27 Dec. '09: One and a Half Million People Imprisoned

Published: 
27 Dec 2009

Background and data on the impact of the siege on the residents of the Gaza Strip*

1. Damage to the economy resulting from the harsh restrictions on imports and exports

  • Israel allows only 35 kinds of goods, which it defines “humanitarian”, to enter the Gaza Strip, compared with some 4,000 kinds of goods entering Gaza prior to the siege.  
  • In the two years of the siege, the daily average of truckloads of goods entering Gaza (112) was reduced to less than one fifth of the comparable figure for truckloads entering in the first five months of 2007 (583).
  • Entry of most materials intended for industry, agriculture, and construction is prohibited, preventing the reconstruction of more than 3,400 residential houses that were destroyed, and some 2,900 that were harmed, in Operation Cast Lead. At present, a year since the operation began, more than 20,000 persons are still living in rented apartments, with relatives, or in tents. It has also been impossible to repair the infrastructure that was damaged: some 10,000 residents of the northern Gaza Strip have no access to running water and some 80 million liters of raw and partially-treated sewage flow daily into the environment.
  • Israel prohibits the import of raw materials and most forms of export from the Gaza Strip (only 147 truckloads of flowers and strawberries, compared with a monthly average of more than 1,000 truckloads during the first five months of 2007). As a result, the Gazan economy has been severely harmed: 95 percent of the businesses in the industrial sector (3,750) have closed, and the remaining five percent have had to cut back operations. AS a result, some 120,000 persons have lost their jobs as a result.
  • The stock of imported food products is dwindling, and their prices are rising, while fruits and vegetables that were intended for export are sold in the local markets at a loss. Even these low prices are beyond the reach of many families, given the high rate of poverty.

2. Detachment of Gazans from the outside world

Israel has closed all its crossing points along the border with the Gaza Strip and as a rule, prevents persons from entering or exiting Gaza, except in the rare cases it deems “humanitarian.” The Crossings Agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in November 2005 arranged the opening of Rafah Crossing, but implementation of the agreement ceased in June 2006, following the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Rafah Crossing has been closed since then, and the rare occasions on which it is opened, for varying lengths of time, does not meet the needs of Gazan residents. Some one and a half million people are imprisoned in the Gaza Strip, which they can only leave if given a special permit by Israel.

3. Grave harm to the health system

Before Operation Cast Lead, the health system in Gaza was already on the verge of collapse due to lack of knowledge, expertise, and experience of the medical teams, lack of medical equipment and personnel capable of operating it, lack of medicines, shortage of rescue vehicles, and frequent and prolonged black-outs. Under these harsh conditions, the health system had to cope with the consequences of the military attack and the thousands of its victims. As a result, the health system further deteriorated. The decline was exacerbated by Israeli attacks that struck medical teams and medical facilities during the operation (8 hospitals and 26 medical clinics).

Despite the dismal situation of the health system in Gaza, from January 2008 to August 2009, Israel rejected or did not respond in time to 40 percent of the requests for a permit to leave Gaza for purposes of medical treatment.

4. Prolonged energy crisis

Israel limits the entry into the Gaza Strip of industrial fuel whose sole purpose is to operate Gaza's only power station, as well as fuel for motor vehicles, diesel fuel, and cooking gas.

  • 90 percent of Gazans suffer electricity black-outs for 4-8 hours a day; the other 10 percent have no electricity at all.

5. Severe harm to the agriculture and fishing sectors

Israel prevents the entry of pesticides, animals, fuel, and replacement parts for irrigation systems into the Gaza Strip. In addition, it has significantly reduced the distance from the coast that fishermen are allowed to reach to a mere 5.5 kilometers, and does not permit access to farmland that lies several hundred meters from the border with Israel.

  • At least 30 percent of the farmland in the Gaza Strip lies close to the border, and most of the fish are found in deep waters, beyond the 5.5-kilometer permitted range.
  • The restrictions on fishing deny Gazans access to a vital food source and encourage excessive fishing in the permitted areas, thus endangering the supply of fish.

6. Poverty and unemployment

  • More than 140,000 persons, comprising more than 40 percent of the workforce in the Gaza Strip, are unemployed as a result of the collapse of economic activity. In the under-30 age group, unemployment has reached almost 60 percent.
  • 75 percent of the Gazan population, more than 1.1 million persons, now lack food security, compared with 56 percent in 2008. Some 1 million Gazans depend on food provided by aid agencies.

* The data were collected by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Palestinian Trade Center (PalTrade).