Sunday, February 3, 2008

Give Palestinians a chance to breathe free!

By Karen Koning Abuzayd
(Commissioner General for UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA))

Graphic by Ben Heine

"Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and - some would say - encouragement of the international community. An international community that professes to uphold the inherent dignity of every human being must not allow this to happen.

Across this tiny territory, 25 miles long and no more than six miles wide, a deep darkness descended at 8 pm on January 21, as the lights went out for each of its 1.5 million Palestinian residents. A new hallmark of Palestinian suffering had been reached.

There have been three turns of the screw on the people of Gaza, triggered in turn by the outcome of the elections in January 2006, the assumption by Hamas of de facto control last June, and the Israeli decision in September to declare Gaza a "hostile territory". Each instance has prompted ever tighter restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. Each turn of the screw inflicts deeper indignity on ordinary Palestinians, breeding more resentment towards the outside world.

Gaza's border closures are without precedent. Palestinians are effectively incarcerated. The overwhelming majority cannot leave or enter Gaza. Without fuel and spare parts, public health conditions are declining steeply as water and sanitation services struggle to function. The electricity supply is sporadic and has been reduced further along with fuel supply in these past days. Unicef reports that the partial functioning of Gaza City's main pumping station is affecting the supply of safe water to some 600,000 Palestinians.

Medication is in short supply, and hospitals are paralysed by power failures and the shortage of fuel for generators. Hospital infrastructure and essential pieces of equipment are breaking down at an alarming rate, with limited possibility of repair or maintenance as spare parts are not available......

As the head of a humanitarian and human development agency for Palestinian refugees, I am deeply concerned by the stark inhumanity of Gaza's closure. I am disturbed by the seeming indifference of much of the world as hundreds and thousands of Palestinians are harshly penalised for acts in which they have no part.

In discharging its mandate, UN Relief and Works Agency delivers a variety of services to improve living conditions and prospects for self-reliance. It is impossible to sustain our operations when the occupying power adopts an "on, off", "here today, gone tomorrow" policy towards Gaza's borders......"

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