Widespread dismay at limited extent of proposed measures


ANALYSIS:UN agencies, NGOs and Palestinian politicians and citizens are critical of siege's partial lifting, writes MICHAEL JANSEN

ISRAEL'S ANNOUNCEMENT that it would ease but not lift the blockade of Gaza has been met with dismay by politicians, UN agencies, relief organisations and citizens of Gaza.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, a senior Fatah figure, called the Israeli move insufficient and an attempt "to make it appear that it has eased its four-year blockade . . . In reality, the siege of the Gaza Strip, illegally imposed on Palestinians, continues unabated. Israel has a so-called 'white list' of only 114 items. Palestinian basic needs require at least 8,000 items that continue to be prohibited. These include essential materials for rebuilding and for waste-water treatment."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: "What is needed is a complete lifting of the blockade. Goods and people must be free to enter and leave. Gaza especially needs construction material, which must be allowed to come in without restrictions."

He dismissed as frivolous the lifting of prohibitions on potato crisps, chocolates and mayonnaise.

Christopher Gunness, spokesman of the UN Relief and Works Agency, which cares for Palestinian refugees, said: "We look at deeds not words. There is a massive amount of rebuilding to do in Gaza. Four thousand homes were destroyed, another 17,000 damaged during the [ 2008-09] war. The agency needs to repair its schools and build 100 new schools for 39,000 children.

"We must talk about lifting the siege and blockade, which is regarded as a violation of international law. You cannot have half a violation of international law."

Mr Gunness said that since 2007, the UN agency has only been able to get enough construction material to finish off 151 almost completed housing units in Khan Younis, Gaza.

He referred to a statement to the UN Security Council by the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Robert Serry, who said: "Everything should be allowed into Gaza, unless there is a specific and legitimate security reason" for exclusion.

OCHA reported that during the first week of June, Israel had allowed into Gaza 11 additional food and hygiene items, but that imports had declined by 26 per cent compared to the previous week.

OCHA estimates that the overall volume of goods permit- ted into Gaza is only 17 per cent of the amount allowed in before the blockade.

Amjad Shawa, co-ordinator for Palestinian-non-governmental organisations, characterised the Israeli shift as a "smart siege" that will not ease the harsh conditions under which Gazans live.

"We are asking for freedom, basic rights, free access and safe access."

Simply allowing in more goods "will increase dependency. We want the 4,000 factories that stopped working two years ago to begin production again, 3,500 fishermen to be allowed to go to sea and fish, our 15,000-20,000 university graduates to find work.

"We will continue our efforts with other international move- ments to increase pressure on Israel to end the blockade."

Khaled, a businessman, said his printing firm had to stick to small-scale jobs - tickets, invoices, and posters - because he could not import the machinery to print books.

Electricity cuts reduced the capacity of existing businesses to function, he said. Plants producing juice from Gaza's abundant fruit do not have packaging, furniture makers have no wood, and clothing manufacturers no cloth.

Farmers cannot export their produce, which often rots in fields. Householders cannot afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Ninety-five per cent of Gaza's private sector has collapsed.

Unemployment is 45 per cent, but that figure excludes people who have given up looking for work. Eighty per cent of Gazans live below poverty level, while 79 per cent depend on food aid."You cannot have half a violation of international lase