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Humanitarian situation in Gaza

Published Friday, June 22, 2018

Debate Pack for the Westminster Hall debate on the 'Humanitarian situation in Gaza', scheduled for Tuesday 26 June 2018, from 2:30-4:00pm. The Member leading the debate is Grahame Morris MP.

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Following Hamas’ seizure of Gaza in June 2007, Israel imposed an economic blockade on Gaza. Hamas is a Palestinian militant Islamist movement whose political wing is the governing authority in the Gaza Strip. Hamas’ military wing is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the UK government.

Egypt also sealed its border with Gaza in 2007, reopening the border only occasionally on humanitarian grounds. Both countries continue to control the flow of commercial goods and people in and out of the territory.

Israel has allowed humanitarian food and medical supplies to enter Gaza. It also delivers oil and fuel for vehicles, industry and power stations. However, all those supplies are limited. Humanitarian agencies, including the UN, argue that the economic blockade undermines the quality of health, education, and water and sanitation services available in Gaza.[1]

Some of these restrictions were eased in 2010, and in 2014 – following the conflict in Gaza – Israel agreed to ease some of the remaining restrictions. Specifically, Israel agreed to:

  • open more of its border crossings with Gaza to allow the easier flow of goods, including humanitarian aid and reconstruction equipment, into the coastal enclave;
  • allow Palestinians to fish in waters up to six miles off the coast of Gaza (as opposed to three miles previously). The Palestinians sought an extension to twelve miles.[2]

Oxfam summarises the effects of the blockade on the territory:

  • It has devastated Gaza’s economy, caused widespread destruction and left most people largely cut off from the outside world.
  • The humanitarian needs are enormous. People struggle to access clean water, food, medical care, education and to rebuild their homes. The blockade prevents most of them from leaving Gaza or trading with the outside world and markets in the West Bank, and restricts vital reconstruction material from entering.
  • 80 percent of the population rely on humanitarian aid to survive. Many key industries have been decimated and more than 60 percent of youth are unemployed - the highest rate in the world.[3]

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is the branch of the Israeli Defence Ministry that deals with Palestinian civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. They state that Israel works in the background “to promote civil policies in order to assist the residents of Gaza.” This is despite the fact, COGAT says, that Hamas “continuously attempts to take advantage of the civil steps promoted by Israel,” including abusing the permits given to Gazans “to transfer terror funds, weapons, instructions and intelligence to perform terror attacks in Israel.” [4]

The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) has also in the last few years used a series of restrictions to try and coerce Hamas into allowing the PA to once again control the territory. The PA started in 2017 to curb electricity supplies and restrict medical referrals to Israel. Combined with the Israeli/Egyptian blockades they precipitated a severe humanitarian crisis in the territory, which continues to this day.[5] Talks between Fatah and Hamas remain stalled, despite a joint reconciliation agreement the two parties signed in October 2017.[6]

In the last few months there has been a series of clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli security forces, focused on the Gaza-Israel border.

The recent violence started on 30 March. Palestinian activists decided to stage weekly protests, every Friday, up to 15 May. This date was significant as it was the 70th annual commemoration of what Palestinians call the “Nakba”, or Catastrophe, marking the event when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people were displaced in the hostilities which followed Israel's creation in 1948. These protests have been dubbed the ‘March of the return.’ The protests have continued since 15 May, though not at the same scale.

Israel maintains that the protests have been hijacked by Hamas. On 30 March the Times of Israel quoted an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) spokesman as saying: “terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip use these violent riots in order to camouflage terror.” [7]

The clashes on the Gaza border have resulted in a large number of casualties and deaths, the most since the 2014 Gazan conflict. According to the latest figures from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), since 30 March, 135 Palestinians have been killed and just over 7,800 people required hospital treatment.[8] 3,895 of those injuries resulted from the use of live ammunition.

The source of the OCHA data is the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, part of the Hamas-controlled political authority in the territory.

Partly because of the suggested partiality of the Ministry of Health, the OCHA casualty figures are disputed by some.[9] A senior Hamas official also claimed in May that the majority of the Palestinians killed in the border violence were affiliated to Hamas.[10] However, this claim was later disputed by a spokesmen for the group, who said that while Hamas paid for the funerals of all 50, this was “whether they are members or supporters of Hamas, or unrelated to the factions.”[11]

These casualties have put a huge strain on the Gazan health facilities, which were already struggling with the effects of the various blockades of the territory.

The OCHA’s April humanitarian bulletin said the Gazan health system was “on the verge of collapse.” The May bulletin describes:

  • Gaza’s already overstretched health sector has been struggling to cope with the mass influx of casualties. This burden has exacerbated the long-term shortage of medicines and limited capacities of health facilities, driven by the huge electricity deficit and the ongoing salary crisis affecting government employees, among other reasons.[12]

The bulletin also mentions a recent survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), which reveals that poverty rates in Gaza increased from 38.8 per cent in 2011 to 53 per cent by the end of 2017, affecting one million people, including over 400,000 children.[13]

The UNRWA, which is the UN agency responsible for relief work for Palestinian refugees, has seen its assistance programmes put under greater strain due to a decision in January 2018 by the United States to cut its funding of the agency. The US was the organisation’s largest donor.[14] President Trump linked the decision to the lack of involvement of the PA in the US’ peace initiatives. This stance was supported by Nikki Haley, America’s Ambassador to the UN.

However, later that month, officials for the US State Department said funding had been cut because of concerns over how the UNRWA operates, and linked restoring US funding to the organisation undergoing reforms. They also stated the US was providing too much of the UNRWA budget and called for other nations to increase their funding.[15]

 

 

[1]     See, for example, OCHA, The Gaza Strip: The Humanitarian Impact of the Blockade | November 2016, 14 November 2016.

[2]     R Page, Gaza ceasefire agreement, House of Commons Library Standard Note SN06969, 1 September 2014

[3]     Oxfam International, ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel’, Accessed 08/11/2017

[4]     Ibid.

[5]     ‘Three babies die as Gaza rivalry grows’; The Times, 29 June 2017

[6]     ‘Egypt fails to gather PA, Hamas for reconciliation talks’, Middle East Monitor, 20 April 2018.

[7]     ‘Abbas says Israel fully to blame as death toll in Gaza clashes rises to 15’, Times of Israel, 30 March 2018.

[8]     The OCHA includes this caveat alongside these figures: “This figure includes 17 Palestinians (two of them children) killed in unclear circumstances during the 14 May demonstrations, as well as 17 Palestinians (including one child) killed since 30 March in contexts other than demonstrations; among the latter are six people whose bodies are being reportedly withheld by the Israeli authorities”.

[9]     See, for example, comments from an IDF spokesman Lt. Colonel Jonathan Conricus in ‘Israel Kills Dozens at Gaza Border as U.S. Embassy Opens in Jerusalem, New York Times, 14 May 2018.

[10]    Hamas official: 50 of the 62 Gazans killed in border violence were our members’, Times of Israel,16 May 2018

[11]    Ibid.

[12]    OCHA, ‘Humanitarian Bulletin occupied Palestinian territory- May 2018’, 5 June 2018.

[13]    Ibid.

[14]    UNRWA, Pledges to UNRWA's Programmes (Cash and In-kind) - Overall Donor Ranking, 2017.

[15]    ‘Tillerson prevails over Haley in Palestinian funding debate’, Washington Post, 16 January 2018.

Commons Debate packs CDP-2018-0158

Authors: Nigel Walker; John Curtis

Topics: Human rights, Middle East

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