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From the field

The Tightened siege and intensified economic sanctions

In June 2007, after several weeks of fighting between Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, Hamas seized control of the security apparatuses in the Gaza Strip. In response, Israel tightened its siege over the Gaza Strip, and Palestinians now are almost completely barred from entering or leaving the area.

On 19 September 2007, Israel’s security cabinet declared the Gaza Strip a “hostile entity.”  Israel claims this definition now legalizes various punitive measures imposed on Gazans in response to Qassam rocket fire on Israel, including restricting electricity and fuel supplies. In October, Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, including B’Tselem, petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice against the cuts in electricity and fuel, arguing that the measures were likely to cause extensive humanitarian harm, even the loss of life. In late January 2008, the High Court rejected the petition and allowed the cuts in electricity and fuel.

The fuel shortage directly affects the water and sewage systems in the Gaza Strip as it halts the operation of pumps. Some 30 percent of Gazans are denied regular water supply because of the cuts in electricity.

This and other measures have created a crisis in the Gazan economy, which already was in a precarious condition. Israel has deleted the Gaza Strip customs code from its computer system and the Customs Authority has stopped releasing goods intended for Gaza until further notice, except for basic foodstuffs (such as flour, sugar, oil, rice and salt) and equipment Israel has classified as “humanitarian”. Exports from Gaza have also been blocked, apart from several shipments of agricultural produce and flowers, which Israel has permitted under international pressure.

Since June 2007, no raw materials have entered Gaza, forcing 90 percent of the enterprises to cease operations. The construction sector, too, is totally paralyzed. 3,500 businesses have closed down and over 75,000 workers, who support half a million dependants, have lost their jobs.

As a result of the siege, the stocks of imported food products in Gaza are dwindling, driving their prices sky-high, while fruit and vegetables that were intended for export are being sold in Gazan markets at a loss. Many families cannot afford to buy them, however, due to the high poverty rate in Gaza. 80 percent of Gazan households now live below the poverty line, subsisting on less than 2,300 shekels a month for a family of six. Households in deep poverty, living on less than 1,837 shekels a month, currently comprise 66.7 percent of the population. 80 percent of all Gazan families would literally starve without food aid from international agencies.