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NGOs, locals: Gaza wants jobs not aid

June 14, 2010 6:00 P.M. (Updated: June 15, 2010 1:29 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Two international organizations released reports Monday welcoming Israel's decision to allow an increased variety of goods into Gaza, but stressing the need for essential goods, over products like jam and mayonnaise.

Both the ICRC and Oxfam International released extensive reports on the harsh conditions that Israel's siege imposed on Gaza created, revealing the most recent statistics of what both called an "unsustainable" policy, and stressing the wish of Gaza residents to work and live lives of honor and dignity.

"Israel has allowed in an increased number of food items such as coriander, jam, biscuits and other sweets. While this is certainly welcomed, what Gaza needs most are jobs, raw materials for reconstruction and for industry, and the ability to export – not just short-term aid and consumer products like jam that, without a job, they can’t afford to buy,” Executive Director of Oxfam International Jeremy Hobbs said in a statement about the organization's report.

While the ICRC released a strongly worded statement, saying the "dire situation in Gaza cannot be resolved by providing humanitarian aid," and calling Israel's policy of siege "a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law."

The Gazan economy "will continue to unravel unless the blockade is completely and immediately lifted," Oxfam said, calling on members of the Middle East Quartet, including EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday, to "pressure Israel to fully and immediately lift the blockade by opening all crossings, allowing trade to resume and people to circulate." A call firmly backed by the ICRC.

"all States have an obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of all relief consignments, equipment and personnel,"the ICRC statements said.

Gaza officials echoed the criticism of the INGOs, with Deputy Prime Minister Ziyad Thatha telling Ma'an earlier in the day that the goods Israel had started to allow into Gaza were "a joke," illustrating an attempt to fool the international community.

"Gaza must be able to import and export," he said, calling for the free flow of all basic material including cement, iron, aggregates, and raw material for industry and agriculture.

According to Oxfam, Israel currently allows some 100 types of items into Gaza, only 2.5% of the variety of 4,000 goods that entered before the blockade.

"Heavy restrictions on imports and the near complete halt of all exports have led to a wide-scale shut down of Gazan industry. Factories have been crippled by the shortage of raw materials, leaving tens of thousands of people out of work. The blockade, which amounts to collective punishment, illegal under international law, has brought the Gazan economy to its knees," said Oxfam.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also noticed a trend last week, wherein the larger the variety of goods entering Gaza, the smaller the actual number of truckloads permitted to transfer goods in to the Strip.

Escaping poverty

"Letting in only humanitarian items is not enough for Gazans to escape the poverty that the blockade has entrenched," the statement from Oxfam said.

Citing predictions by the agency and the Israeli rights group Gisha, Oxfam said its "grim prediction" came true as unemployment reached 40% in Gaza, according to its study, and some 80% of residents rely on aid to survive.

“I used to hire 20 people to work on my boat. Now I have to rely on assistance from international agencies, including Oxfam" aid recipient Jamal Bassala, told report writers, adding, "I am grateful for the aid, but I don’t like being handed a coupon. I only dream of setting to sea again and working on my boat like my father and grandfather before me."

Oxfam executive director Hobbs said the plight of workers like Bassala extended to the dependents on workers, "Entire families relying on that salary also lose out, becoming dependent on humanitarian aid," he said.

"The civilian population has been kept just above the bar of a humanitarian crisis. It is trapped in a crisis of dignity that the international community must help resolve,” added Hobbs.

The report detailed how agricultural production became paralyzed "as farmers cannot export their crops and are prohibited access to 30% of farming lands in Gaza," due to the declaration of a 300-meter wide "no go zone" by Israeli forces, who fire on farmers and workers entering the area, saying it is used by "terrorists" to attack Israel.

The ICRC described the once "fertile farmland located close to the border" as an area turned into a "wasteland by ongoing hostilities."

"The once thriving fishing industry has withered away as Israeli naval forces restrict the access of Palestinian fishing boats to three nautical miles from the coast; the total catch has decreased by 47% between 2008 and 2009. Gaza, a coastal enclave, now has to import frozen fish from Israel and via the tunnels," the Oxfam report continued.

The ICRC revealed that some 90% of Gaza's 4,000 fishermen "are now considered either poor (with a monthly income of

between 100 and 190 US dollars) or very poor (earning less than 100 dollars a month), up from 50% in 2008."

"The blockade has unleashed a tragic chain reaction that has affected many of Gaza’s one and a half million residents," Oxfam's Hobbs said, "When a factory is forced to shut down because it can’t import or export, it doesn’t just affect the employees who lose their jobs. Entire families relying on that salary also lose out, becoming dependent on humanitarian aid."
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