A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
International aid agency Oxfam today warned that the Gazan economy, which has been almost completely destroyed by three years of isolation, will continue to unravel unless the blockade is completely and immediately lifted.
As the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip enters its fourth year this week, Oxfam also called on members of the Middle East Quartet, including EU foreign ministers meeting today, to pressure Israel to fully and immediately lift the blockade by opening all crossings, allowing trade to resume and people to circulate. Letting in only humanitarian items is not enough for Gazans to escape the poverty that the blockade has entrenched.
Shortly after the blockade was imposed in June 2007, Oxfam and Israeli organization Gisha together warned the international community that the continued closure of Gaza would lead to far greater aid dependency. Three years later, this grim prediction has become true due to world leaders’ inaction, with unemployment at 40% and 80% of Gazans dependent on some form of humanitarian aid to get by.
“In recent months, and in the days following the flotilla tragedy, Israel has allowed in an increased number of food items such as coriander, jam, biscuits and other sweets. While this is certainly welcomed, what Gaza needs most are jobs, raw materials for reconstruction and for industry, and the ability to export – not just short-term aid and consumer products like jam that, without a job, they can’t afford to buy,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International. “The civilian population has been kept just above the bar of a humanitarian crisis. It is trapped in a crisis of dignity that the international community must help resolve,” added Hobbs.
Israel currently allows some 100 types of items into Gaza. Before the beginning of the blockade over 4,000 entered Gaza. Heavy restrictions on imports and the near complete halt of all exports have led to a wide-scale shut down of Gazan industry. Factories have been crippled by the shortage of raw materials, leaving tens of thousands of people out of work. The blockade, which amounts to collective punishment, illegal under international law, has brought the Gazan economy to its knees.
“The blockade has unleashed a tragic chain reaction that has affected many of Gaza’s one and a half million residents. When a factory is forced to shut down because it can’t import or export, it doesn’t just affect the employees who lose their jobs. Entire families relying on that salary also lose out, becoming dependent on humanitarian aid”, said Hobbs.
Agricultural production has also become almost paralyzed as farmers cannot export their crops and are prohibited access to 30% of farming lands in Gaza. The once thriving fishing industry has withered away as Israeli naval forces restrict the access of Palestinian fishing boats to three nautical miles from the coast; the total catch has decreased by 47% between 2008 and 2009. Gaza, a coastal enclave, now has to import frozen fish from Israel and via the tunnels.
Half of Gaza’s population is under 18 years of age. Their movement is restricted, artificially cutting them off from the rest of the world and from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory. They are nurturing frustration as they lack the opportunity to hope for a positive future. Instead of fulfilling their dreams, much of Gaza’s youth today have little to look forward to.
“The blockade has hardened attitudes on all sides. An entire new generation has been deeply affected by three years under deliberate isolation. Depriving hundreds of thousands of young Gazans the right to lead normal lives is wrong”, said Hobbs. “What they need now is a full opening of the crossings, which are secure and can be monitored by Israel and the international community if the will is there. Politicians created the blockade of Gaza and politicians can put an end to it now,” Hobbs added.
Ending the blockade will not only help Gaza’s population, it will also pave the way for a durable peace that will benefit Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Notes to editors
A sample of quotes from Gazans hit hard by the blockade:
“I used to hire 20 people to work on my boat. Now I have to rely on assistance from international agencies, including Oxfam. I am grateful for the aid, but I don’t like being handed a coupon. I only dream of setting to sea again and working on my boat like my father and grandfather before me.”
– Jamal Bassala, a fisherman from Rafah, speaking to Oxfam in early June while sitting in the shade of his boat, which has been rusting in the harbor since the blockade was brought into force.
“Since I graduated from university, I have remained at home, doing nothing but sleeping. Any time I am awake, I feel restless, I think about all the time I have wasted studying since I am unemployed. We girls have the abilities to work, but no jobs because of the blockade. My younger sister has difficulties focusing on her exams because she sees how I am stuck at home and she thinks she has no future.”
– A young woman speaking to Oxfam in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza.