Here are two more items — actually, three — which deserve attention and reflection:
I. More excerpts from a Statement to the United Nations Security Council in New York by John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, 27 January 2009:
“There are important principles at stake here too, as the Security Council itself clearly recognized in Resolution 1860, which paid particular attention to the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance. Free and full access for goods and humanitarian staff is something we have battled long and hard for in other contexts, such as Darfur and Myanmar … Moreover, Israel has a particular responsibility as the occupying power in this context, because of its control of Gaza ’s borders, to respect the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law. It is therefore critical that new steps are taken immediately by the Israeli authorities to move quickly to the sustained re-opening of crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. Many countries support this. The crossings need to be opened up not because Hamas want it or might benefit from it, but because the Gazans need it“…
The UN USG for Humanitarian Affairs statement to the UNSC continues:
“The Israeli Minister of Social Welfare, Isaac Herzog, who coordinates Israel ’s facilitation of humanitarian assistance, assured me of the Israeli government’s commitment to work with the UN agencies and the rest of the humanitarian community to provide emergency assistance to the people of Gaza. We have agreed to put in place new coordination arrangements to this end. However, the minister also suggested that many categories of items capable of dual use will raise continuing security concerns. Let me emphasize again here the unacceptability of the status quo ante, with a limited trickle of items into Gaza continuing the effective collective punishment of the civilian population – and the resultant counter productive reliance on tunnels for daily essentials, and further build up of frustration and anger. Israel ’s security worries are understood, but I am confident that the passage of goods can be arranged in a way that will meet reasonable security concerns … Mr. President, the second condition for a successful emergency relief operation is that it does not become entangled in all the political disputes around Gaza. We must be able to work effectively with the Israeli authorities, cooperate closely with the Palestinian Authority, and deal practically with those in control on the ground, without any of the parties trying to exert political control over humanitarian operations … Mr. President, after my first visit to the area, I warned of the growing disconnect between the situation on the ground, particularly but not only in Gaza, and the peace process. A year later, the people of Gaza have continued to exist in what is effectively a giant open-air prison, without normality or dignity. Their lives have been put at risk recklessly by indiscriminate rocket attacks from their midst, which have also killed, injured and traumatized Israeli civilians in Southern Israel. They have now endured a terrifying assault, and must live with its devastating aftermath. This is not sustainable or acceptable. It can only lead to more despair, suffering, death and destruction in the coming years, and perhaps fatally undermine the two-state solution we all seek. It must therefore be in the long term interests of all parties, including Israel, to ease conditions for the people of Gaza , by opening the crossings, facilitating the provision of assistance, and allowing them to live, work and hope again“.
II.) Next here is an alert received today from Sari Bashi. Executive Director of the Israeli human rights group Gisha, entitled “Despite Promises to Facilitate Humanitarian Aid…Israel Is Preventing Repair of the Electrical, Water and Sewage Systems in Gaza: Policy of Deliberate Obstruction Continues Even After the Ceasefire”.
The alert reads:
* The amount of industrial diesel Israel has permitted to enter Gaza is just 64% of the total needed to operate the power station.
* Since the fighting ended, Israel has totally obstructed the transfer of vital spare parts needed to repair the electrical, water and sewage systems.
* As a result, 1/4 million people have been without electricity in Gaza for the past month; power outages span 16-18 hours a day for the others.
* More than 200,000 people have no access to running water; the rest get water for only a few hours every 2-5 days.
Ten days after the ceasefire, and despite promises to permit humanitarian aid to reach Gaza residents, Israel is continuing its deliberate policy of restricting supply of industrial diesel and humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip. The policy, in place for the past 15 months, is preventing the supply of electricity to humanitarian facilities in Gaza.
As a result of the restrictions on the supply of industrial diesel and the mass devastation caused by the military operation, 1/4 million people have been entirely without electricity for over a month, and more than 200,000 people are denied access to running water. Those who receive electricity — suffer power outages of 16-18 hours per day, on average.
The amount of industrial diesel that has been transferred since the ceasefire represents just 64% of the total required to fully operate the power station. In addition, Israel is continuing to impede the transfer of thousands of spare parts which are desperately needed to ensure repairs and the operation of the electrical, water and sewage systems. Some of the parts have been “stuck” in warehouses on the Israeli side for months.
Among these spare parts are 38 transformers which are essential for the repair of the electrical system, following the destruction of more than 100 transformers during the bombing. During the military operation, Israel permitted the supply of a bare minimum of spare parts to the electricity company’s warehouse in Gaza – but four days later it bombed the warehouse, destroying much of the equipment. Since then, Israel has not allowed any spare parts to be supplied to the electrical system.
According to Nedal Touman, Project Manager at the Gaza Electricity Distribution Co. (GEDCO): ‘Our inventory has been completely empty for the past few months. Israel is not permitting the entry of spare parts that we purchased and which have been stuck for months at Karni Crossing. Without the spare parts, we cannot repair the badly-damaged electricity system in Gaza, meaning that 1.5 million people will continue to suffer’.”
Sari Bashi added that “The deliberate withholding of supplies from Gaza for the past 15 months is what pushed its residents to a humanitarian collapse. If Israel ’s stated intention to permit aid to the population of Gaza is genuine, it should prove it by immediately opening the Strip’s crossings to the supply of fuels and goods.”
Finally, the Associated Press has reported on a group of American doctors who travelled to Gaza for a week to help deliver badly needed medical care otherwise unavailable inside the Gaza Strip. The AP reportd that: “The (15-month) closure also dealt a further blow to Gaza’s underdeveloped health care system, which lacks sophisticated equipment and key specialists. Hospitals often operate on generators because of disrupted power supplies, and spare parts for some machines are unavailable. On the eve of the war, Gaza’s hospitals had run out of 250 of the basic 1,000 health care items, and were short on 105 of 480 essential drugs, including some cancer medications and anesthetics, said Mahmoud Daher, a representative of the World Health Organization. In this vulnerable condition, disaster struck. On Dec. 27, the first day of the war, Israeli warplanes bombed Hamas security compounds across Gaza, killing about 220 people, most of them Hamas police, and wounding some 300 people, according to Health Ministry officials. Shifa, Gaza’s central hospital, was overwhelmed. Its six operating theaters couldn’t cope with the waves of seriously wounded … But the war has also changed the lives of those with lighter injuries. Policeman Sabri Elawa, 25, said he was the only one in his 60-member unit to survive the initial bombing raid. Hit by shrapnel in the right leg, he limps and moves with a walker. On Monday, he stood in an unruly line at Shifa for several hours, waiting to pick up a proof-of-injury document. With paper in hand, he went to two charities in a failed search for the office that would pay the 500 euros promised to each wounded person by the Hamas government. Two of his relatives, Maisa and Sami Elawa, accompanied him, seeking emergency payment for their 3-year-old son, Zaher, who suffered a broken hip and burns on the face and chest in a shelling attack near their home. The couple has no income, except for handouts from relatives. They said they can’t afford the medication for Zaher, who was lying on a sofa in the modest living room Monday, alternating between crying and smiling. “He cried for a whole week,” Maisa, 22, said of her son. She said she’s not sure the relief money will ever materialize. ‘All of them have forgotten us. We are the victims and every government just looks for their’ jobs, she said. With many of the wounded either sent home or to hospitals abroad, Shifa has largely settled into its prewar routine. Some of the exhausted Palestinian doctors have been given relief by foreign medical teams that have arrived in Gaza since a cease-fire took hold Jan. 18. Doctors Without Borders set up a white tent clinic on an empty lot in downtown Gaza City and Jordanian specialists are to stay for several months, operating a 44-bed field hospital. The eight Americans, including a plastic surgeon and a radiologist, performed more than 15 procedures since arriving Sunday, including skin grafts and cancer surgery. The group, which also carried cartons of medical equipment, is to stay through Friday … Each trip across the heavily fortified Erez crossing into Israel requires a complicated series of permits from officials in Gaza, the West Bank and finally Israel’s Shin Bet security service. In recent months, the number of rejections on security grounds has increased, said Miri Weingarten, of the Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, which helps Gaza patients. She said about 1,000 referrals a month are needed, but that in the period before the war, only about half that number were reaching Israel. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron said Gaza’s Hamas rulers are responsible for any hardship in Gaza but that Israel has gone out of its way to ensure ongoing medical care. ‘Israel has answered every request made by the Red Cross, the UN and other humanitarian organizations, regarding health care in Gaza’, he said, adding that ‘any claims that Israeli policy is harming the health care system in Gaza are false, completely untrue’. However, international aid groups say the pre-war trickle of aid shipments is not sufficient to deal with Gaza’s growing humanitarian crisis … Many of the wounded will need rehabiliation. The American doctors were careful to stay away from politics — the lifting of the closure is linked to complex negotiations between Israel, Hamas, Egypt and others. But Dr. Ahmed Colwell, an emergency room physician from Sioux City, Iowa, said at least the sick should be given relief. ‘It’s inhumane … to not allow them to even have basic medical care’, he said”. This AP report from Gaza is posted here.