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If Gaza Becomes Uninhabitable, It Is Israel's Responsibility

06 October 2015

By Khalid Amayreh

The Gaza Strip, ravaged by devastating wars of aggression by Israel, could become uninhabitable for residents within just five years, a United Nations development agency warned this week.

"The social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding are among the factors that may render Gaza un-livable by 2020, said the report.

Gaza, a tiny enclave of just 362 square kilometers (about 225 square miles) squeezed between the apartheid state of Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea that is home to some 1.8 million Palestinians, counts one of the highest population densities in the world.

The manifestly hermetic blockade imposed on the coastal enclave for close to two decades effectively "ravaged the already debilitated infrastructure of Gaza, shattered its productive base, left no time for meaningful reconstruction or economic recovery and impoverished the Palestinian population in Gaza," the report said.

The report added that "Short of ending the blockade, donor aid... will not reverse the ongoing de-development and impoverishment in Gaza."

Israel's responsibility

There is no doubt that Israel bears most of the blame for this gigantic disaster facing the Gaza Strip. Israel has been in tight control of Gaza since 1967. Even today, nine years after its symbolic withdrawal from the coastal enclave, Israel continues to control Gaza border-crossings, territorial waters, skies. Even poor Gaza fishermen who venture a few kilometers into the sea are often shot at and injured or killed by Israeli navy patrols.

Since 2009, Israel carried out three major wars of aggression on the already impoverished Gaza Strip, killing and maiming tens of thousands of people, mostly innocent civilians.

The three wars also destroyed or seriously damaged as many as a hundred thousand homes and displaced more than 750,000 civilians. The UN and other international bodies described Israeli military operations in Gaza as war crimes or crimes against humanity.

According to the UN report, as many as 247 factories and 300 commercial centers were fully or partially destroyed, and Gaza's only power station sustained severe damage.

The overall situation had already been tragic even before the war.

Power supply covered only 40 percent of demand in the Strip. With regard to water supplies, the report pointed out that that up to 95 percent of water from coastal aquifers - Gazans main source of freshwater - was considered unsafe to drink.

Unemployment in Gaza meanwhile reached 44 percent - the highest level on record - hitting young women especially hard, leaving more than eight out of 10 women out of work. Predictably, the phenomenally high unemployment seriously affected people's ability to secure food.

The report pointed out that a full 72 percent of all households in Gaza are struggling with food insecurity. The number of Palestinian refugees who rely entirely on food distribution from UN agency has skyrocketed from 72,000 in 2000 to 868,000 by last May.

The catastrophic situation in Gaza is made even worse by the Egyptian blockade of the Strip whereby the Rafah border terminal, Gaza's only conduit to the outside world is nearly permanently shut off, ostensibly to punish and torment Gazans for supporting Hamas.

Indeed, many Palestinians have come to believe that the "evil trio" of Israel, the Sissi Junta and the Ramallah regime, are coordinating their respective measures against Gaza for the express purpose of creating an implosion throughout the coastal enclave.

Each of the three parties hopes to achieve a specific goal. The PLO would get rid of an implacable political opponent while the Sissi regime would vent its failure to eradicate an increasingly bloody insurrection against the anti-Islamist coup. As to the Israeli goal, it is to eradicate the last remaining obstacle impeding the liquidation of the Palestinian cause under the false rubric of a peace process which virtually has no substance.

It is also widely believed that the PLO regime in Ramallah is conniving or openly collaborating with Egypt's military junta to keep up the pressure on Gaza for the purpose of forcing Gazans to rise up against Hamas, the PLO's main political rival.

The dire situation in the Gaza Strip is getting even direr by the snail-slow pace of reconstruction, mainly due to the Israeli policy of restricting the entry of building materials to the Strip.

This means that hundreds of thousands of Gaza civilians will remain homeless and without shelters, with all the humanitarian and security ramifications entailed.

Another refugee crisis looming?

There is no doubt that the world could soon face another huge wave of refugees from the Middle East, specifically from the Gaza Strip, if the international community, especially Europe and the US, didn't take immediate proactive measures to stop the menacingly deteriorating living conditions in the coastal Strip.

Israel, whether we like it or not, is the number-1 villain because it is still the occupying power in the Gaza Strip according to international law. The key to the rehabilitation of Gaza is decidedly in Israel's hands. Hence, it is imperative that the international community exert a meaningful pressure, not just words, on Israel now in order to make the Israeli government responsive to the urgent needs of some 2 million Gazans who have chosen life over death and are opting to cling to their ancestral homeland rather than embark on a precarious journey to the shores of Europe

Yes, the people of Gaza, like the rest of Palestinians, don't want to leave their homeland. They are not even looking for a better life in Germany or other European countries.

However, the enduring harsh blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, which is making Gaza increasingly uninhabitable, might very well produce inevitable tragic consequences which could be similar or worse than the phantasmagoric refugee crisis being played out on our TV screens every evening.

The world has a few years to avert the next tragedy. So, to the chief powers of the world, I say "Don't say we didn't know."

Khalid Amayreh is a Palestinian journalist and political commentator living in Occupied Palestine. 



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