Essential services “are on the verge of collapse” in Gaza after Israel once again banned the transfer of fuel into the occupied and blockaded territory, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated on Monday.
Two hospitals – maybe more – will run out of fuel in less than two days, OCHA added.
Meanwhile 40 of Gaza’s 132 water and sanitation facilities only have enough fuel to last one or two days.
“1.2 million Palestinians are at imminent risk of possible sewage overflow around the 41 main pumping stations,” OCHA stated.
These are the threats posed by the latest deliberately designed and managed crisis imposed on Gaza by Israel to pacify the rebellion among its population of two million.
“Israel must end restrictions preventing the import of UN-sponsored emergency fuel into Gaza and donors need to provide immediate funding to prevent the unfolding of a man-made catastrophe,” OCHA warned.
Rights as bargaining chips
The basic humanitarian needs of Gaza’s population – half of whom are children, two-thirds refugees – are being treated as bargaining chips in indirect talks between Hamas and Israel mediated by the UN’s Middle East peace envoy and Egypt.
The multistage deal would reportedly see the easing of Israel’s blockade and the implementation of internationally funded humanitarian projects after the declaration of an immediate ceasefire, including the halting of incendiary kites and balloons sent from Gaza.
Gaza’s civilian infrastructure as well as its economy have suffered badly after more than a decade of Israeli blockade and successive military assaults.
Half the population lives under the poverty line, and a third is in deep poverty, defined as living on less than $3.60 per day.
Unemployment stands at 49 percent – the rate is higher for young people (60 percent) and women (71 percent).
Gaza households receive around four hours of electricity per day and 97 percent of the water is undrinkable.
Only half of the 12,000 homes in Gaza that Israel destroyed during its 51-day assault in 2014 have been rebuilt.
Of the $3.5 billion pledged by international donors for the reconstruction of Gaza after that war, only about half had been disbursed as of March this year.
Israel is the occupying power in Gaza and is therefore responsible for the humanitarian needs of the people living under its military rule.
But a situation of impunity has allowed Israel to repeatedly destroy civilian infrastructure with third states and international bodies footing the bill for Gaza’s reconstruction.
Israel meanwhile enjoys total control over humanitarian projects subsidized by third countries.
The so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism established by the UN, the Palestinian Authority and COGAT, the bureaucratic arm of the Israeli occupation, only consolidated Israel’s control.
Under the reconstruction mechanism, the UN gathers private information about Palestinian households to be passed onto Israel, which has a veto over which families get aid to rebuild their homes.
In a confidential analysis exclusively published by The Electronic Intifada in 2016, a leading international law expert warned UN officials that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is illegal and violates the very “right to life” of the Palestinian people.
Yet Israel continues to use humanitarian aid as a lever to put pressure on Palestinians in Gaza for its own aims.
In July, Israel banned imports to and from Gaza, including the entry of emergency fuel supplied by the UN.
The stated reason for the tightened restrictions was the launching of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza, causing hundreds of fires in southern Israel.
But statements made by Israeli leaders demonstrate that the measures are a form of collective punishment.
“Gaza’s residents need to understand that as long as there are incendiary balloons and fires on our side, life on their side will not return to a normal routine,” Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman stated last month.
According to three international development organizations, water, health and sanitation projects amounting to tens of millions of dollars are blocked under the tightened restrictions imposed in July.
These include a “major desalination plant in Gaza City which would provide water to 200,000 people,” as well as water tanks that would provide water to more than 190,000 people, and “facilities that would treat wastewater for hundreds of thousands of households and reduce the contamination load discharged to the sea.”
“Water-related diseases are the primary cause of child morbidity and account for a quarter of illnesses in Gaza,” the international development groups state.
“Every day of delay puts families at risk of illness and death, paying high prices for unsafe water and without access to safe toilets.”
Noting the extent to which the Israeli government controls “which Palestinians can provide for themselves and their families,” the development groups point out that Israeli officials have described such restrictions as being designed “to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.”
And yet that isn’t the extent of Israel’s control over the lives of Palestinians in Gaza.
Cancer patients punished
Human rights groups revealed last week that Israel denied exit permits to more than 800 Palestinians in Gaza on the basis that the applicant was a first-degree relative of a “Hamas operative.”
The rights groups are petitioning Israel’s high court on behalf of seven medical patients who were denied access to treatment on that basis.
This new form of collective punishment was imposed by Israel’s security cabinet after the family of a slain Israeli soldier whose body is being held in Gaza petitioned the high court to deny medical travel permits for “Hamas operatives and their relatives,” as reported by The Jerusalem Post.
Until Israel allows the resumption of fuel to Gaza, the lives of more than 2,000 patients relying on electrical devices are on the line, including newborns in incubators.
Meaningful action – not bland admonishments – must be taken to end Israel’s cruel experiment in human despair in Gaza.
The first step is an unconditional demand to end Israel’s blockade. Basic rights must be guaranteed, not negotiated by the very bodies meant to ensure their protection.