Friday, 25 March 2016

The State of Gaza #2: Welfare


Few peoples of the modern day have been subjected to the type of oppression faced by the Gazan community. In this second part of our series 'The State of Gaza', we reveal the welfare troubles faced by the local community.







"The goal of this operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages."

Yes, this really is really is a genuine quote- one made not by some lone political voice, but 
by the actual (now former) Interior Minister of Israel himself, Eli Yishai (pictured), in 2012. Yishai was talking about the Operation 'Pillar of Defence', a military operation that, contrary to its name, saw Israel going on the attack. These 8 days of Israeli air strikes killed 174 Palestinians and injured 'hundreds more', according to the UN. It sounds pretty bad, but in reality, this is barely the starter to the main course of violence- with many, many more brutal operations killing thousands more Palestinian civilians.

Israel's  (now former)
 Interior Minister Eli Yishai,
who has expressed his wish
to "send Gaza back to the
Middle Ages".
Eli Yishai, emphasised that it is imperative that Israel should "destroy and damage infrastructure, public buildings and government buildings" (which would, and do, constitute international war crimes), in order to perform this wonderous act of time travel. 4 years on, it would be fair to say that he, and the Israeli government as a whole, has certainly kept to his promise. Accounts of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) bombing hospitals are far from rare. Operation Protective Edge in Summer 2014 didn't only kill 2,310 people, but it destroyed or damaged as many as 67 hospitals and health centres in Gaza, killed 32 medics and injured 102 more.

No wonder then, having to face such military action, that Gaza's healthcare system is not coping well. According to the World Bank, Europe has 5.4 beds per 1,000 people, and Israel has 3.3. Gaza has just 1.3, with 30 hospitals and clinics serving almost 2 million citizens.

One positive sign is that this January, the first new hospital in 10 years opened in Gaza, with two more expected to open by the end of the year. However, if the current situation is anything to go by, these will struggle like the current hospitals, primarily due to a desperate shortage of key medical resources caused by the lack of prosperity in Gaza. Following Operation Protective Edge, a World Health Organisation (WHO) report claimed that "nearly 50% of Gaza's medical equipment is outdated, and the average wait for spare parts is about 6 months"- something attributable not just to the blockade of goods entering Gaza, but the shortage of financial resources and wealth largely caused by it.

IDF operations have also severely disrupted emergency health services in Gaza. Between October and December 2015, the WHO reported that 146 paramedic personnel were injured by Israeli strikes, which also damaged 91 ambulances and 'significantly delayed' 91 others in emergency situations.

Such poor accessibility to healthcare matters when you have a people in such a bad condition as the Gazans. A UNWRA report estimated that Operation Protective Edge alone destroyed over 100,000 Palestinian homes, affecting 600,000 civilians- a third or so of the entire Gazan population. The result of the decades of Israeli bombing has been mass homelessness, and the blockade has prevented civilians from gaining access to basic building materials they need to rebuild their homes and lives.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lost their homes
to IDF air strikes- but few have the access to resources
required to rebuild them.

As well as housing and shelter, food is a key matter. The conflict and lack of a fluid economy (which we'll discuss in #3) in Gaza has pushed people deeper into poverty, which according to the WHO has resulted in 57% of the population being exposed to food insecurity. Consequently, a massive dependency has grown of the Gazan people on foreign aid, particularly food aid.

There is a very dark side to the food situation in Gaza, as revealed in 2012 when Israel was forced to release secret documents that showed the government was rationing food to Palestinians, tactically at a level calculated to be just above starvation between 2007 and 2010. Israel argues that it was attempting to pressurise the elected Hamas government of Gaza, but many condemned this as an unnecessary form of collective punishment.

Let alone housing or food, even water in Gaza is at a severe premium*. UN estimates suggest that over 90% of the water in Gaza is not fit for human consumption, and the only freshwater source of water available to the region is downstream from Israel- who many believe have used this as a tactic of war. The lack of clean water has not only taken away from many the basic nutritional value of the liquid, but it has lowered drastically the hygiene and sanitation conditions, causing stomach infections and other illnesses to locals of all ages.

The UN estimates that by 2020, virtually no clean water will be
available to civilians of Gaza.
The welfare of the Gazan people is a crucial issue that is unacceptable in the modern day. We hear almost nothing about it in the media, unless there is a military operation being carried out- and even then, we hear very few details. To have a state where the majority of citizens are food insecure, where so many lack even basic access to clean water, where most of the medical equipment is outdated, is unacceptable- particularly when there is a state government behind all of these crises. Unlike many other impoverished regions in the world, Palestine and Gaza have the potential to thrive- they are simply being deprived of the tools they need to do so.

And no, this is not something whose main consequences are in the long run, affecting only distant future generations. The crisis is now; the Israeli government really is achieving its goal of sending Gaza "back to the Middle Ages". Action needs to be taken now to end the blockade, to allow the Gazans to rebuild, recover and redevelop their lives.

Perhaps the most disturbing comment in any report on the Gaza crisis comes from a 2012 UNWRA report, which concluded that without any urgent action, by 2020 "there will be virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline... to ensure that Gaza in 2020 will be a 'liveable place', on-going herculean efforts... need to be accelerated and intensified in the face of all difficulties."

Join us for next week's final instalment of The State of Gaza series when we analyse the Gazan economy. 

This RT report provides an interesting on the ground insight into the water issues being faced by Gazan civilians.

"We do injustice to Gaza if we glorify it, because being enchanted by it will take us to the edge of waiting and Gaza does not come to us. 
Gaza does not liberate us.
Gaza has no horses, airplanes, magic wands, or offices in capital cities... 
Gaza liberates itself from our attributes and liberates our language from its Gazas at the same time.
When we meet it - in a dream- perhaps it won't recognise us, because Gaza was born out of fire, while we were born out of waiting and crying over abandoned homes."
Mahmoud Darwish, extract from 'Silence for Gaza'.
Mohammad Lone Editor