WINNIPEG, Man. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is urging the governments of the U.S. and Canada to work constructively within the international community to restore the normal flow of goods and people through Gaza-Israel border crossings.
In letters to the U.S. president and Canada’s foreign affairs minister, MCC urges them to support an impartial and independent investigation into Israel’s deadly response to the Free Gaza flotilla on May 31.
The convoy, carrying 10,000 tonnes of much-needed aid, was attempting to enter the Gaza Strip by sea and break the Israeli blockade that has a devastating effect on the livelihoods and lives of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians. The convoy was intercepted by the Israeli military before reaching Gaza and clashes led to the deaths of nine people.
Daryl Byler, MCC’s representative in the region, said hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza live in dire conditions without employment and basic supplies because of the Israeli blockade.
Israel has long restricted the entry of goods into Gaza but tightened its blockade in June 2007 when Hamas became the ruling power after winning elections in 2006.
The severe restrictions that prevent the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza is seen by many as “collective punishment” for electing Hamas, said Byler, who lives in Amman, Jordan.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 10 per cent of Gazan children suffer from chronic malnutrition and two-thirds of the Gazan population faces hunger on a daily basis.
Before Hamas came to power in June 2007 about 850 truckloads of food, fuel and other essential supplies were transported into Gaza every day. That number has now been reduced to 128 loads.
“They are getting only 15 per cent of the goods they got three years ago,” said Byler, explaining the restrictions have created an alternative system of smuggling goods from Egypt through a network of underground tunnels.
“These goods are sold at inflated prices that most people cannot afford,” he explained. “It would be much better to have an above-ground system.”
Gaza’s agriculture and fishing industries have been decimated by restrictions on imports of livestock, seeds and seedlings, plastic piping, iron bars for animal shelters, water pumps, filters and irrigation pipes, fishing nets, engine spare parts, veterinary drugs and cement.
Restrictions on exports also contribute to the humanitarian crisis. Farmers, for example, have the opportunity to grow crops but the blockade prevents them from exporting their products.
Buildings and infrastructure destroyed during the late 2008, early 2009 war cannot be repaired because the blockade restricts imports of building materials such as steel, cement and pipes.
The restrictions also apply to movement of people. “There is virtually no freedom of movement for people,” said Byler. “Young people are doing their utmost to get an education. Many want to go to universities in the West Bank or other parts of the world but the blockade prevents them from leaving Gaza.”
MCC has worked in Palestine and Israel for more than 60 years. In partnership with local Palestinian and Israeli organizations, MCC supports families through its Global Family education sponsorships, distributes material resources such as blankets and school kits and oversees an income generation project that helps families raise rabbits and chickens for consumption and sale.
“Humanitarian aid is appreciated but the big picture for aid agencies in Gaza is the ongoing economic blockade and the continuing humanitarian crisis,” said Byler. “Palestinian aid agencies are not calling for revenge. They want a good life for Israelis but they also want a good life for the people of Gaza.”