Israel and Egypt join in squeezing life out of Gaza
The winter storm is over, the floods have receeded – but Gaza is till under siege, more harsh than ever now that Egypt’s military government is permanently blocking the tunnels that were Gaza’s lifeline. Nothing has been heard from any international body about their responsibility to protect the people of Gaza.
This posting has these post-storm items:
1) IPS: Gaza Loses an Underground Lifeline, report on effect of tunnel closures;
2) ISM: Gaza’s economy shattered by Israeli siege news story from International Solidarity Movement based on PCHR report below;
3) PCHR: State of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings, Israel prevents nearly all Gaza’s exports;
4) AIC: Gaza still suffering from flood, coping with the mess and loss, January;
5) PSC: Gaza demonstration, report of January 18th London demonstration;
6) Notes and links, appeals, petitions and EDMs ;
Steel beams lie on the ground in front of the Egyptian border with Gaza before they are driven into the ground to form an underground wall ordered by the military government. Photo by AP.
Gaza Loses an Underground Lifeline
By Khaled Alashqar, IPS / Anti-war.com
January 11, 2014
GAZA CITY – The border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip used to buzz with activity until a few months back as traders brought in an array of Egyptian goods – from food supplies to raw material – through hundreds of tunnels.
But these underground structures, located 40 km from here, between Rafah in Gaza and Sinai in Egypt, have fallen silent.
Things came to a grinding halt after the Egyptian army came to power in Cairo. Calling them a security threat, it launched a systematic military campaign against the tunnels, destroying them, along with the houses under which they were built on its side of the border.
For people in Gaza, home to 1.7 million people, the closure of the tunnels has choked a lifeline. Thousands of tunnel operators, traders and workers have been hard hit.
“Never before have we faced this kind of pressure from the Egyptian army and, it seems, things are going to get worse,” said Abu Nabil, a Gaza resident who gave only his nickname for security reasons. He had operated a tunnel on the Palestinian side since 2007.
Nabil said more than 90 percent of the passages, most of which are privately operated, have been destroyed by the Egyptian military, completely paralyzing trade through the tunnels.
He used to employ 20 workers in his tunnel. They would transport goods, food supplies, electronic equipment and construction material from Egypt to Gaza. Now these employees – among an estimated 20,000 tunnel workers – are jobless.
The tunnel area stretches more than eight kilometers along the border. It’s not open to the public, except with permission from the ruling Hamas party in Gaza. It is monitored by Hamas security forces on the Palestinian side.
While the Egyptian army has established a buffer zone of 500 meters along the border and set up security checkpoints, operators are trying to find a way out. Nabil is trying to extend the length of his tunnel so that it can bypass the buffer zone.
But problems are set to persist as, for the Egyptian authorities, the tunnel trade is illegal.
Egyptian military spokesperson Colonel Ahmed Mohammad told IPS: “The tunnels are used to smuggle militants and radical groups that threaten Egyptian national security. They should be destroyed.”
The authorities in Egypt also point out that goods sent into Gaza through the tunnel do not carry a legal stamp or tax.
But it’s a different story in Gaza, where the Hamas government recognizes the tunnel trade.
Alaa Alrafati, minister of economy in the Hamas government, told IPS that the closure of tunnels was causing a loss of 230 million dollars every month and suffocating around 1,000 factories and industrial units that were dependent on raw material coming through the tunnels.
Alrafati said the authorities in Egypt and Gaza needed to come to an understanding.
“The government in Gaza is prepared to close down all tunnels on the Palestinian side if an official alternative route can be made available with Egypt to address Gaza’s need for commercial goods and construction material,” he said.
He said Hamas government leaders “are interested in developing relations with Egypt.”
The tunnels flourished as they were free of restrictions and represented a way out of the Israeli siege on Gaza. Some studies indicate that the tunnel trade was worth one billion dollars a year.
Professor Sameer Abu-Mdalla, dean of the economics faculty at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told IPS that the total number of tunnels before 2006 was 60, but following a blockade by Israel in 2007 and the closure of border crossings, the number mushroomed to about 1,000.
He said the tunnels helped meet 60 percent of Gaza’s needs for raw materials and other goods.
Abu-Mdalla said destruction of the tunnels could push the unemployment rate up in the Gaza Strip.
He said the Hamas government had legitimized the tunnel trade and introduced guidelines and taxes. Hence, 15 percent of the government budget came from the tunnels and other related sources.
He pointed out some negative aspects as well, however.
“For example, the tunnels did not generate development in Gaza and led to the emergence of around 800 millionaires who used the income from operating tunnels for money laundering.”
The tunnels were allegedly also a conduit for Palestinian militant groups to smuggle weapons into Gaza for use against Israel. Besides, illegal drugs were being smuggled into the small and crowded territory through them, it was alleged.
With the closure of the tunnels, however, it’s the common people of Gaza who are paying the price. Be it poverty, unemployment or isolation, it has worsened their life in every way.
The Erez crossing for foot passengers. All are rigorously searched making the crossing – even when it is open – an extremely lengthy procedure. Those who hope to use it are asked to collaborate with Shabak, the Israeli intelligence service. Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
Gaza’s economy shattered by Israeli siege
January 15, 2014
A recent report by the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Gaza says the Israeli authorities have closed Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) checkpoint, the Gaza Strip’s only commercial crossing, for 150 days, 41% of working days, during 2013. The reports points out that the continued closure of the commercial crossing constitutes a violation of the ceasefire agreements reached in November 2012 after the Israeli “Operation Pillar of Defense” military offensive.Normally Israel keep the commercial crossing open 22 days per month, says the report, closing it on Fridays and Saturdays. but The crossing was closed also during the Jewish holidays for “security reasons.’” According to the report, in 2013, 55,833, 1,578 fewer truckloads of goods entered Gaza than in 2012. Israel allowed the export of 187 truckloads of goods from the Gaza Strip to European markets, compared to 234 truckloads, mostly agricultural products, 2012.
The report also describes the impact of the Egyptian closure of the tunnels since July 2013. This closure caused huge economic losses over the past six months as a direct result of the interruption of economic activities and a fall in production, resulting in a decline of 60% of gross domestic product. Unemployment exceeded 39% at the end of 2013.
Lorries waiting to cross the Kerem Shalom checkpoint into Israel, Gaza’s only commercial point, frequently closed by Israel. Photo from IDF.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ report on the Gaza Strip’s crossings from 1st-30th November 2013 [below] documents the impact of the ongoing Israeli siege imposed on Palestinians, affecting their economy and social condition. While Israel claims to have eased the blockade, the Gaza Strip has a lack of services, fuel and building materials. According to PCHR’s statistics, the materials Israel has allowed to enter don not meet the needs of Gaza Strip’s population. In November, Israel closed Karm Abu Salem crossing for ten days, 30.3% of the total period. Most imports are consumable. The entry of various raw materials continues to be prohibited, with the exception of very limited types imported under complicated procedures.
Israel has continued to impose a near-total ban on exports to markets in the West Bank, Israel and other countries, excluding limited amounts of agricultural products. Exceptionally, during the month of November, Israel allowed the exportation of 20 truckloads carrying agricultural products, including mints, garlic, basil, strawberries and flowers.
Here we come to a crucial point. Israel allows that minimum exports of Palestinian products only to European and non-European markets, not to the West Bank. Why does Israel not allow Palestinians from Gaza to market their products in the West Bank, within Palestine?
It appears that on the one hand, this practice is part of the collective punishment of the blockade which aims to not allow any economic growth in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, Israel wants to protect its own market and sell its product in the occupied territories.
“We face many difficulties, mainly due to the closure of the crossing,” a farmer in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, said. ”Generally exports take place twice a week. Sometimes we had to freeze strawberries, due to the closure. There are no exports to the West Bank. They are not allowed.” The use of the term “export” to refer to the marketing of Gaza products in the West Bank, as if speaking about two different countries, shows the division caused by the barriers of the pccupation and its practices that have separated a population. “There is no international law in Gaza,” the farmer said. The farmers have to face not only the expenses of transportation, but also the costs of labor and the packaging. According another farmer in Beit Lahiya, a 2.5 kilogram crate for strawberries costs to twelve shekels, about three euros. They receive 25 shekels, or 5.25 euros, then earn 13 in profit.
The Palestinian side of the one official crossing befween the Gaza Strip and Egypt. The Egyptian military government keeps it closed most of the time. Photo by Sarah El Deeb/AP.
“In 1967, Beit Lahia has begun to grow strawberries,” Abu Sami, a farmer in Beit Lahiya, said. ”Here, before the arrival of the Palestinian Authority, we marketed our products as Israeli products through the Israeli company Agrexco. As Israeli products, not Palestinian products. Subsequently, the European countries called on Israel to allow the Palestinians to market their products as Palestinian and without taxes. Here we export many kinds of agricultural products such as beans, green zucchini, strawberries and many kinds of vegetables. We focus on the cash crop and flowers. After the siege, since 2006-2007, Israel closed the crossings and we could not export anymore. The European Union has called on Israel to allow the Palestinians to export their crops as Palestinian crops, but we should sell our products through Israeli companies.” He showed the cardboard box used to export strawberries, on which was printed the brand name of the Palestinian cooperative and the logo of the Israeli company Arava Export Growers.
“The Paris Agreement has tied the Palestinian economy to the Israeli economy,” Abu Sami continued. “Most Palestinian products go to Europe, and some to Russia. We asked to sell our products in the West Bank, but the Israeli authorities have refused. They told us, ‘this is a political decision.’”
Israeli companies also receive 6% from the exports of Palestinian products. ”The farmers here have lost a lot,” Abu Sami said. “Before 2005, we were planting approximately 2500 dunums. Now it’s only 700. We started planting herbs in Khan Younis and Rafah, green pepper, cherry tomato. At this time, the cost of strawberries in Europe is too low. We stopped the exports.” There will be meetings in the coming days, and the farmers will decide what to over the next few weeks. The cost of material is high. Farmers can not earn anything from the exports allowed to Europe. The more profitable market in the West Bank is closed to them.
The Paris Protocol, an agreement on economic relations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, was signed on 29th April 1994 as part of Oslo Agreements. It has made the Palestinian economy a prisoner of Israel, in both the productive sector and the trade of goods. Imports and exports are under complete control of Israel, which determines quantity, documents, customs, taxes and time.
Due to the ban on exports, the economic growth of the Gaza Strip is even more difficult. The economic growth could be possible not only with the resumption of exports to foreign markets, but especially through economic and trade exchanges with the West Bank.
State of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings pdf Report for 01 – 30 November 2013
This report documents the impact of the ongoing Israel-imposed siege on Palestinian civilians, which affects their economic and social conditions. This report also reveals the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and shortages of most commodities due to the decrease of imports to the Gaza Strip through the tunnels on the Palestinian.Egyptian borders.
Thus, this report reveals again the real conditions of the Gaza population and the Israeli closure imposed on all Gaza’s crossings for 7 years. It refutes Israel’s claims that it has eased the closure of the Gaza Strip. The following are the most significant developments relevant to Gaza’s border crossings during the reporting period 01 – 30 November 2013:
• During the reporting period, the Gaza strip witnessed a lack of most commodities, fuel types and construction materials. Statistics documented by the Palestinian Centre for Human rights (PCHR) show that the materials allowed by Israel to be entered via Israeli crossings do not meet the minimum needs of the Gaza Strip. In November, Israeli authorities allowed the entry of 4,350 truckloads, an average of 145 truckloads daily. The number of truckloads allowed to enter constitutes 25.4% of the number of truckloads, which used to be entered into the Gaza Strip before the closure (570 truckloads daily).
• The Gaza Strip witnessed a significant rise in prices of all construction materials and lack of some of them in the markets due to being banned to be entered via tunnels due to the Israeli ban since 13 October 2013.
• In November, most types of fuel ran out. The cooking gas crisis has continued in all gas stations, and piles of empty gas cylinders are currently being left at gas stations waiting to be refilled due to the limited quantities allowed by Israel into the Gaza Strip. During the reporting period, the amount of gas allowed into Gaza was 3,558 tonnes only, an average of 118.6 tonnes per day. This amount represents 59.3% of the actual daily needs of the population, which is 200 tonnes.
• Israeli authorities continued to impose an almost-complete ban on the exportation of the Gaza Strip’s products to the West Bank, Israel and the outside world. In a limited exception, they allowed the exportation of 20 truckloads (agricultural products) in November while the Gaza Strip’s exports used to reach 150 truckloads per day before the complete closure was imposed on the Gaza Strip.
• During the reporting period, Israel obstructed the travel of 125 patients; 5 of whom were prevented due to security reasons, 13 of them were asked to change the companions and 31 others were forced to wait for a new appointment while the rest 76 patients are awaiting an Israeli reply following their security interviews. According to the Ministry of Health, the number of applications presented on behalf of Palestinians patients referred to hospitals in Israel or the West Bank reached 1,352, but Israeli authorities gave permits to 1,227 applications only.
• Israeli authorities continued using Beit Hanoun crossing as a way to blackmail or arrest patients or their companions. PCHR documented the detention of a patient after he was summoned for a security interview by the Israeli intelligence service at the crossing. The
patient was supposed to undergo an operation in al-Muttale’ Hospital in Jerusalem. Thus, the number of patients arrested at Beit Hanoun crossing has risen to 8 since the beginning of 2013.
• The Beit Hanoun crossing was closed to business people for 16 days. During the reporting period, 2,050 traders were allowed to travel via the crossing, a daily average of less than 68 traders, which constitutes 45.3% of the number of traders allowed to travel via the crossing daily prior to June 2007 (150 traders).
In the same period, Israel allowed 14 journalists and 633 workers of international organizations to enter the Gaza Strip. The procedures for entering the Gaza Strip are complicated, resulting in prolonged waiting periods, sometimes up to several days.
• Israeli authorities allowed 275 persons of the prisoners’ families to visit 160 of their relatives in the Israeli jails. The number of family visits is very limited compared to the number of visits allowed under the agreement reached between the detainees and Israeli forces in May 2012 as it allowed 2 visits, each of which include 2 persons, for each detainee per month.
This means 1,760 persons of the detainees’ families are allowed to visit 440 detainees twice per month (around 880 visits per month).
• During the reporting period, Rafah International Crossing Point was closed for 21 days due to the Egyptian internal situation and the deteriorating security situation in north Sinai. This unveiled the reality of the situation in the Gaza Strip under the policy of collective punishment and the Israeli closure imposed over all border crossings, especially Beit Hanoun crossing that has been closed for 7 years.
• The closure of Rafah International Crossing Point negatively affected the Gaza Strip’s population. In the Gaza Strip, thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of patients, students and holders of residencies in other countries, were denied travelling abroad. When the crossing point was partially opened, 3,798 Palestinians travelled abroad via Rafah International Crossing Point, 2,237 returned to the Gaza Strip and 300 were returned to the Gaza Strip by Egyptian authorities.
Gaza still suffering from flood By AIC,
January 05, 2014
Weeks after record-setting winter storms hit the Middle East, the Gaza Strip was still struggling to cope with severe flooding of homes and businesses. Gaza City residents reported that local government officials were initially slow to respond to floodwaters that rose in just six to 12 hours. Civil defense forces had few available resources due to the Israeli seige, but also showed little evidence of advanced planning. Instead, most immediate assistance was provided by community members who organized fishing boats and other makeshift watercraft to rescue people from their homes.
Only two people are reported to have died in the storms, with others only suffering light injuries, but the UN estimates more than 10,000 were displaced, finding shelter in schools, police stations and relatives’ homes. Locals estimated that it would take nearly two weeks from the time of the storm to completely pump out the remaining floodwaters, allow residents to return to their homes.
Demonstrators outside Israeli embassy, January 18th. Photo by Velar Grant
Gaza demonstration: report
From Palestine Solidarity Campaign
January 18, 2014
More than 500 hundred gathered to protest against the on-going blockade and bombing of Gaza, on [January 18th, 2014] the 5th anniversary of the end of Israel’s massive military assault on Gaza. The protest took place close to the Israeli Embassy, and demonstrators heard from Baroness Jenny Tonge, Andy Slaughter MP and former former prisoner and hunger striker, Mahmoud Sarsak, amongst others.
Representatives from many organisations voiced the outrage at the ongoing blockade and attacks on Gaza.
Hugh Lanning, Chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said:
“No more bombs, no more siege, no more settlements, no more. The world looks on whilst Israel blockades, punishes and steals. It is time for this to end.”
Baroness Jenny Tonge said:
“We must not forget with everything else going on in the Middle East the terrible suffering that is going on in Gaza. The people there are going hungry, being poisoned and deprived of their human rights. We call on Israel and those countries that back Israel to talk to Hamas and come to a sensible conclusion. “
Mahmoud Sarsak paid tribute to the protestors, and said: “Palestinians are steadfast because of your support.”
Andy Slaughter MP paid tribute to the work of Del Singh, who campaigned tirelessly for Palestinian rights, and who was tragically killed in Kabul on 17th January 2014. Andy said: “There are people in the UK that care, people have a sense of justice, and overwhelming support for Palestinian human rights.”
Kamel Hawwash, Vice Chair of PSC, added:
“We will not forget the war crimes that were committed against Palestinians in Gaza. The Israeli war criminals should not sleep easy at night as they will be facing charges at the International Criminal Court.”
Leah Levane, from Jews for Justice for Palestinians, said:
“The Israeli Embassy over there does not speak for us. We stand by the people of Gaza”
Mohammed Kozbar from British Muslim Initiative (BMI) said:
“Gaza is not only 360 square kilometres, Gaza is in the hearts and minds of everyone of us, it is in the hearts and minds of millions of people from Jakarta to Morocco, and from London to South Africa.”
Kiri Tunks, from Action for Palestinian Children said:
“Children’s rights are being completely trashed by Israeli Forces. We don’t think it’s right to put children in solitary confinement and to separate children from their parents, but this is what’s happening.”
Ziad Elaloul, from Palestinian Forum for Britain, said:
“Enough is enough: Israel should end the siege on Gaza. Since the siege began (more than six years ago) people in Gaza have had a miserable life, the basic needs are not available because the border is closed. People who need specialist medication can not get it because of the blockade, and are dying as a result.
We ask the international community, including the British Government, to put more pressure on Israel and lift the siege on Gaza. And stop attacking the fisherman, stop attacking the farmers, and striking Gaza killing innocent people.”
Notes and links
You can donate to the Gaza appeal of the British Shalom-Salaam Trust, JfJfP’s sister organisation. To do this, please go to the donation page where the various ways of sending funds to BSST are explained. BSST needs to know that your gift is for Gaza, so if you choose an electronic method of donation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to say that you have made a donation for Gaza.
or you could give to the Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) appeal
Petitions and EDMs
The ‘Gaza to run out of drinking water by 2016′ petition produced by Thirsting for Justice and run by Avvaz hopes for more signatures. Send this to others, and if you haven’t signed yet, click here. The number of signatures has crept up very slowly since September 26th 8,731 by Sunday November 17th, 9,837 by January 12th and 9,883 by January 19th. They hope to reach 100,000 to present it to EU leaders.
To the United Nations, the European Union, the Quartet, the Arab League & Israel: We demand that you end the blockade and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, ensure the free flow of supplies by land, sea or air, and help to broker the ceasefire which civilians on both sides desperately need.
This petition aims to get 150,000 signatures. It had 109,257 on January 19, 2014. Click headline above to sign.
Early day motion 832
CRISIS IN GAZA
Date tabled: 03.12.2013
Primary sponsor. George Galloway
That this House views with grave concern a United Nations report that the situation in Gaza is near the point of catastrophe; underlines that the UN special rapporteur warns that lack of fuel imports has resulted in power cuts dramatically affecting basic services, including health, water and sanitation, with the result that raw sewage is flooding into the streets; notes that residents only receive power for six hours a day after the only power plant in Gaza was shut down due to a critical fuel shortage three weeks ago; further notes that the little power that is available is not sufficient to meet the needs of specialised health services, such as kidney dialysis, operating theatres, blood banks, intensive care units and incubators, putting innocent lives at risk; concludes that the inhumane, six-year blockade erected by Israel on the tiny strip of land holding 1.7 million people is the principal cause of this widespread suffering and distress, added to recently by the Egyptian military regime’s destruction of tunnels on the Rafah border which helped to breach the embargo; and calls on the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs urgently to meet with his counterparts in Cairo and Tel Aviv to persuade them to remove the blockade and allow in urgent humanitarian aid and also to raise the plight of the people of Gaza at the United Nations General Assembly.
NEW SIEGE OF GAZA
Early day motion 595
Date tabled: 17.10.2013
Primary sponsor: Galloway, George
[This EDM has only gathered 9 sponsors, possibly because of the unpopularity of George Galloway in the House of Commons.]
That this House is deeply concerned about the humanitarian effects on the people of Gaza because of the second siege on the Strip by the Egyptian military government; notes that the new regime in Cairo has closed the Rafah crossing, the only entrance and exit from Gaza to Egypt, for long periods, resulting in a 76 per cent drop in the numbers leaving since July; points out that six years after the Israeli government imposed a stranglehold on Gaza a second chokehold has been enacted by the Egyptian military; further points out that after the removal of the elected Egyptian president in July, around 800 tunnels which bring much-needed foodstuffs and supplies into Gaza have been destroyed along the border; further notes that this has resulted in rampant inflation, power cuts of up to eight hours a day, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in one of the poorest and most crowded places on earth, and the inability of patients to access medical treatment and students to take up university places; and calls on the Government immediately to urge its Egyptian and Israeli counterparts to end these sieges which amount to communal punishment on the citizens of Gaza.