Time has stood still in Gaza over the past year. Since the end of Israel’s third war on the territory in six years – dubbed Operation ‘Protective Edge’ – the people of Gaza have seen precious little of the $3.5bn pledged in aid to rebuild Gaza’s civilian and commercial infrastructure. Chris Gunness of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said in April that eight months after the conflict ended ‘not a single home has been rebuilt’ (Global Research, 25 August 2015). A total of 12,400 housing units were destroyed in the conflict and more than 100,000 people internally displaced.
Gaza city (photo: Stephen McCloskey)
According to aid agencies operating on the ground, last summer’s war ‘inflicted unprecedented destruction and human suffering in Gaza given the loss of life and high number of civilian targets destroyed’ (AIDA, 2015). In the 51 day onslaught from the air, sea and ground, 2,131 Palestinians were killed, of whom 1,473 were civilians, 501 were children and 257 women. On the Israeli side, 71 were killed; 66 soldiers and five civilians. In the aftermath of the conflict, a ceasefire was promised together with reconstruction of Gaza’s decimated infrastructure. One year on, aid agencies say that ‘little tangible change has taken place on the ground in Gaza’ as ‘living conditions for women, girls, men and boys continues to worsen’ (Ibid). This view is underlined by UNRWA who suggest that the causes of the conflict remain unaddressed. ‘The despair, destitution and denial of dignity resulting from last year’s war and from the blockade are a fact of life for ordinary people in Gaza’ (8 July 2015).
Last summer’s war has driven an already desperately poor region to the point of economic collapse by a medieval-like siege imposed by Israel since 2007. Although ostensibly enforced in response to the election of a Hamas government in 2006, the siege has effectively represented an act of collective punishment on the entire Gaza population denying ordinary citizens the most fundamental of rights including: freedom of movement; the right to worship; the right to work; the right to adequate food and clean water; decent housing and education; and, perhaps, most fundamentally of all, the right to security and right to life.
The World Bank has found Gaza to have the highest unemployment rate in the world at 43 percent with this figure soaring to 60 percent among young people. This is a direct consequence of the Gaza economy shrinking over the eight years since the imposition of the siege with the World Bank estimating real per capita income to be 31 percent lower today than in 1994. Because of border closures, Gaza struggles to export products and its manufacturing sector has declined by as much as 60 percent. As Steen Lau Jorgensen, the World Bank Country Director for West Bank and Gaza suggests: ‘The (Gaza) economy cannot survive without being connected to the outside world’ (2015). With exports, growth and jobs being choked off by the siege, an estimated 80 percent of Gaza’s population ‘receives some kind of social assistance, and nearly 40 percent of them still fall below the poverty line’
We can add to this devastating economic vista the cost of last summer’s war. The scale of devastation is evident from the civilian infrastructure targeted by the Israeli military that included: 14 health facilities destroyed including one hospital; 45 ambulances destroyed or damaged; eight schools destroyed and 250 damaged; the primary fuel tank of the Gaza Power Plant destroyed; 30 percent of agricultural land damaged; 128 businesses and workshops destroyed and 419 damaged.
Perhaps even more devastating than the collapsing infrastructure is the psychological effect that these wars are having on Gaza’s population, particularly children. In the immediate aftermath of ‘Protective Edge’, the United Nations (UN) declared that 370,000 children in Gaza were in need of ‘immediate psycho-social first aid’ caused by the severe trauma of war and grinding poverty created by the siege. The Centre for Global Education has worked with young people in Gaza since 2011 and heard from psychotherapists on the manifold effects of trauma which include: constant fear and tension; nightmares and sleep disturbance; bedwetting; increased aggression or becoming withdrawn; decreased appetite and weight loss; and a lack of interest in oneself and others.
These problems are exacerbated on an ongoing basis by regular attacks on Gaza that rarely permeate the mainstream media. Last August’s ceasefire quickly evaporated and Gaza has been subjected to a range of human rights abuses, particularly in buffer zones close to the Israeli military, and at sea. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, in July 2015 alone, Gaza was subject to 27 attacks including shelling, shooting, incursions and detentions. The fishing industry in Gaza has been decimated because fishermen have to operate within an arbitrary limit of six nautical miles from shore which has severely depleted fish stocks. Moreover, fishermen have been subjected to regular attacks within the nautical limit with ten separate shooting incidents recorded in June 2015 alone. As an occupying power, Israel is required by the Fourth Geneva Convention ‘to ensure free, unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to the occupied population’ (Press Core, 2011). Instead it has rendered Gaza into a state of penury and deprivation.
The cumulative effect of Israel’s wars and siege amounts to a humanitarian crisis that is man-made and entirely preventable. It does this with impunity largely because of the diplomatic cover and de facto support of the United States and European Union. In his latest book, the economist and journalist Paul Mason said:
“In Gaza, in August 2014, I spent ten days in a community being systematically destroyed by drone strikes, shelling and sniper fire. Fifteen hundred civilians were killed, one third of them children. In February 2015, I saw the US Congress give twenty-five standing ovations to the man who ordered the attacks” (Mason, 2015: xix).
For its part, the European Commission has confirmed ‘the unsustainable nature of the status quo, notably the protracted blockade in the Gaza Strip’ and yet continues to enjoy trading relations with Israel under the auspices of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Neither Brussels nor Washington have altered their relationship with Israel since the last summer’s war and have maintained a diplomatic status quo that allows the siege to remain in place.
In an ominous appraisal of the current situation, Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, said:
“There has been little rebuilding, no permanent ceasefire agreement and no plan to end the blockade. The international community is walking with eyes wide open into the next avoidable conflict, by upholding the status quo they themselves said must change”.
We can either allow this scenario to unfold or redouble our efforts to end the siege. In April 2015, we saw the French multinational corporation, Veolia, disinvest from ‘its water, waste, and energy activities in Israel, following a global campaign against the company's role in illegal Israeli settlements’. This was a significant success for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at ending corporate complicity with the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It signalled the way forward for civil society around the world in ensuring a swift lifting of the Israeli siege of Gaza to prevent the prospect of yet another war descending upon its beleaguered people.
Aljazeera (2015), ‘Empty words': Donors fail to deliver pledged Gaza aid’, available: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/words-donors-fail-deliver-pledged-gaza-aid-150411113825302.html, (accessed 25 April 2015).
Association of International Development agencies (AIDA) (2015), ‘Charting a new course: overcoming the stalemate in Gaza’, 13 April, available: https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/bp-charting-new-course-stalemate-gaza-130415-summ-en.pdf (accessed 19 August 2015).
European Commission (2014) ‘Gaza Crisis, available: http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/gaza_en.pdf, (accessed 14 September 2015).
Global Research (2015) ‘No home rebuilt in Gaza after 2014 Israel war’, 25 April, available: http://www.globalresearch.ca/no-home-rebuilt-in-gaza-after-2014-israel-war-unrwa/5445091, (accessed 14 September 2015).
Mason, Paul (2015) Postcapitalism: A Guide to our Future, London: Allen Lane.
Middle-East Monitor (2015) ‘Victory for Palestinian-led boycott campaign as Veolia sells Israel assets’, available: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/17928--victory-for-palestinian-led-boycott-campaign-as-veolia-sells-israel-assets, (accessed 14 September 2015).
Palestinian Center for Human Rights (2015), ‘Gaza Strip: Attacks in the border areas and their consequences’, 9 July, available: http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11168:gaza-strip-attacks-in-the-border-areas-and-their-consequences&catid=144:new-reports, (accessed 20 August 2015).
Palestinian Center for Human Rights (2015), ‘Israeli Attacks on Fishermen in the Gaza Sea’, 15 July, available: http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11177:israeli-attacks-on-fishermen-in-the-gaza-sea&catid=144:new-reports, (accessed 20 August 2015).
Save the Children (2012), ‘Gaza’s Children: Falling Behind: The Effect of the Blockade on Child Health in Gaza’, available: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/sites/default/files/docs/Gazas-Children-Falling-Behind.pdf, (accessed 21 August 2015).
Press Core (2011), ‘Blockade of Gaza by Israel is declared illegal by International law and organizations’, available: http://presscore.ca/blockade-of-gaza-by-israel-is-declared-illegal-by-international-law-and-organizations (accessed 14 September 2015).
UN (2014), ‘Gaza: UN says over 370,000 Palestinian children in need of 'psycho-social first aid', 21 August, available: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48532#.Vd2XxiVViko, (accessed 25 August 2015).
UNRWA (2015) ‘A year after the Gaza war started, the causes of conflict remain unaddressed’, 8 July, available: http://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/year-after-gaza-war-started-causes-conflict-remain-unaddressed (accessed 14 September 2015).
UNRWA (no date), ‘Education in the Gaza Strip’, available: http://www.unrwa.org/activity/education-gaza-strip, (accessed 25 August 2015).
World Bank (2015), ‘Gaza economy on the verge of collapse’, 21 May, available: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2015/05/21/gaza-economy-on-the-verge-of-collapse (accessed 19 August 2015).
Stephen McCloskey is Director of the Centre for Global Education, a development non-governmental organisation based in Belfast. He is editor of the journal Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review and his latest book is From the Local to the Global: Key Issues in Development Studies, edited with Gerard McCann and published by Pluto Press.
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