Since the end of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the humanitarian situation there has been constantly worsening. And although Israel unilaterally declared an end to the war, the violence has not stopped in Gaza.
From mysterious explosions (most likely from explosives that did not detonate during the conflict); to continued Israeli shelling from sea, land, and air; to the death toll that keeps rising due to the discovery of bodies in the rubble or people succumbing to their wounds—the situation in Gaza is now worse than ever.
The Israeli blockade that has been imposed on Gaza since 2007 has severely limited the Gazan people’s basic food supply. In addition to this, the blockade is causing a water and sanitation crisis by not allowing enough electricity, fuel and replacement parts into the territory so they can keep the infrastructure in working-condition.
When humanitarian organizations call on Israel to end their hostilities and to lift the blockade, Israel has a standard response—to blame Hamas for the entire population’s suffering.
Human Rights Watch calls Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip illegal because it qualifies as collective punishment, which violates international law.
“Israel’s choke-hold on Gaza has destroyed the territory’s economy and is having long-lasting and devastating effects on the lives of Palestinians…Hamas’ actions cannot be used to justify policies that harm the civilian population.”
How is the civil population in Gaza suffering?
Water is one major issue. Essential infrastructure which keeps the water sanitized and pumps it to each house has been damaged by Israeli shelling. It could be repaired, but spare parts are not allowed through the blockade; and those factories inside the Gaza Strip that produced spare parts have either run out of material or been damaged.
Essential parts necessary for repairing basic infrastructure do not count as humanitarian aid and therefore may not be allowed into Gaza. Without electricity, water cannot be pumped from the wells. And even the water that is available is contaminated because the Israeli military shelled the sewage treatment plant.
This has caused a massive sanitation crisis leading to the creation of ‘sewage lagoons’ that sometimes flood, and other times runs straight into the sea because there is nothing the Gazans can do to repair their sanitation infrastructure.
Food security is another major issue for the Gazan population. After the war, 80% of Gazans were dependent on food aid, as opposed to 63% in 2006. Because of the blockade and subsequent low food supply, the prices of basic food items are more expensive now than before the attacks.
Since December 2008, the price of pepper per kilo doubled, onions increased 33%, and chicken increased 43%. The decimation of agricultural land, cattle, and sheep farms during the war are some of the main factors that contributed to Gaza’s current food insecurity.
They cannot produce the same amount of food they could before the war, and even less is allowed in through the blockade. Even fishermen in Gaza cannot bring in as much fish as before because the fishing limit is now 3 miles from shore instead of 6 miles.
Food supplies account for 79% of imported commodities in Gaza, followed by hygiene and cleaning supplies. In March, several new items were allowed into the Gaza Strip that the Israelis had not allowed in since October 2008—tea, yeast, salt, potato chips, soap, and shampoo.
“Gazans face an acute shortage of nutritious, locally-produced and affordable food” says World Food Program in March.
Since Gazans cannot afford the high prices, they have to either buy a lower quantity of food, or lower quality. They are no longer eating meat, oils, fats, fruits, or dairy products as much as they used to—which leads to nutritional deficiencies like anemia and growth stunting in children.
In addition to the physical destruction caused by the latest Israeli-lead war in Gaza, and the subsequent humanitarian crisis, there is also another siege on the people—a psychological siege.
The Community Mental Health Programme in Gaza says that few, if any, are left unscarred by Cast Lead.
In a sample of almost 400 children, more than 73% thought they were going to die during the war, 68% fear a similar attack will happen again, and 41% expressed a desire for revenge.
The majority of mothers and fathers were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They expressed anxiety about death, half of them feared heart attacks, and some feared cancer or other health effects from exposure to illegal weapons implemented by Israel such as white phosphorous.
82% of parents observed that their children have been behaving aggressively since the attack, and most of them said their children have emotional problems.
“Everybody lost something in this war,” GCMHP spokesman Husam Al-Nounou said. “Some lost friends and relations, some lost parts of their bodies. Others lost property and money; others a feeling of security and protection. It was a very cruel feeling. I’ve never felt so near to death as during that period. There was no place to where we could escape.”
With all the violence that has occurred in the Gaza strip since Israel “disengaged” in 2005, and since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, and now since the conflict officially ended in January 2009—death, fear, uncertainty, and anxiety about everything from food security to when the next attack will happen, it is easy to understand the prevalence of psychological issues.
Even though Cast Lead is over, the humanitarian and psychological siege on Gaza has continued. Violence and shelling, although sporadic, has also continued.
The people of Gaza need to be allowed the same basic human dignity that the much of the world takes for granted. The blockade MUST be lifted to allow them spare parts so they can rebuild infrastructure and repair their water and sanitation systems. Food, hygienic supplies, fuel, and other basic supplies MUST be allowed into the Gaza Strip.
The Gazans must be allowed to rebuild their shattered lives and community so that the next generation grows up with feelings of security and love, instead of worrying about death and growing in hatred.
The war in Gaza is not over; the collective punishment must end now.