Gaza civil society to UN chief: siege more than “unacceptable”

The following edited open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was issued on 21 March 2010:

Your Excellency:

You are already well aware of the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza as a consequence of Israel’s devastating military attacks and its siege. As recently as 27 December 2009, you called the blockade of Gaza “unacceptable.” While this statement is certainly valid, it constitutes a gross understatement of the actual situation which amounts to slow genocide. Such an understatement suggests that you are trimming your language to accommodate US pro-Israeli policy. We live an ongoing, illegal, crippling Israeli siege that has shattered all spheres of life, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Richard Falk, to describe it as “a prelude to genocide.” Your own UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by the highly respected South African judge Richard Goldstone, found Israel guilty of “war crimes and possible crimes against humanity,” as did major international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Goldstone report concludes that Israel’s war on Gaza was “designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever-increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

The 1948 Genocide Convention clearly says that one instance of genocide is “the deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of a people in whole or in part.” That is what has been done to Gaza since the imposition of the blockade by a UN member state, namely Israel, and the massacre of 1,434 Palestinians, 90 percent of whom were civilians, including 434 children.

On your second short visit to Gaza since the end of the Israeli onslaught in 2008-09, you will find what Professor Sara Roy, an expert on Gaza, describes as “a land ripped apart and scarred, the lives of its people blighted. Gaza is decaying under the weight of continued devastation, unable to function normally …” Professor Roy concludes that “[T]he decline and disablement of Gaza’s economy and society have been deliberate, the result of state policy — consciously planned, implemented and enforced … And just as Gaza’s demise has been consciously orchestrated, so have the obstacles preventing its recovery.” Israel is intent on destroying Gaza because official world bodies and leaders choose to say and do nothing.

As civil society organizations based in Gaza, we call on you to use your position as Secretary General of the UN, the world body responsible for holding all governments accountable for the safeguarding of the human rights of all peoples under international law, to bring to bear on Israel the full force of your mandate to open the borders of Gaza to allow the import of building materials as well as all the other requirements for decent living conditions for us, the besieged Palestinians of Gaza.

We understand you are coming to Khan Younis to inspect an UNRWA (the UN agency for Palestine refugees) housing project designed to provide housing for Palestinians whose homes were demolished by Israel’s war machine and who have been waiting for over five years for replacement. Of course the building project will not have been completed because of the blockade, even though it is an UNRWA project. The brazen refusal of Israel to cooperate with the decision of the international community to reconstruct Gaza, for which several billion Euros were pledged, should not be tolerated. Israel’s attacks have damaged or completely destroyed many public buildings and have according to the UN’s own OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) report as of 30 April 2009, severely damaged or completely destroyed some 21,000 family dwellings. Many other Palestinians who have spent the past several winters in flimsy tents have also been promised the means to rebuild homes and schools, though to date nothing has been done to alleviate their suffering.

In addition to the very visible lack of shelter, we in Gaza also suffer from the contamination of water, air and soil, since the sewage system is unable to function due to power cuts necessitated by lack of fuel to the main generators of the Gaza power grid. Medical conditions due to injuries from phosphorous bombs and other illegal Israeli weapons as well as from water contamination cannot be treated because of the siege. In addition to the ban on building materials, Israel also prevents many other necessities from being imported: lightbulbs, candles, matches, books, refrigerators, shoes, clothing, mattresses, sheets, blankets, tea, coffee, sausages, flour, cows, pasta, cigarettes, fuel, pencils, pens, paper … etc.

When you visit Khan Younis, keep in mind that a huge UN storage depot was directly targeted by Israeli phosphorus bombs only last year, destroying tons of badly needed food and other essentials. At that time UNRWA chief John Ging spoke of massive obstacles preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the civilian population of Gaza; those obstacles must be removed. The Red Cross called the Israeli assault “completely and utterly unacceptable based on every known standard of international humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles and values.”

We sincerely hope you will live up to your responsibility and speak for the suffering people of Gaza to those who hold the keys that could easily end the barbaric blockade, as the first step towards the implementation of all UN resolutions in Palestine.

University Teachers’ Association in Palestine
General Union for Health Services Workers
General Union for Public Services Workers
General Union for Petrochemical and Gas Workers
General Union for Agricultural Workers
Union of Women’s Work Committees
Union of Synergies—Women’s Unit
Union of Palestinian Women Committees
Women’s Studies Society
Working Woman’s Society
Arab Cultural Forum
Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel
One Democratic State Group
Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Information Society