The Gaza Strip is essentially a prison. That’s the best way to think of it. About two-thirds of Gaza is surrounded by a security fence that is patrolled by the Israeli Army. The rest of Gaza borders the Mediterranean Sea and is patrolled by the Israeli Navy. Israel destroyed the Strip’s only airport in 2001. So Israel, with the help of Egypt, completely controls who and what enters Gaza and who and what leaves Gaza.
After Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007, Israel began to sharply restrict the flow of people and goods entering and leaving the Strip. Because Gaza, like most small economies, depends upon foreign trade for its survival, this proved to be devastating. Businesses went bankrupt, unemployment skyrocketed. By August 2008, 80% of the population had become dependent upon international aid.
And then last year Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead” and for three weeks subjected Gazans to what can only be described as Hell. When all was said and done, 1,400 people (most of them civilians) had been killed, 100,000 people displaced, 3,540 homes destroyed, 55,770 homes damaged, 268 businesses destroyed, 432 businesses damaged. Moreover, “Tanks and other military vehicles demolished 17% of Gaza’s cultivated land in the conflict, including 17.5% of olive, date and other fruit orchards and 9.2% of open fields.” [Sources: United Nations OCHA and Amnesty International, Oxfam, et al (h/t Norman Finkelstein and The Heathlander).]
Once the assault ended, foreign governments offered a total of $4 billion to help rebuild Gaza. But Israel has continued the blockade, rendering that offer all but meaningless. For the last twelve months, Israel has allowed just a trickle of humanitarian goods to enter the Strip. And to make matters worse, its definition of “humanitarian goods” keeps changing. Some weeks, this means that Gazans can receive things like pasta, school notebooks, and hearing aids. Other weeks, they’re not so lucky. All total, over the past year, Israel has allowed approximately 112 truckloads of goods to enter Gaza a day, down from 583 truckloads a day during the first five months of 2007.
And Israel has allowed almost no construction materials to enter Gaza. During the past twelve months, Israel has permitted less than four truckloads of such material to enter the Strip a month, down from approximately 7,400 truckloads a month during the first part of 2007. Needless to say, this means that Gazans have been unable to rebuild their homes and businesses.
This also means that Gazans cannot rebuild their medical facilities, 48% of which were damaged or destroyed in “Cast Lead.” And it means that Gazans have been unable to repair their electrical power system, which was heavily damaged in the assault. And it means that Gazans have been unable to repair their water sanitation system, which also suffered major damage. Because of this, the UN warns that the Strip’s “water supply is on the verge of collapse.”
As far as exports go, well, fuhghettaboutit. They’ve been almost nonexistent. Consequently, 40% of Gazans remain unemployed and 70% of Gazan families are forced to survive on less than one dollar a day per person.
I could keep going on and on. I could discuss all the medical patients who are prevented from leaving the Strip to receive treatment. I could discuss all the students who cannot leave to study abroad. I could tell you that most Gazan children have PTSD, that 10% of Gazan children under five suffer from malnutrition. I could describe how Israel recently imposed a 300 meter “buffer zone” along the border, cutting “Gazans off from 30 percent of the strip’s arable land.”
I could go on and on. But I think you get the idea.