Gaza on brink of “systemic collapse,” ICRC warns

A Palestinian woman receives dialysis at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, 16 April. Gaza hospitals are operating at minimal capacity due to the ongoing energy shortage. 

Ashraf Amra APA images

Gaza is on the brink of a “systemic collapse” as the electricity crisis deepens, the International Committee of the Red Cross is warning.

“Severe power and fuel shortage has reached a critical point in Gaza, endangering essential services including healthcare, wastewater treatment and water provision,” the ICRC said on Tuesday.

“ICRC doesn’t issue statements often,” Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch commented, “When they do, you listen.”

ICRC added that without immediate intervention, “a public health and environment crisis is looming.”

People in Gaza currently have only six hours of electricity each day, as the territory’s only functioning power plant has no secure supply of fuel.

Last month, the UN said that Gaza’s hospitals were already working “at minimal capacity” and the World Health Organization warned that all of Gaza’s public hospitals could be forced to suspend critical services, putting thousands of lives at risk.

Now the ICRC is saying that “a systemic collapse of an already battered infrastructure and economy is impending.”

Tightening siege

Gaza has for years been operating on a severe energy deficit. Its daily supply of electricity from Israel, Egypt and its sole, partially functioning power plant meets only about half the requirements of its two million residents.

The crisis deepened last month when the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah decided to stop paying Israel for the electricity it supplies to Gaza.

The step is likely part of the PA’s decade-long effort to force Hamas to cede control in Gaza. The PA controlled by Mahmoud Abbas works closely with Israeli occupation forces, while Hamas has continued to engage in armed resistance – a fundamental difference that lies at the heart of their ongoing division.

Gaza’s infrastructure and society have been battered by a decade-old Israeli siege and three successive military assaults – the most recent in 2014 killed approximately one in every 1,000 Gaza residents and left thousands more injured.

During April, the number of exits from Gaza by Palestinians through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing fell to the lowest level since June 2014, the month before the Israeli military assault.

According to the Israeli human rights group Gisha, the sharp drop is part of a trend “toward the gradual tightening of the closure and further reduction in the already limited options for Palestinian travel in and out of Gaza.”

No “humanitarian” fix

Years ago, the ICRC declared that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is illegal.

“The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility,” the ICRC stated in 2010. “The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”

“The dire situation in Gaza cannot be resolved by providing humanitarian aid,” it added.

Yet in the total absence of accountability for Israel’s violations, humanitarian aid has repeatedly been used to keep Gaza at the edge of subsistence and out of the headlines.

The United Nations has gone even further, becoming directly complicit in administering the illegal blockade through the so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism.

The recently launched Gaza Unlocked campaign notes that when the media do report about Gaza, stories “primarily focus on violence and politics, while stories of how the blockade impacts everyday life remain largely untold.”

The campaign aims to mobilize public pressure on politicians to end the Israeli blockade.

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I really can't understand why it's taking so long for a general election to be called. The powers that be in Palestine need a fresh mandate.

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The cruelty of this blockade has assumed the status of a biblical retribution. And for what? What have the people of Gaza done to deserve this barbaric persecution? It appears that their fundamental crime in the eyes of the Israeli state is simply that they exist. They refuse to vanish from their homelands, despite every effort at expulsion. We must write to government officials wherever we live, demanding that our various foreign ministries and economic agencies take steps to pressure Israel to end this genocidal siege.

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