Collective Punishment, Gaza, & Crimes against Humanity

Earlier this month (Nov. 5th, I think) Israeli authorities closed the Gaza Strip to all foreign press. Shortly after that – on Nov. 13th – a group of European diplomats was refused entry into Gaza. Amnesty International deputy to the Middle East, Philip Luther commented on this “Gaza is cut off from the outside world. Israel is seemingly not keen for the world to see the suffering that the blockade is causing to the one and a half million Palestinians who are virtually trapped there.”  Nov. 29th and the blockade remains.

A Red Cross report describes the effects of the siege as “devastating”. The United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all called Israel’s blockade “cruel.” Former United States President Jimmy Carter described the situation as “a heinous atrocity”.

On a personal note, I worry about those there whose lives have intertwined with mine though the work of MPT, our witness, and their nonviolent resistance to the injustices they face.

But beyond that I am sickened and angry by the collective punishment, the clear violation of international law, and the inhumanity of a government that can deny another people basic human rights — that is, the right to food, water, medicine, shelter, security and dignity. And I am disheartened with a world that seems willing to stand by and watch this happen.

Just to give a small sense of what the closure has done: (from the popular committee against the siege)

– A severe shortage of basic medicines is up to 40%. Medicines of diabetes, heart, asthma and other chronic diseases are gone from Gaza. Additionally, other kind of medicines for Cancer, liver failure face sharp shortages.

– Some Medical Machines are in bad need for spare parts and maintenance. Due to siege none of the needed is being achieved.

– The power cuts and continued blackouts damaged part of machines Spare parts are not available!

– Gases used for surgeries are not enough and what’s available is only for 3-4 days.

– Generators of hospitals are working for long hours due to Power cuts with replacement fuel unavailable, already a generator of Al Shifa’ hospital stopped.

– Natural cocking gas is not available leaving kitchens of all Gazan hospitals closed. This affects food quality for sick people. .

– Around 60% of ambulances are being stopped and some medical vans as well.

– More than 700000 of chickens executed due to lack of fodder.

– Fishing sector lacks natural gas needed for fishing and also the process of incubation is being halted.

– Agricultural products are being held in Gaza as Israel prevents any kind of exportation since a year and a half.


– Israel completely cut all kind of fuel including the Industrial one needed for the key power plant. Cocking gas, fuel, Benzine and Gasoline don’t enter Gaza leaving people in dire situation.

– The power plant is function 50% of its capacity as it was hit by Israel in 2006. It produces around 70 Megawatt out of 140 Megawatt due to lack of spare parts. It consumes around 300 thousands litters of industrial fuel beside the storage fuel, none of that entered Gaza for the last 20 days.

– The stoppage of plunged 50-60% into deep darkness due to lack of power.

In Gaza the number of bakeries is 47 but now the working ones are 17 only.

– Normally, Gaza needs 450 tons of flour; 100 goes for bakeries and 300 for house use. Part of the house share is being provided by UNRWA which halted its work lately. There is likely only enough remaining flour and wheat for 12-15 days.

– The sector faces a sharp shortage in chlorine needed for Water. therefore, contaminated water mixed with sewage would be a reason for plagues.

– Around 100 water wells work out of 145 with 60% capacity of the normal performance. 45 water wells work with ability of 80% this due to spare parts shortage and Israeli closure.

– Consumption of water is 220 thousand cubic in the normal time. However, it decreased to 40%. Some areas in the Gaza strip don’t get water especially the high locations.

– Another serious outcome is sewage water leaking into the sea. It is estimated of 77million litters a day This kills fish resources and causes environmental disaster.

For a view from someone else, I pass along this letter written by the father of a friend:

8 November 2008

Anyone who is monitoring the quality of life in the Gaza Strip, which has been living under a tightened 18-month siege, will be shocked by the catastrophic humanitarian situation. Unemployment rate has risen to 80% and the majority of the population is living far below the poverty line with one or two dollars a day. As a concerned medical professional, I would like to draw your attention to some harsh aspects of life for the civilian population in Gaza:

 First: There are tremendous health problems, which threaten people with either death or life-long disability. There is a severe shortage in medicine and medical equipment. Hospital maintenance and upgrades for X-Ray rooms, labs, pharmacies and operating rooms are desperately in need of attention. People with chronic and serious illnesses such as cancer or diabetes do not stand a chance for recovery or receiving the appropriate treatment. The number of deaths due to inability to receive medical treatment is 257 since June of 2007. Many seniors and children with chronic illnesses such as two-year old Said Al-Ayidy, three-month old Hala Zannoun, fifteen-year old Rawan Nassar and numerous others died because they were denied travel permits for treatment and were simply left to die.

  Hospitals in Gaza are anything but what hospitals should look like. Daily power cuts for long hours have caused immense suffering, especially to patients whose lives depend on medical machinery. Hospitals used gas-powered generators as substitutes. Yet, due to the lack of gas and diesel, the generators no longer served their purpose and the problem escalated.  Sadly, the only opportunity that patients with serious diseases have is to be transferred either to Egypt or Israel. Often, it is extremely complicated and near to impossible to obtain permission to be transferred to either country. Many are barred from even considering treatment outside of Gaza except for a few urgent cases. Many patients have died while waiting for the official documents to be issued; others have died on their way to Israel or Egypt. Hospitals have been turned into places where patients sleep for several days without any healing or proper treatment due to the absence of drugs and medical equipment. Such supplies are not allowed to cross into Gaza from the commercial border points due to Israeli closure of such borders.  

Second: We face another serious problem: sewage and pollution. We live in a densely populated area. The people of Gaza live in poor shanty towns, refugee camps, and crowded neighborhoods, which share fragile and inadequate infrastructure. Lack of fuel supply stops the water pumps that deal with the treatment and sanitation of sewage water. The only solution that the city has is to drain the sewer water into the Mediterranean. As a result, the beaches have been polluted and the fishing season has been significantly damaged.

On rainy winter days, the streets and homes are flooded with water and the already bumpy and unpaved roads become even worse. Sewer pipes often burst and get damaged due to inadequate infrastructure and lack of maintenance and repair. Dirty and toxic water is flooding out from broken pipes into streets and homes. In some refugee camps, the floods were so severe that people were forced to assemble primitive boats and flow over the water. In Jabalia refugee camp, where I work as a physician in a United Nations clinic, people have increasingly reported illnesses and sickness due to exposure to toxic air and chemical wastes.

Water has been flooding our backyard for days. The city public works department is unable to fix the problem because there are no construction materials to replace the damaged utilities. Heavy machinery does not have fuel to operate. We cannot open any windows and we are breathing toxic waste for days until sunny days come around to dry out everything. Streets are covered with mud, pebbles and sharp stones that are hazardous. The city departments are unable to fix any problems because they simply do not have any resources.

Finally, there are numerous problems that face our impoverished war-torn and isolated society, especially our damaged and disabled infrastructures. I did not mention the numerous shortages in food, goods and services, cash and other basic needs because I wanted to point out the health issues, which I am most familiar with as a medical professional. There is a need for urgent help from the international community. Former United States President Jimmy Carter described the siege that Gaza is enduring as a “crime against human rights.”

Can you imagine living like this?

F.M.A (Gaza City, Palestine)  U.N. Medical Officer

6 responses to “Collective Punishment, Gaza, & Crimes against Humanity

  1. But isn’t it working? Aren’t the rocket attacks decreasing? Or do you not care about attacks on Israel?

  2. You bring up some interesting questions…. most importanlty – yes, of course I do care about attacks on Israel. I tend not to write about that on this blog because it is so easy to find stores and info. about that in any “mainstream” media.

    As to if the blockade is working, I honestly don’t think so. Particularly if we think long term – the devestation and horrible conditions are only likley to increase resentment and anger against Israel. Additonally, I believe that one reason people turn to vioelnce is when they feel voiceless. I know that is somewhat simplied and certainly not the only reason but you get the idea.

    Finally, I would ask that even if one believes it is working at what cost? Stopping food, fuel, medicine etc. is far more likely to impact the very young, the elderly, the sick etc. disproportiionalty. And I believe it simply wrong to punish the entire population for the actions of some.
    Peace, Sher

  3. Here is a link to a BBC article on Qassam rocket attacks on Israel.

    It’s from Jan of 2008, so the figure that a total of 13 Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza since 2000 is a little outdated. But in 2007, 783 rockets were launched from Gaza and 2 Israelis were killed. Compare this to 257 deaths of residents of Gaza just since June of 2007 due to inability to receive proper medical treatment. And this does not include residents of Gaza killed by other Israeli means, such as the 18 people, many women and children, killed by shelling in Beit Hannoun in Nov. 2006. Rocket fire is not a major threat Israelis, it’s more a gesture of defiance.

    Would I like to live in a place that was hit by 783 rockets in a year? No, of course not. Am I sad for Israelis killed in this conflict? Yes, but I believe that wholesale destruction is being visited on the people of Gaza, and this is what the world (and especially the United States, Israeli’s biggest ally) needs to focus on.

  4. thanks for the link Abby!

  5. Pingback: Reflections on Fasting For Gaza « Michigan Peace Team’s Weblog

  6. Abby, I have deep reservations about your tit-for-tat logic. “Am I sad for Israelis killed in this conflict? Yes, but … ” Yes but! But what?

    Are you also sad for the non-Israeli’s killed in Palestinian terror attacks? Do you want to talk about the Lod Airport massacre or Thailand’s Weerachai Wongput who was killed by one of those Palestinian rockets? The deaths of Gazans due to a lack of medical treatment is due ENTIRELY to Hamas. After the election, Hamas expelled all non-Islamic (&pro-Fatah) medical staff from Gazan hospitals and clinics, severely limiting the number of staff & specialists. Right now to travel out of Gaza for medical care, one must apply for a permit from Hamas – not Israel. Look it up! Remember – Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. What was the Palestinian response? I mean, besides the terrorist rockets, shopping mall bombs and sniper fire? It is easy to excuse this violence if one goes out of her way to view the Palestinians as a people “occupied” by a white colonial power, isn’t it?

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