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Gaza: Blockade 'Easing' not enough, say leading NGOs, as EU's Baroness Ashton visits

Amnesty International UK, Broederlijk Delen, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Christian Aid Ireland, CCFD, Cordaid, Diakonia, FIDH, Finn Church Aid, Handicap International, ICCO, IKV Pax Christi, Medical Aid to the Palestinians, medico international, Quaker Council for European Affairs, Secours Islamique, War Child UK

The EU must insist on the full lifting of the blockade of Gaza, not just its easing, if it is serious about helping the economy of Gaza recover and allowing its people to rebuild their lives, says a group of 18 international development, human rights and peace-building organisations, as EU High Representative Catherine Ashton visits Gaza today (18 July). A group of European foreign ministers is also expected to visit Gaza soon.

‘While the changes in the blockade policy announced by the Government of Israel on 20 June and 5 July represent steps forward, they fall short of what is needed to rebuild Gaza’s economy and what is required by international law’, the groups say in a letter to EU foreign ministers and its High Representative, who are also set to consider next steps on the blockade at an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on 26 July. Read the letter (pdf)

To secure real progress towards the full lifting of the blockade, the NGOs call on the EU to press the parties on the ground to take action on five key areas:

  • Ending the ban on exports from Gaza;
  • Allowing movement of people into and from Gaza;
  • Ensuring sufficient capacity and efficiency of the crossings;
  • Allowing the entry of construction materials for the private sector;
  • Ensuring access to Gaza’s agricultural land and fishing grounds.

We believe that securing clear commitments on these issues - rather than only the implementation of the announced changes - should now be a top priority’, the organisations argue in their appeal. The EU should also work to ensure that they are central to the strategy of the whole Middle East Quartet of which the EU is part and its envoy Tony Blair, they add.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Banning the vast majority of exports and the general movement of people has destroyed the economy of Gaza and pushed its population into poverty, dependency and despair.

“Instead of collectively punishing the civilian population, Israel must comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade in its entirety so Gazans can rebuild their shattered lives.”

On exports, the groups point out that even under the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, signed by Israel, the target for exports was set at 400 truckloads of exports a day. In contrast, just 259 truckloads in total have left Gaza since the blockade began over three years ago. Recent announcements make no provision at all for opening up exports - and yet ‘there can be no economic recovery in Gaza without exports’, say the groups. Prior to the blockade Gaza’s economy was heavily reliant on exports, especially to Israel and the West Bank, in sectors such as furniture, clothing and textiles, and food and farm products.

The groups also stress that the ban on movement of people to and from Gaza must be lifted to allow people to trade, work, study, receive medical treatment and visit family members. Particularly vital is movement between Gaza and the West Bank, which is essential for the “healthy functioning of Palestinian society and for the development of its economy”, they add.

A separate statement by the Jerusalem-based Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) - bringing together over 80 humanitarian and development agencies working on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territory including Gaza - also argues that “easing is not enough”. Not being able to travel out of Gaza can have catastrophic consequences, they say, noting that, according to the World Health Organisation, 63 people, including 22 Children's rights, have died waiting to receive medical care outside of Gaza from February 2008 until June 2010.

The aid groups point out that “the highly restrictive and selective permit regime governing people’s ability to enter or exit Gaza will remain in place” under present proposals. One effect of this is that AIDA members’ staff continue to face significant difficulty travelling to and from Gaza to undertake their development and humanitarian work. Only 39% of permits for staff to enter or leave Gaza were approved by the Israeli authorities in the last two months, they say.

Martha Myers, Chair of AIDA Executive Committee said:

“Ensuring people can move in and out of Gaza is just as much a part of lifting the blockade as the movement of goods. This especially includes patients needing treatment, students with places to take up their studies outside Gaza or aid workers who need to get into Gaza to carry out their vital work.

“We urge the international community, as they continue working with Israel to address the blockade, to make access and movement for Palestinian civilians, as well as humanitarian and development workers, a top priority on their agenda with all the parties.”          

Read the letter (pdf) 

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