Monday, January 21, 2008

Israeli blockade of Gaza

The Christian Science Monitor has an important piece by reporter Dan Murphy on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza. Israel, in response to a continual stream of rocket fire, has shut off all electricity and aid to the Gaza Strip, which has been under Hamas control since last June. As Murphy notes, Israel's collective punishment has predictably hurt the weakest and most vulnerable members of Palestinian society:

Almost all of Gaza's bakeries were shut on Monday, and the United Nations – which distributes the food relief that 90 percent of Gaza's 1.5 million residents rely on – says it may have to halt food distribution by Friday, because they're running out of plastic bags and fuel.

Mr. Yusuf, a welder who lost his job after the Hamas takeover because most construction in Gaza stopped after Israel cut off cement shipments, says the family has been close to getting [their sick daughter] Mara out on three occasions, only to be tripped up by the Kafka-esque procedures for leaving the territory.

"The Tel Aviv hospital told us they could take us Jan. 10, for instance. But then the security clearance only came through on the 11th. The hospital told us that they didn't have a space for us that day, and that we're not allowed to use the security clearance unless we have a guaranteed spot at the hospital."

Khaled Radi, the spokesman for the Hamas-run Gaza health authority, says the ministry has enough diesel to run "three, maybe four, days" without fresh shipments. "We've been told quite clearly by Israel: Stop the rockets, and then we'll send supplies. But I have no control over the rockets."

Ayman Sisa, the director of the dialysis department at Shifa Hospital, says he's had to cut back weekly treatments for patients from three times a week to two, because 10 of his machines have broken down and he hasn't been able to import spare parts. "A lot of these people would be dead in a week without their treatments," he argues. "But if more machines go down, we'll have to cut back further."

Last month I covered a congressional hearing on U.S. aid to Palestine (or, more accurately, U.S. aid to Fatah) for IPS, and was struck by the lawmakers' total lack of concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza. In U.S. politics, aid to Palestine is talked about in terms of how it will affect Israel's security -- not how it will affect the lives of actual Palestinians.

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