Between 7 July and 26 August 2014, the Gaza Strip witnessed the deadliest escalation in hostilities since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967.
With the borders effectively sealed, Palestinian civilians were prevented from fleeing the Gaza Strip and left with no safe haven. Over the course of seven weeks of fighting, a total of 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians (299 women, 551 children), were killed and a total of 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children, were injured. Over 140 Palestinian families lost three or more family members in a single attack. Casualties among Israeli civilians were also sustained as a result of rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups: five civilians in Israel were killed and dozens were injured.
In Gaza, some half a million people were displaced at the height of hostilities, most from areas within three kilometres of the Gaza perimeter fence, declared as a buffer zone by Israel. The psycho-social impact of the war was immense, with no family left unscathed. Public infrastructure, including educational and health facilities, and water, electricity and sanitation installations, in Gaza suffered heavy damage. Throughout the period, there was widespread concern over serious violations of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes, by the parties to the conflict.
One year on, the crisis still has not stopped. The traumatized population of Gaza struggles to get by, with unemployment at a global high of 43 percent and food insecurity at record levels (73 percent). Eighty percent of the population is reliant on some form of international assistance. This occurs against the backdrop of eight years of Israeli-imposed blockade, the virtual absence of large-scale reconstruction, internal Palestinian political stalemate and the absence of a formal ceasefire.
Today, 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza remain virtual prisoners in an open air prison. Passage through Israel’s Erez Crossing remains off-limits to most of the population, in spite of increasing numbers of exits. Though there have been recent signs of a change in practice, Egypt’s Rafah Crossing has been all but closed since October 2014, with medical cases especially affected. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) was established as a temporary measure to facilitate the import of basic construction materials. While it is facilitating repairs at an increasing rate, the pace of reconstruction remains far too slow. Reconstruction of nearly 12,600 housing units totally destroyed has yet to start, prolonging the hardship of some 100,000 internally displaced people, who are currently staying with host families, in rented apartments, prefabricated units, winterized tents, makeshift shelters, or in their heavily damaged homes. The chronic lack of energy leaves Gaza residents with daily power outages of 12 to 16 hours and continues to undermine all basic service provision. Women, children, adolescents, elderly and people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable in the current context. These groups are at heightened risk of direct and indirect violations of their human rights, with significant impact on their protection and safety.
Against this backdrop, the population of Gaza is frustrated and increasingly desperate. Additionally, the continued non-payment of public sector salaries and internal political stalemate fuels anger among the population. Public sector employees associated with the Hamas authorities have not received their full salary since April 2014 and have received irregular payments since November 2013.
As stated by the United Nations Secretary General in a number of reports, Israel’s blockade of Gaza amounts to collective punishment, prohibited under international law. Lifting the blockade, in compliance with Israel’s legal obligations, will facilitate the right to movement of people and goods to, from and within the Gaza Strip and provide a meaningful and sustainable future to the people in Gaza. The blockade has reduced Gaza’s GDP by 50 percent. To stimulate necessary economic recovery, Palestinians in Gaza must have adequate access to their traditional labor and goods markets in the West Bank and Israel as well as their productive assets. Exports and transfers from Gaza must be stepped up to enable economic recovery and reduce aid dependency and food insecurity. Sustainable, predictable access to agricultural and fishing areas within Gaza must be ensured. Palestinians must be able to realize the full spectrum of their human rights.
Israel, as the Occupying Power and primary duty bearer, as well as Palestinian authorities must ensure the protection of civilians. This includes ensuring accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as ensuring equal and effective access to justice and effective remedies, including reparations. All allegations of violations of international law must be promptly, effectively, independently and impartially investigated and those responsible brought to justice. Third-party states have a critical role to play though fulfilling their obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Inaction by duty bearers and the lack of incentives to break the cycle of violence exacerbates the deteriorating humanitarian situation, contributes to lack of respect for international law and fuels further violence.
As needs among Gaza’s population continue to mount, and in the absence of large-scale reconstruction and recovery, humanitarian assistance can mitigate the worst suffering. In order to meet basic humanitarian needs in the occupied Palestinian territory [oPt], humanitarian agencies are appealing for 705 million USD in 2015, 75 percent of which is designated for Gaza. At present, only 32 percent of the appeal is funded while many high priority interventions, across a range of sectors, remain unfunded. Donors should expedite the disbursement of pledges made at the Cairo conference and continue to support priority humanitarian projects as well as recovery and reconstruction needs. Until a way forward for adequate, predictable and sustainable energy provision is achieved, interim solutions, including a regular fuel supply to the Gaza Power Plant and critical services, need to be provided. Egypt’s recent openings of the Rafah Crossing are welcome and should continue on a regular and predictable basis for people and urgent humanitarian goods.
But funding of temporary assistance must go hand in hand with political actions towards long-term solutions. Gaza is an essential part of the oPt and must not be separated – politically, socially or economically – from the West Bank. The international community must work effectively towards implementation by the parties of a holistic, coordinated, time-bound process aimed at meeting immediate needs in Gaza and transitioning reconstruction into long term recovery and development.
Without fundamental changes in the Gaza Strip, the situation risks further deterioration and another round of senseless violence. The future of Gaza is intimately linked to the future of the entire oPt. The international community cannot afford to allow this unacceptable situation to continue, but a mere return to the pre-war status quo ante is not enough. Gaza needs urgent action and it needs it now.