Question of humanity

June 17 is the third anniversary of Israel’s imposition of a blockade on its border with Gaza. All eyes have been on the troubled territory in the past two weeks as humanitarian aid boats tried to break through the blockade. Yet how many of us are really aware of the sheer desperation of life in Gaza?

Over the past three years, since the start of the Israeli blockade, things have gone from bad to worse. During the same period, no exports have been allowed out of the country. So it is hardly surprising that the people there are in dire need of sufficient supplies.

Before the blockade, Gaza had a farming sector producing 400,000 tonnes of produce a year. A third of this was exported, providing valuable income for the 1.5 million inhabitants to buy life’s essentials.

Even after the blockade started, many continued farming, but, in December 2008, ‘Operation Cast Lead’ left widespread destruction in its wake. Tanks and other military vehicles demolished 17% of Gaza’s cultivated land. Greenhouses, livestock shelters, irrigation channels, wells and pumps were bombed or bulldozed on a huge scale.

Wrecked buildings and vast expanses of rubble still litter the Gaza Strip. Seventeen months on, three-quarters of the damage and destruction caused to civilian infrastructure has still not been repaired or reconstructed. Four out of five Gazans are now dependent on aid.

I’m a supporter of Oxfam, who have been working in Gaza for over 30 years. Their programmes include providing ‘cash for work’, promoting hygiene and healthy living among young children, providing clean water and running food voucher projects to provide locally-grown, fresh produce to poor families. It is heartening to know that, at least, some families receive help.

The blockade of Gaza has widely been condemned as collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. It is time to lift the blockade and allow the people of Gaza to recover and to earn their own living. Aid such as construction materials and medical supplies are desperately needed.

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The UK Government can call for an emergency international conference to lift the blockade of Gaza, allowing the free movement of people, humanitarian aid and commercial goods. If readers agree, please text ‘LIFT’ to 70066 and write to our newly elected MP’s to show support for bold government action. There is a lot more information at www.oxfam.org.uk.

Hannah Durrant, Roger James, Fiona Remnant and Jenny Martin

Oxfam South West Campaigns

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