forced to scavenge for food on
By Patrick Cockburn in Jerusalem
Independent" -- -- The Israeli military and
economic siege of Gaza has led to a collapse in Palestinian
living conditions and many people only survive by looking for
scraps of food in rubbish dumps, say international aid agencies.
"The pressure and tactics have not resulted in a desire for
compromise," Karen Abuzayd, the head of the UN Relief and Works
Agency is said to have warned. "But rather they have created
mass despair, anger and a sense of hopelessness and
Israel closed the entry and exit points into the Gaza Strip,
home to 1.5 million Palestinians, on 25 June and has conducted
frequent raids and bombings that have killed 262 people and
wounded 1,200. The crisis in Gaza has been largely ignored by
the rest of the world, which has been absorbed by the wars in
Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.
"Women in Gaza tell me they are eating only one meal a day,
bread with tomatoes or cheap vegetables," said Kirstie Campbell
of the UN's World Food Programme, which is feeding 235,000
people. She added that in June, since when the crisis has
worsened, some 70 per cent of people in Gaza could not meet
their family's food needs. "People are raiding garbage dumps,"
Not only do Palestinians in Gaza get little to eat but what food
they have is eaten cold because of the lack of electricity and
money to pay for fuel. The Gaza power plant was destroyed by an
Israeli air strike in June. In one month alone 4 per cent of
Gaza's agricultural land was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers.
The total closure imposed by Israel, supplemented by deadly
raids, has led to the collapse of the Gazan economy. The 35,000
fishermen cannot fish because Israeli gunboats will fire on them
if they go more than a few hundred yards from the shore. At the
same time the international boycott of the Hamas government
means that there is no foreign aid to pay Palestinian government
employees. The government used to have a monthly budget of
$180-200m, half of which went to pay 165,000 public sector
workers. But it now has only $25m a month.
Aid agencies are frustrated by their inability to persuade the
world that the humanitarian crisis is far worse in Gaza than it
is in Lebanon. The WFP says: "In contrast to Lebanon, where
humanitarian food aid needs have been essentially met, the
growing number of poor in Gaza are living on the bare minimum."
It is possible for foreign journalists to visit Gaza but it is a
laborious process passing through the main Israeli checkpoint at
Erez and then walking down a long concrete tunnel. The
kidnapping of two Fox television employees by criminals - though
they were later released - has also dissuaded several TV
companies from covering the crisis.
The total closure imposed by Israel dates from the seizure of
Cpl Gilad Shalit by Palestinian militants on 25 June. Between
then and the end of August, Israeli security forces killed 226
Palestinians, 54 of them minors, in the Gaza Strip, according to
the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem. Of these it says
that 114 were taking no part in any hostilities.
The quickest way to alleviate the crisis would be for Israel to
allow the Rafah crossing into Egypt to reopen, according to the
mayor of Gaza City. But any restoration of the economy would
require the reopening of the other crossing points at Erez and
* Israel lifted its sea blockade of Lebanon yesterday after an
interim maritime task force led by an Italian admiral deployed
off the Lebanese coast, the commander of UN peacekeepers said.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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