13 Jul 2015

The dangerous cost of Israel's siege on Gaza

There was a time when you could swim anywhere off Gaza’s coast. Not now. Not in the aftermath of war.

Surfing at shore of Gaza

Smashed sewer systems, broken pipe work, and damaged pumping stations have seen to that. Raw sewage is tipping out into the Med and drinking water is in frighteningly short supply – not a tap runs with stuff, every drop must come by bottle through the blockade.

That defiant spirit that has carried Gaza through so much is bruised and at times itself seems fractured. There are just so many young people without jobs, and without proper homes.

Just enough detritus from the bombing in last year’s war has been cleared to see how indiscriminate some of it was (see drone footage, below). Whole dense neighbourhoods have been reduced to stumps, tower blocks brought down.

And then there are the politics. They are broken too. Regard for Hamas veers largely between grudging respect and resentment. Absolutely no one believes they will ever call another election. They have been “in” for nine years, and have a reputation for somehow living well even in the worst of circumstances.

They talk to the Israelis from time to time – no one is sure about what. They refuse to contemplate recognising the inevitable – the right of Israel to exist – as strongly as they justify their self-destructive deployment of ineffective but occasionally deadly rocketry. In short, they refuse to contemplate the reality that there is no military solution. Worse, they parade loud-speakered claims that in some weird way they ‘won’ the war a year ago.

As last year’s summary executions of suspected collaborators showed they can be ruthless when dealing with perceived threats within.

As for the Israelis, their siege of Gaza sustains – wounding Gaza’s Palestinians on a daily basis. Wounds that increase school class sizes, with so few remaining classrooms; prevent new house building through lack of supplies; in turn damaging the prospects for everyone, even the very few people who are actually employed here.

There are so many who need to get out of here and need the freedom too to return. For university, hospital, business and more the human traffic of coming and going is essential to sustain any community. Gaza is slowly dying for lack of it.

Gazans still live among ruins in Shuja'iyya neighborhood

The siege is rejected, by every sovereign state on earth, yet respected simply because Israel control’s Gaza’s borders. It is also according to a UN Commission, illegal, as is the ban on fishing beyond the arbitrary Israeli imposed six-mile limit.

On a pure humanitarian basis this stalemate cries out for international action. Were a British, French, or Swedish government or the EU itself to send boatloads of officially sanctioned demolition equipment and building materials, it is hard to believe that the Israeli gunboats that patrol the area would forcibly resist them.

It is difficult to find a period in history when the international community has so actively failed to address a measure of such questionable legality for so long a period of time and for which it pays such a high price.

More UN money has been spent per capita on Palestinians affected by Gaza’s siege than virtually any other group of people. That doesn’t include  the cost of rebuilding in Gaza, paid for by donor governments, each time there is the cyclical, asymmetric conflict with Israel. Each wave of destruction and killing turns  billions of pounds of EU and Gulf State funding into rubble.

As I reported last Thursday on Channel 4 News, the absence of jobs, prospects, and hope within the youth of Gaza is opening a very dangerous void into which groups such as Islamic State  (IS) could plough at any moment. They are not far away –  in Sinai to the south, and in Syria to the north. Their philosophy already has a hold on some minds here.

But let me end on a happier note. My friend Dr Maged Aburamadan, a great ophthalmologist here, has seen little Niema – the girl with the panda-eyed bruises whom I met a year ago during the war (see video, below). He closely inspected her eyes on Sunday and declares, that she will make a full recovery.

We must hope that this tiny enclave and its vibrant beleaguered population of 1.8 million will make as good a recovery.

But hope, the emotion that has kept Gaza alive for so long, is in fast dwindling supply. What’s left of it is not on its own enough to resolve this vast humanitarian, political, and security crisis.

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