Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gaza Families Down to a Meal a Day

By Erin Cunningham
IPS News, Inter Press Service
May 13, 2009

Um Abdullah cannot remember the last time she was able to feed meat to her eight children. She does know that for the past week the single meal she cooked for them each day consisted only of lentils. And that on one day, she had received aid coupons from the United Nations, which she subsequently sold to buy tomatoes and eggplant at the local market.

Um Abdullah is a 42-year-old dressmaker and hails from Jabaliya, a cramped refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City. Stories like hers are commonplace across the Gaza Strip, where years of sanctions, siege and now war have battered the territory's economy and put many essentials out of reach for the majority of the population.

"We live day to day, nothing more," says Um Abdullah, who made less than three dollars in profit over the last three days. "If we can eat once a day, that is good enough for us."

While the prices of food and other goods have cooled off from the record highs they hit during Israel's three-week assault, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that a number of items, many of them basic, remain more expensive for Gaza's residents than they were before Operation Cast Lead.

Sugar, rice, onion, cucumber, tomato, lemon, pepper, chicken, meat, fish and garlic were all more expensive for Gaza's residents in March 2009 than they were in December 2008, the WFP says.

The price of pepper per kilogram doubled, while the cost of onions jumped 33 percent. Fresh chicken is now 43 percent more expensive than before the war, a result of the destruction of a number of poultry farms across Gaza throughout the assault.

The decimation of wide swathes of agricultural land, as well as cattle and sheep farms, has added to Gaza's growing food insecurity.

But the war only intensified an already dire humanitarian situation, economists say, which has its roots in Israel's economic siege that hermetically sealed Gaza's borders in June 2007.

The shortage of all but "essential" goods and a flow of only a trickle of fuel have sent prices of food and other products skyrocketing over the past two years, making them unaffordable to many households in the Gaza Strip.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the food portion of Gaza's consumer price index (CPI) - an economic indicator used to measure the average price of goods and services purchased by households - rose 28 percent in 2008.

In Israel, by comparison, the CPI's food segment increased by less than 5 percent from March 2008 to March 2009, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics reports.

"A negative economic growth rate coupled with an extreme shortage of goods is causing what we call stagflation in Gaza and that is what is behind the high prices," says Dr. Ibrahim Hantash of the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute.

"The rampant smuggling also sends prices of basic goods through the roof, because there is no control. It's all black market."

After the war, the majority of Gazans are now living below the income poverty line, says the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It defines the line as a family of six subsisting on 500 dollars per month.

More than half of those families living below the poverty are living in extreme hardship, on less than 250 dollars each month, or approximately 1.35 dollars per person per day.

And because Gaza's households spend most of their dwindling monthly income on food, the IMF says, 75 percent of the population has been forced to reduce the quantity of food they buy, while 89 percent reduced the quality.

This has meant many households, like Um Abdullah's, have had to forego certain sources of protein, including meat and eggs.

"Gazans face an acute shortage of nutritious, locally-produced and affordable food," says a report released by the WFP and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in March.

Gazans have consequently reduced their daily calorie intake, mainly by no longer eating items like red meat, rice, oils and fats, and fruits and dairy products – leading to nutritional deficiencies like anaemia, the report says.

Jalal Ataf Al-Masari has been running a fruit stand at the heart of the crowded Beach refugee camp in Gaza City for ten years, and he says he has never seen prices so high and business so low.

"At the beginning of the siege, it was only the poor that stopped buying fruit," Al-Masari says. "Now, nobody buys fruit. Life has become increasingly worse."

To read the entire article >

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gaza: Not nearly back to normal

Apr 30th 2009 | GAZA CITY
From The Economist print edition
Three months after Israel’s war ended, life for Gazans is still dismal

MUHAMMAD KHADER places some rugs and blankets amid the ruins of his house. Sometimes he goes there to rest when the tent he shares with his wife and six of their daughters gets too crowded. They ran away from their home earlier this year when it was hit by a missile during Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, and fled to their only married daughter’s house in Jabaliya, a Palestinian refugee camp originally built for villagers fleeing in 1948 from what is now Israel. The daughter did not have enough blankets or mattresses for everyone but the neighbours helped out.

As soon as the Israeli troops pulled out of Gaza in mid-to-late January the Khader family went home—to find a pile of rubble. Even their chicken pen had been bulldozed. It had been their sole source of income since Mr Khader, along with thousands of other Gazan men, lost his permit to work in Israel after the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) started in 2000. Now he sits amid the debris and gazes at the green tents with Rotary International logos which an Arab charity has pitched on a muddy, desolate field on Jabaliya’s eastern edge. Before the war, olive and citrus trees grew there. “We used to work in Israel,” he says, lighting another cigarette. “We worked for them, built their houses. And now look what they’ve done to us.”

Mr Khader is one of tens of thousands of Palestinians who became homeless in the recent Gaza war. UN agencies estimate that 4,100 houses were destroyed and 15,000-plus damaged; 50,000-odd people sought refuge in UN schools during the fighting. Most went home after the truce or found other places to live. But thousands are still huddling in tents in makeshift refugee camps.

A mining bulldozer noisily clears away the ruins on the fringe of Jabaliya but there is virtually no reconstruction anywhere in Gaza. At an international donors’ conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in March, $4.5 billion was pledged for reconstruction. But three months after the ceasefire, repair work has yet to begin.

Israel is still enforcing the sanctions it imposed on Gaza after the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, took over the strip in June 2007, violently ousting its secular rival, Fatah. The Israelis still refuse to let in most imports except food and vital medicine. They still bar building material such as concrete, steel and pipes, as well as industrial equipment. They say they fear that Hamas and other militant groups would use them to build bunkers or weapons, such as the home-made rockets they still sometimes fire at nearby Israeli towns.

Supplies for repairing the water and sewage system and the electricity networks damaged during the war are also stuck at the border terminals. A good 90% of the people suffer from power cuts; the rest have no electricity at all. While 32,000 people in a population of 1.5m have no running water, 100,000 or so get water once in every two or three days. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which looks after Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, says that the rate of infectious diseases, including diarrhoea and viral hepatitis, which result from bad water and sanitation, has risen.

To read the entire article, go to:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Israel's Gaza report 'lacks credibility': Amnesty International

Thursday, Apr 23, 2009

The Israeli army's investigation into its recent war in Gaza "lacks credibility" and is no substitute for an independent probe, London-based rights organisation Amnesty International said Thursday.

The Israeli army on Wednesday defended its conduct during the 22-day offensive against Hamas, saying five investigations carried out by the military found the army "operated in accordance with international law."

But Amnesty said the army briefing "lacks crucial details" and failed to explain the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths during the war, including incidents involving shooting at medical facilities.

"In the absence of the necessary evidence to substantiate its allegations, the army's claims appear to be more an attempt to shirk its responsibilities than a genuine process to establish the truth," it said in a briefing note.

"Such an approach lacks credibility."

Amnesty urged Israel to cooperate with a UN commission headed by former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone to probe allegations of crimes during the offensive.

It said: "The Israeli army's probe is no substitute for a thorough, independent and impartial investigation."

A major charge against the Israeli military concerned its use of white phosphorous shells, which are allowed under international law for use on open battlefields to create a smokescreen for troops, but prohibited in densely populated areas.

The army said it had acted in accordance with international humanitarian law, but Amnesty said its assurances "could not be further from the truth."

"Amnesty International researchers on the ground found hundreds of white phosphorus-impregnated felt wedges in residential areas all over Gaza, still smouldering weeks after they had been fired," it said.

It added: "The Israeli army must provide specific, detailed information about why targets were chosen and the means and methods of attack used in order to assess their conclusion that the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) complied fully with international humanitarian law."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gaza needs more aid

By Mel Frykberg,
The Electronic Intifada,
12 April 2009

RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - John Ging, head of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza, has urged Israel to ease aid flow restrictions that are having a devastating effect on the 1.5 million inhabitants.

Ging says the amount of aid being allowed into Gaza at present is "wholly and totally inadequate. It's having a very devastating impact on the physical circumstances and also the mindset of people on the ground," Ging told IPS.

According to a report released last month by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), on average 127 aid trucks a day are entering Gaza.

OCHA stated that this was insufficient and way below the 475 that entered daily one month prior to Hamas's takeover of Gaza in June 2007.

"We need access," Ging said. "It's the number one issue. It's the number two issue. It's the number three issue, and so on. Until we get it, there's nothing as important as solving the access issue."

"Eighty percent of the goods that are allowed in comprise food," Mike Bailey, an Oxfam spokesman told IPS. "The rest is medical and other relief supplies. However, agricultural products such as seedlings, water pipes and fertilizer essential for reviving the agricultural sector have either been denied or delayed."

"The education sector has also been crippled. Computers, books, stationery and other educational accessories are also being denied entry," said Bailey.

"Additionally, concrete, cement, steel and glass are barred, thus preventing the tens of thousands of homes that were destroyed and damaged during the Gaza war from being rebuilt and repaired," he added.

Antoine Grand, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sub-delegation to Gaza, says that the ICRC is still negotiating with the Israelis to allow waste water and water plant spare parts and repair equipment into Gaza.

"We have been waiting for several months but so far we have not been permitted to import this equipment which is essential for the projects we have under way to repair sewage and water plants damaged during the Gaza war," Grand told IPS.

About 150,000 Gazans are still deprived of access to sufficient quantities of safe drinking water, while 90 percent experience intermittent power cuts. Gazans in need of medical attention abroad are struggling to get permits.

To read the entire article:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Israeli Military repeatedly violated Medical Ethic Codes during its Gaza Offensive

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel
March 23, 2009

Prevention of medical assistance from the trapped and the wounded, severe difficulties to emergency medical evacuation, attacks on medical personnel and medical facilities, and de facto prevention from the chronically ill and gravely wounded referral to medical care outside Gaza. "We call for an outside independent body to investigate the events" say representatives of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

The new report, published today by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, gives room for concern that during the operation in Gaza, Israeli soldiers repeatedly acted in violation of the army's code of ethics, the medical code of ethics, and basic human values. These actions suggest repeated violations of the International Law regarding the treatment of the ill and the wounded and the protection of medical personnel.

The report examines six topics: the situation of the Gaza health system on the eve of the military operation, the difficulties in evacuating the wounded to medical centers outside Gaza, attacks on medical personnel, difficulties in internal evacuation of the wounded, attacks on medical facilities and injury to chronic and acute patients.

To read the report on line:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Young Gaza couple begin married life in a tent

Live from Palestine Reports
Rami Almeghari
March 2, 2009

Last Thursday, relatives, friends and local community representatives attended an unusual wedding party in Gaza. The celebration was held in a newly-erected refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip town of Jabaliya.

"My wife and I planned to marry at my house, where we furnished an apartment, just shortly before Israel's war on Gaza. Yet, as you see, we were forced to stay at this tent in the al-Rayyan refugee camp," said newly-married Ahmad al-Hersh of Jabaliya refugee camp.

"We had no other option; after the war, there have been so many difficulties to find a house to rent, as the demand is higher than before. My wife Eman initially objected but later on she agreed as we don't have any other choice. And thanks to those who helped furnish this marriage set," recalled Ahmad while sitting at his tent's bedroom.

Ahmad used to live in a three-story house in the al-Khulafa neighborhood inside the town of Jabaliya, before it was bombed by Israeli warplanes during the 22-day siege of Gaza. The tent where the newly married Palestinian couple will live has a bed, table, cupboard and a small bathroom.

Ahmad explained that "I am not totally pleased but what can I say. But I look forward to the reconstruction of Gaza soon, so I and many others like myself get relief. I am a victim of the Israeli war."

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestine Red Crescent Society, Israeli shelling and missiles during the 22-day-long siege destroyed more than 2,800 homes completely and damaged an additional 1,900, leaving tens of thousands homeless. To accommodate the large number of internally displaced Palestinians, a number of small refugee camps have been erected in different parts of the Gaza Strip, mainly in northern Gaza, through assistance by international organizations such as the UN agency for Palestine refuees, UNRWA. Ahmad's special tent was funded by a local charity in Jabaliya, via a Kuwaiti grant.

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US Congress members report on their visit to Gaza

Videos from the visit of Congressman Baird and Congressman Ellison's visit to Gaza

And a report back at the New American Foundation event:
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