 86,000 houses is required to meet natural growth and recover from previous Israeli invasions.
3. Does the blockade prevent the functioning of Gaza’s economy?
Yes. Export of Palestinian goods, the import of raw materials and access to Gaza’s natural resources have been severely restricted, devastating Gazan businesses and the ability of the region to be self-sufficient, thereby rendering it dependent on international aid. For example:
- Economic output per capita has fallen by 40 percent of 1994 levels.
- 95 percent of Gaza’s 3,900 industrial businesses are closed or have suspended work. The other five percent are operating at 20 to 50 percent of capacity. This has cost between 100,000 and 120,000 jobs.
- Israeli restrictions block access to 35 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land and fishermen are forbidden to fish beyond 3 nautical miles from the shore. In 2010, employment in agriculture fell from 14,900 to 10,100.
- While Gaza needs 670,000 truckloads of construction material, an average of 715 enter per month, at 11% of pre-blockade levels. The construction industry now has 10,000 workers, 42 percent of pre-blockade levels.
- Unemployment is at 45.2 percent, with only 40.3 percent of working-age Gazans in the labor force. Youth unemployment is at more than 47 percent.
- 290 truckloads of exports were allowed out of Gaza between November 2010 and May 2011. Before the siege, more than 960 truckloads a month exited Gaza. This is only five percent of pre-blockade levels.
- In 2011, a weekly average of 900 truckloads of goods entered Gaza. Before the siege, 2,807 truckloads entered weekly.
- On March 2, 2011, Israel closed the Karni crossing, forcing importers and exporters to use the Kerem Shalom crossing. For wheat exporters, this increased transport costs by 235 percent and for wheat importers by 30 percent.
- Between June 2010 and March 2011, the cost of wheat flour increased by 50 percent and vegetable oil increased by 40 percent. Meanwhile, the average wage has decreased by more than 25 percent since 2007.
- Gazan households spend 56 percent of their expenditures on food, with 52.5 percent eating lower quality food and 67 percent buying food on credit as a result of high food costs.