From the November 2008 Idaho Observer:


Humanitarian crisis developing in Gaza

Israel preventing food, medicine, fuel from getting in and news from getting out

Over the last several years, Israel has reduced the occupied territories known as "Palestine" to concentration camps in violation of international law, basic human decency and globally-arbitrated "peace" agreements it has signed with Palestinian leaders. If you will notice, the U.S. government always takes the side of Israel in this conflict regardless while the Palestinian people endure atrocities akin to those attributed to Hitler during WWII.

By The Idaho Observer

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Nov 18 (IPS) - Israel has imposed a virtual news blackout on the Gaza Strip. For the last ten days no foreign journalists have been able to enter the besieged territory to report on the escalating humanitarian crisis caused by Israelís complete closure of Gazaís borders for the last two weeks.

Steve Gutkin, the AP bureau chief in Jerusalem and head of Israelís Foreign Press Association, said that he personally "knows of no foreign journalist that has been allowed into Gaza in the last week."

Gutkin said that "while Israel has barred foreign press from entering Gaza in the past, the length of the current ban makes it unprecedented." He added that he has received no "plausible or acceptable" explanation for the ban from the Israeli government.

AP has relied on reports from two of its journalists who were able to enter Gaza days before the closure began and are currently stuck there.

A delegation of European Union parliamentarians was also prevented from entering Gaza to assess the situation on the ground and to hold talks with Hamas leaders. They subsequently broke the naval siege of Gaza by entering the coastís territorial waters from Cyprus by boat, defying the Israeli navy.

During talks held with Hamas, the EU parliamentarians were able to get a historic commitment from the Islamic organisation to recognise Israelís right to exist within the internationally recognised 1967 borders. Hamas further offered a long-term ceasefire in return for Israel legitimising Palestinian rights.

Israel also prevented 20 European Union consul-generals from entering Gaza on Thursday. On Sunday Israeli border police prevented 15 trucks loaded with medication from entering the Gaza Strip.

EU commissioner for external relations and European neighbourhood policy, Bentita Ferrero-Waldner, has expressed strong reservations. "I am profoundly concerned about the consequences for the Gazan population of the complete closure of all Gaza crossings for deliveries of fuel and basic humanitarian assistance," Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement Friday.

Karen AbuZayd, head of the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) which cares for Palestinian refugees, added that it was unusual for Israel not to let basic food and medicines in. "This has alarmed us more than usual because itís never been quite so long and so bad, and there has never been so much negative response on what we need," she said.

Israel closed the borders following a barrage of rockets fired by Palestinian resistance fighters at Israeli towns bordering the Gaza Strip.

The tit-for-tat violence began on Nov. 4 when the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched a cross-border raid into Gaza, breaking a shaky five-month ceasefire with Hamas. The purpose was ostensibly to destroy a tunnel built by Palestinians allegedly to smuggle captured Israeli soldiers.

More than 20 Palestinians were killed in Israeli raids. Two Israelis were lightly injured in the subsequent rocket attacks.

The timing of Israelís breach of the ceasefire is curious in that hundreds of these smuggling tunnels have existed ever since Hamas took over the strip in June last year. They have been used to smuggle everyday necessities as well as arms because the territory is hermetically sealed by Israel.

John Ging, director of UNRWA in Gaza, who has lived there for the past three years, questioned the alleged security reasoning behind the closure. Since the ceasefire went into place this summer, Ging said, fewer supplies have passed through the crossing than in the beginning of 2006, when the western Negev in Israel suffered incessant rocket fire from Gaza.

As of Nov. 18, UNWRA reports that warehouses are running out of food, cooking gas and medical supplies. Fuel for generators that supply electricity to the region are dwindling; 70 percent of Gaza has been experiencing electricity blackouts after Israel prevented deliveries of diesel fuel, forcing Gazaís main power plant to close down. Other generators are becoming inoperable due to Israel preventing replacement parts from entering Gaza.

Due to the power shortage, Gazaís Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) has reportedly been forced "to pump tonnes of untreated sewage into the ocean," much of which "will flow back into Gazaís underground water table, and the threat of contaminated drinking water spreading diseases" has increased.

Philip Luther, deputy director of Amnesty Internationalís Middle East programme, said that Israelís latest tightening of the blockade had "made an already dire humanitarian situation markedly worse. This is nothing short of collective punishment on Gazaís civilian population, and it must stop immediately."

Following international pressure and protests from the EU, Israel allowed 30 trucks of humanitarian aid to enter the strip Monday. "It will last a matter of days," said UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness. "But then what?"