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Life under the blockade

When Samir al-Nadim discovered that he needed an operation on his heart he knew he had to travel to the West Bank for treatment. Because Samir lived in Gaza he was not allowed to leave without first getting a permit from Israeli authorities. His journey was delayed by 22 days as he waited for his request to be processed.

By the time the authorities granted Samir permission to leave Gaza he was unconscious and breathing through a respirator. Samir was so ill that when he finally arrived in a West Bank hospital for the life-saving treatment, surgeons were unable to operate.

Just two days later, on 1 November 2009, the father of three died of heart failure.

The Israeli authorities have denied any responsibility for the delays that caused Samir’s death, saying that they followed standard bureaucratic procedures.

Those same bureaucratic procedures meant Israeli authorities also failed to issue a permit to two year-old Nasma abu Lasheen in time for her to receive life-saving medical treatment at an Israeli hospital.

When the permit was granted after more than a week’s delay, it was already too late. Nasma, who suffered from leukaemia, died in Gaza on 16 October 2010.

These cases are tragic but they are not that rare. The World Health Organisation estimates that 28 patients died in 2009 while waiting for permits – 14 of them were waiting for permission to pass through the Erez crossing to Israel. Some of these deaths might have been prevented had patients not experienced such delays.

The lack of access to emergency medical attention is a particularly tragic consequence of life under the strict blockade placed on the people of Gaza by the Israeli authorities since 2007. But it is not the only one.

Life under the blockade

Palestinian patients seeking specialised medical treatment unavailable in Gaza are in fact one of the very few categories of people allowed to leave the Gaza strip, if granted a permit. Since 2000, when Israel imposed a general ban on the passage of people from Gaza to the West Bank, freedom of movement for Palestinians has been severely restricted.

Following the ‘blockade’ of Gaza in 2007 - when Israel closed the five Israeli controlled crossings between Gaza and Israel or the West Bank - it has become almost impossible.

And its not just people who are restricted in their movement through the crossings – the exchange of goods and materials is seriously limited too. Indeed, the need to refer patients for treatment outside Gaza is exacerbated by Israeli restrictions on the entry of medical equipment.

Already suffocating trading opportunities for Palestinian businesses by limiting imports and virtually banning exports, the restrictions in movement of goods in and out of Gaza has also had a devastating effect on the ability to reconstruct buildings destroyed in the 2008-9 conflict ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

Livelihoods suffocated

On 10 January 2009, the mill that Hamdan Hamada owns with his brothers was destroyed after being repeatedly hit by Israeli aerial attacks as part of ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

The total cost of the building and equipment lost in the attack amounts to US$209,000. But far from providing the brothers with compensation, the Israeli authorities have made it impossible for them to rebuild the mill - the blockade means that they have only been able to access a fraction of the cement and iron they need for repairs.

The brothers compiled a list of the specific machinery they needed to replace in order to resume production, but the Israeli authorities refused to allow them to bring the items into Gaza.

The mill used to employ about 85 people, and supported a wider circle of the employees’ families in the area. Now it stands in ruins.

Easing the Blockade

On June 20, 2010, following concerted international pressure, the Government of Israel announced a set of measures to 'ease' its illegal blockade of Gaza. Five months later our research with campaign partners found that there were few signs of real improvement on the ground.

In order to have a positive impact on the daily lives of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, Israel must do more than ‘ease’ the blockade of the Gaza strip – it must fully lift it.