Help end Gaza Blockade, Aid Groups Urge EU
Ian Black, The Guardian, 22 December 2009
Amnesty International, Oxfam International, Cafod, Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians and 11 other agencies criticise Israel for banning the import of materials urgently needed for reconstruction but also lambast world powers for not doing enough to help after last year's three-week Cast Lead offensive, in which some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
Israel has the right and obligation to protect its citizens fromindiscriminate rocket attacks, the report says. But "punishing the entire civilian population of Gaza for the acts of a few is a collective punishment which is unacceptable and violates international law".
The report calls on the EU to take "concerted action" and its new high representative for foreign policy, Britain's Lady Ashton, to pay an urgent visit to Gaza. Only one EU foreign minister, Sweden's Carl Bildt, has visited since the war, which began on 27 December last year. Tony Blair, the envoy of the Middle East Quartet, went to Gaza for the first time in March this year, two years after he was appointed.
The territory has been blockaded by Israel since June 2007 when the Islamists of Hamas took over from the western-backedPalestinian Authority. Restrictions have been tightened since the war. The border with Egypt is also strictly controlled."Securing an immediate opening of the Gaza crossings for building materials to repair ruined homes and civilian infrastructure as winter sets in would be an important step towards an end to the blockade," say the NGOs.
Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, also warns not enough is being done: "Tough sounding declarations are issued at regular intervals but little real pressure is applied," he writes in today's Guardian. "It is a scandal that the international community has sat on its hands in the face of this unfolding crisis."
Preferential agreements between the EU and Israel "will be brought into question if there is no rapid progress", Clegg adds.
Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International's executive director, said: "It is not only Israel that has failed the people of Gaza with a blockade that punishes everybody living there for the acts of a few. World powers have also failed and even betrayed Gaza's ordinary citizens. They have wrung hands and issued statements, but have taken little meaningful action to attempt to change the damaging policy that prevents reconstruction, personal recovery and economic recuperation."
The report also urges Hamas and others to maintain their de facto cessation of violence and permanently cease all indiscriminate rocket fire into Israel. All Palestinian factions need to intensify their dialogue to pave the way for a reunified government able to provide for the needs of its civilian population.