Under siege, life on the Gaza Strip’s a daily fight for survival

Mel Frykberg | New Age Online | Feb 27 2012

Israel’s crippling siege of the Gaza Strip prevents many vital goods from entering the coastal enclave, as well as preventing the 1.5mn inhabitants from rebuilding their infrastructure and economy, which had been severely destroyed following Israel’s devastating war on the territory from December 2008 to January 2009.

A chronic fuel shortage continues to play havoc with the operation of hospitals, sanitation systems and water supply due to reliance on fuel-powered generators as a standby when the intermittent electricity supply cuts out for hours on a daily basis.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was forced to step in last week when it supplied the Ministry of Health in Gaza with 150000 litres of diesel. The fuel will help the 13 public hospitals maintain essential health services for the next 10 days.

“The lack of fuel restricts the functioning of vital public services, especially hospitals,” said Irfan Sulejmani, the head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Gaza. “Without these emergency supplies, the treatment of thousands of patients could be interrupted and lives endangered.”

In the past few years, Gaza has faced continuous shortages of electricity. The situation worsened when the only power station in the Strip was shut down last week. This additional pressure on the power system, over and above the chronic shortages, is forcing hospitals to rely on generators for up to 18 hours a day.

“There is currently hours of power cuts daily. The power cuts pose a serious risk to patients – and to their very lives,” Cecelia Goin from the Red Cross told The New Age.

“It takes two to three minutes for a generator to begin operating, and during that time electronic devices do not function. As a result, artificial respirators must be reactivated manually, dialysis treatment is disrupted and surgery is suspended as operating theatres are plunged into darkness,” said Goin.

“In the past, it took us five months to get permission from the Israeli authorities to bring in a mammograph machine for Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s main hospital. It took another five months before they would allow in a dialysis machine, and it took us eight months to bring in spare parts for ambulances,” she added.

The ICRC has called on the Israeli authorities to take the necessary steps to resolve the shortage before it leads to even more serious consequences.

Israel argues that its siege on Gaza is for security reasons. But following a lawsuit by Israeli human rights organisation, Gisha, the Israeli government was forced to acknowledge that the siege was a political move. Israel tightened the blockade when Hamas took over the strip in June 2007.

“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare’,’’ the government said.

The ICRC, however, says the siege on Gaza is a violation of international law in that it was a form of collective punishment against civilians.

Following intense international pressure the Israeli authorities eased the siege about a year ago but the problems persist.

However, Goin said the only way Gazans would be able to rebuild their lives and livelihoods was for the siege to be lifted completely.

Gaza Under Attack Timeline | Pictures Aug | Oct | Dec 2011| Jan | Feb 2012

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