Gaza subjected to air strikes, water crisis

Sewage flowing into the sea at Gaza. (Anne Paq/ActiveStills)

Three Palestinian farmers were killed by Israeli tank shelling late at night 12 September in the northernmost occupied Gaza Strip, along the no-go “buffer zone” enforced by the Israeli military. Al-Jazeera reported that a 91-year-old farmer, Ibrahim Abdullah Abu Saeed, and 20-year-old Ismael Walid Abu Audeh were killed immediately. Abu Saeed’s 17-year-old grandson, Hossam Khaled Abu Saeed, was critically injured and died shortly afterwards (“Israeli shelling kills Palestinians,” 12 September 2010).

Israeli officials claim the three men were armed fighters, preparing to fire a rocket into Israel.

The “buffer zone” Israel has imposed on Gaza land along the boundary with Israel has taken 35 percent of the territory’s open agricultural land, according to a recent report by the United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) (“Between the fence and a hard place,” 19 August 2010).

OCHA adds that between January 2009 and July 2010, 22 Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli military inside the “buffer zone,” including six children. An additional 146 Palestinians, including 27 children, have been injured by live fire.

These killings come on the heels of several concurrent air strikes launched by Israel over the occupied Gaza Strip on the evening of 9 September, on the eve of the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr marking the end of the month of Ramadan. Israel says the attacks were in response to two rockets fired from armed resistance groups in Gaza earlier in the day, though no group claimed responsibility.

According to Ma’an news agency, Israeli missiles struck Gaza City and the southern border city of Rafah, and another missile hit the northern town of Beit Hanoun (“Overnight air strikes hit Gaza, 5 said injured,” 10 September 2010). Ma’an reported that five Palestinian security service officers were injured during the attacks on Gaza City, which struck a Hamas security compound. An additional Palestinian-fired rocket landed in the Negev desert following the Israeli air strikes, Ma’an added.

These Israeli air strikes were the second round since the US-brokered peace talks resumed last week in Washington, DC. On 4 September, Israeli warplanes bombed two tunnels in Rafah, killing two Palestinians and wounding two others.

On Sunday 12 September, a rocket fired from Gaza hit southern Israel without causing damage or casualties, the latest in a series of rockets fired from armed groups inside the Gaza Strip in the last week.

Gaza families denied visits to prisoners

Preceding the 9 September attacks by the Israeli military, a committee of Palestinian mothers of political prisoners held an annual rally outside the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City, protesting the continued incarceration of their sons and daughters inside Israeli prisons. Ma’an reported that the group has held demonstrations and vigils on the eve of the Eid celebrations for the past four years (“Mothers of prisoners mark Eid in protest,” 10 September 2010).

As part of its broad-based policies of blockade against Gaza — following the electoral victory of the Hamas party in 2006 — Israel has prohibited Palestinians living inside the Gaza Strip from visiting their relatives in Israeli prisons. Recent estimates from Israeli human rights group B’Tselem indicate that more than 6,100 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are currently imprisoned in Israel (Statistics on Palestinians in the custody of the Israeli security forces).

Water crisis

Meanwhile, B’Tselem released an in-depth report on the expanding water crisis inside the occupied Gaza Strip, stating that 95 percent of the area’s groundwater is polluted and unfit for human consumption as Israel’s ongoing blockade prevents entry to essential industrial materials needed to repair the water infrastructure (“Water supplied in Gaza unfit for drinking; Israel prevents entry of materials needed to repair system,” 23 August 2010).

“Since it began its siege on the Gaza Strip, in June 2007, Israel has forbidden the entry of equipment and materials needed to rehabilitate the water and wastewater-treatment systems there,” states B’Tselem. “The prohibition has remained despite the recent easing of the siege.”

Citing reports from the United Nations’ Environment Program, the Palestinian Water Authority, the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility and international aid organizations, B’Tselem’s report says that children are being especially affected by the water crisis in Gaza. The report references the over-pumping of groundwater, combined with poor wastewater management systems and the toxification of ground soil from waste disposal sites — where asbestos, medical waste, oils and fuels were dumped after Israel’s three-week attacks in 2008-09. As a result, according to B’Tselem, chemicals such as chlorides and nitrates are contributing to excessive diseases and internal injuries, especially in Gaza’s children.

Israeli air strikes during the winter attacks also damaged wastewater treatment plants in Gaza, and damaged thirty kilometers of water networks, eleven wells and six thousand residential water tanks. Reports estimate that the damage to the water infrastructure amounted to approximately $6 million.

“According to international aid organizations, twenty percent of Gazan families have at least one child under age five who suffers from diarrhea as a result of polluted water,” B’Tselem reports. “A UN study published in 2009 estimates that diarrhea is the cause of 12 percent of children’s deaths in Gaza. The lack of potable drinking water is liable to cause malnutrition in children and affect their physical and cognitive development.”

“Since the beginning of the siege,” adds B’Tselem, “Israel has prohibited the entry of equipment and materials that can be used to improve water quality and taste, and to develop and rehabilitate the water infrastructure and the wastewater treatment facilities in Gaza. The prohibition has remained in force even after the recent easing of restrictions, and despite the [Israeli government] Cabinet’s decision to allow the entry of building materials for projects that have been approved by the Palestinian Authority and are supervised by international organizations. The equipment needed includes water pumps, pipes, generators, computers, building cement and chloride. Israel classifies these materials as dual-use items that are liable to be used for military purposes, and therefore prohibits their entry.”

B’Tselem called on the Israeli government to “immediately allow the entry of materials and equipment needed to rehabilitate and develop the water and wastewater treatment systems there.”

Siege on medical treatment

Additionally, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released a report on the effects of regular and sustained power cuts in the Gaza Strip on medical patients, especially those in need of kidney dialysis treatment (“Gaza: power cuts put lives at risk,” 7 September 2010). During Israeli attacks in 2006, Gaza’s sole power plant was destroyed. It was heavily damaged again during the strikes in 2008-09, and the ICRC reports that Palestinians in Gaza are deprived of electricity for seven to twelve hours a day on average.

Finding spare parts to repair electricity generators at hospitals is often a “protracted process,” reports the ICRC. “Several factors have led to this situation,” explains Palina Asgeirsdottir, ICRC’s health program manager in Gaza, in the report. “Years of armed conflict and occupation have made it extremely difficult just to keep up with routine maintenance and repairs on the generating equipment and electricity network, let alone to increase capacity to meet the growing needs.”

The ICRC adds that kidney patients face a shortage of medications they need, which, due to the blockade, are not readily available in Gaza. Asgeirsdottir states that “patients with chronic conditions need certain medication. Examples include drugs for kidney transplant patients, Factor VIII and IX for patients with hemophilia and special food for infants and children with food intolerance and digestive problems. Cancer patients have their treatment protocols interrupted. Without these drugs, patients suffer. They may even die.”