International Committe of the Red Cross: Gaza – No end in sight to hardship and despair

20-05-2011 Interview

Mathilde De Riedmatten, deputy head of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Gaza, talks about the situation in the coastal enclave and about how ordinary Gazans manage to carry on with their daily lives.

How would you describe the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip today?

The ICRC is concerned about the fact that the 1.5 million people in the Strip are unable to live a normal and dignified life. Almost no one can leave the Gaza Strip, not even to go to the West Bank, where many Gazans have family or previously had work.

Health-care facilities are suffering from the restrictions imposed by Israel on the transfer of medical equipment, building materials and many basic items needed for maintenance. Water and sanitation facilities have been under strain for many decades. The fact that they remain even barely in working order is due to the efforts of certain humanitarian organizations. Buildings that have been in need of repair for several years and the many buildings that were destroyed during the Israeli military operation in Gaza in 2008-2009 cannot be repaired or rebuilt as long as basic building materials, such as concrete, are not allowed into the Gaza Strip in meaningful quantities.

Violence claims civilian lives in the Strip on a regular basis. In recent months, many people have been killed or injured in escalating violence and sometimes even in open hostilities. Security incidents in the area between Gaza and Israel frequently result in loss of life or in destruction of property or livelihoods. We deplore the civilian casualties and continue to remind all parties that civilians must be spared the effects of the hostilities. Every feasible precaution must be taken to avoid civilian casualties.

ICRC staff constantly monitor the situation of civilians, such as farmers and rubble collectors, who have no alternative but to live and work in areas close to Israel. The area along the fence extending 300 metres into Gaza has been declared a no-go zone by the Israel Defense Forces. A far bigger area, extending nearly one kilometre into the Gaza Strip, is considered dangerous because of the Israeli military’s incursions and use of live ammunition. Whenever civilians suffer direct harm in such incidents, we document the cases and raise our concerns bilaterally and confidentially with the parties concerned.

Can you tell us more about the economic situation?

Gaza is more dependent than ever on outside aid. For young people – fully 50 per cent of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are under 18 years of age – there is a crushing lack of prospects, and it is a constant struggle for them to maintain hope in the future.

The strict limits on imports and the almost absolute ban on exports imposed by Israel make economic recovery impossible. The unemployment rate currently stands at nearly 40 per cent. It will remain ruinously high as long as the economy fails to recover. This difficult situation exacerbates the considerable hardship already caused by the collapse of previously prosperous branches of the economy.

Over the years, access to land suitable for agriculture has been eroded by restrictions imposed in the areas near Israel and the levelling of land and destruction of trees by the Israel Defense Forces. To make matters worse, the high price or even total lack of some farm inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides, etc., and the lack of export opportunities have weighed heavily on the primary sector. In addition, many fishermen have lost their livelihood as a result of Israel reducing the area at sea within which it allows fishing to three nautical miles from Gaza’s coastline.

Because Israel retains effective control over the Gaza Strip, in particular by maintaining authority over the movement of people and goods, it must fulfil its obligations under the law of occupation and allow the civilian population to lead as normal a life as possible.

Israel eased the closure in June 2010. Has that had a positive effect on the lives of ordinary people in Gaza?

The restriction on the movement of people out of Gaza remains unchanged. The current Israeli permit system, combined with rigorous controls, means that only people in need of medical attention who fulfil strict security criteria are allowed to leave either through the Rafah crossing into Egypt or through the Erez crossing into Israel. Very few other people are allowed out of Gaza.

The entry of goods into Gaza is also still highly restricted, not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of the particular items allowed. Long delays are frequent. Some goods that are allowed in are so expensive that their availability hardly matters to the vast majority of the population, who could never afford them. Although there has been media coverage of the export of certain cash crops such as carnations and strawberries, the actual level of exports from the Gaza Strip remains close to zero. Imports of construction supplies and raw materials are still mostly banned, even though they are vital to the territory’s infrastructure and economic recovery.

Unless there is political change that results in freedom of movement for Gazans, increased imports of a variety of goods and significant exports, there will be no improvement.

How can the ICRC help mitigate the effects of the closure?

To help families make ends meet, we have developed cash-for-work programmes and launched projects that provide farmers with tools and seedlings to improve crop yields.

We are also doing what we can to make sure that injured and sick people receive proper medical attention by providing support for the emergency services of the Ministry of Health and the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The Society provides pre-hospital emergency care and counselling services alongside the many other humanitarian tasks it performs within the Gaza Strip. The ICRC also provides support for the Artificial Limb and Polio Centre, the only facility of its kind in the Gaza Strip, which treated over a thousand patients in 2010.

Our water and sanitation engineers are focusing their efforts on the treatment of wastewater. At a plant that was recently completed in Rafah, some of the treated wastewater can safely seep into and replenish the aquifer, which remains the only source of clean water in the Gaza Strip. Thanks to the latest upgrades at the plant, treated wastewater could soon be used for agricultural purposes such as irrigating trees.


Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza. Nursery. © ICRC / C. Goin / il-e-01978
June 2010. Northern Gaza Strip. Palestinian children sleep in a tent. The tent was erected after their house was destroyed during the Israeli military operation in 2008/2009. © Reuters / M. Salem
Gaza. A Palestinian woman with a photograph of a relative held in an Israeli jail. © Reuters / I. A. Mustafa
Gazan fishermen have been hard hit by restrictions on the areas in which they are allowed to fish. © ICRC / C. Goin / il-e-01979

Source: ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross

( / 22.05.2011)

Ni’lin marks 3rd anniversary of non-violent protests

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — The West Bank village of Ni’lin on Friday marked its third anniversary of weekly non-violent demonstrations against Israel’s wall.

Since 2008, Israeli forces have killed five Palestinians demonstrating in Ni’lin to protest Israel’s confiscation of one third of the village’s land. Hundreds have been injured and detained from the village as soldiers violently shut down the rallies, at times using live ammunition.

In June 2008, the village was held under siege by the Israeli military and over the summer Israeli forces shot and killed a 10-year-old boy, Ahmed Moussa. At Ahmed’s funeral, Israeli soldiers shot 18-year-old Yousif Amira in the head with rubber-coated steel bullets. He fell into a coma and died in hospital.

Two villagers were killed when Ni’lin protested Israel’s war on Gaza in December 2008. Soldiers shot Arafat Khawaja, 22, in the back, and Mohammad Khawaja, 18, in the head.

US activist Tristan Anderson was left with brain injuries after an Israeli soldier shot him in the head with a tear gas canister at a protest in March 2009.

Two months later, soldiers shot Yousef Awel Sadiq Srour, 36, in the chest with live ammunition. He was pronounced dead on arrival to hospital.

On Friday, hundreds of Palestinians gathered to pray next to the separation wall, and dozens of internationals joined protesters carrying Palestinian flags to march to a gate in the wall.

Israeli forces waiting at the gate fired tear-gas canisters and sound grenades at the rally.

Ni’lin popular committee member Salah Khawaja told Ma’an that despite Israel’s military campaign against the village, the protests would continue.

“We lost five people, 700 have been injured and 150 arrested, many of them children.

“But we vow to continue and to bring more people to our strategy of non-violent resistance. We saw in Egypt what can be achieved when the people work together,” Khawaja said.

( / 22.05.2011)

Saudis show solidarity with Bahrainis

Protesters in Qatif demand the release of political prisoners

Saudi protesters have poured into the streets in the eastern city of Qatif, condemning Manama’s brutal crackdown on anti-regime demonstrators.

Expressing solidarity with Bahraini protesters, Saudi demonstrators on Friday urged the government to stop helping Manama in suppressing the uprising in the neighboring country and immediately withdraw its troops.

Since the deployment of Saudi troops in mid-March, Bahrain has launched a harsh crackdown on anti-government protesters, rounding up senior opposition figures and activists in dawn raids and arresting doctors, nurses, lawyers and journalists who voiced support for the protest movement.

Last week, Bahraini authorities announced that Saudi troops would remain in the Persian Gulf kingdom even after the state of emergency is lifted in June.

Despite, international condemnation of Saudi occupation of Bahrain, a Saudi official said, “This is the initial phase and Bahrain will get whatever assistance it needs. It’s open-ended.”

Saudi demonstrators also called for human rights reform, freedom of expression and the release of political prisoners some held without trial for more than 16 years.

Saudi Arabia’s east has been the scene of anti-government protests over the past months and authorities have arrested scores of people, including bloggers and writers, for taking part in protest rallies.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 160 dissidents have been arrested since February as part of the Saudi government’s crackdown on anti-government protesters.

( / 21.05.2011)

Refugee ‘return rallies’ planned for June 5

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Masses of Palestinian refugees will march to Israel’s borders and ceasefire lines again on June 5, organizers of the May 15 “return rally” said.

On Sunday, 14 protesters were killed when Israeli forces opened fire on thousands of refugees trying to return to their land in Israel.

The May 15 rallies were held to mark Nakba Day, the anniversary of Palestinians’ expulsion from their homes and villages as the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Israeli soldiers shot dead 10 Palestinian refugees trying to cross Lebanon’s border into Israel. Troops shot dead four refugees trying to enter the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Hundreds were injured when Israeli forces fired tear-gas grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinians rallying at Qalandiya checkpoint, which separates the occupied West Bank from Jerusalem.

Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager at a simultaneous protest at the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip.

The committee organizing the “return rallies” said Saturday that the May 15 protests were “just the beginning.”

In a statement, the group called on all Palestinian refugees living in exile to march peacefully to the borders of historic Palestine on June 5.

The date marks the anniversary of the 1967 war, when Israel occupied southern Lebanon, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.

Thousands of refugees will march to the ceasefire lines in the West Bank and Gaza as well as borders with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, the committee said.

“The Israeli occupation should remain on alert because rallies will not stop until Palestinian refugees return to Haifa, Haffa, Al-Majdal, Bi’r As-Sab and all occupied Palestinian towns,” the statement added.

The group urged Palestinian lawyers to file legal proceedings against Israeli officials for the killing of non-violent demonstrators on Nakba Day.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called for investigations into the killings.

“In a too-familiar pattern, Israeli troops responded to stone-throwing youths with live bullets, with predictably deadly consequences,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

She added: “The evidence shows a disturbing disregard for protesters’ lives.”

Amnesty International said Israel used “excessive force, killing and maiming individuals who were not posing a threat to the lives of the soldiers or others” at the protests.

( / 21.05.2011)

Turkey threatens Israel with retaliation

Turkey pledges to take ‘necessary’ action against Israel if Tel Aviv repeats its 2010 bloodshed of Gaza-bound activists against an aid convoy, which is to head to the impoverished enclave.

On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, “It should be known that Turkey will give the necessary response to any repeated act of provocation by Israel on the high seas,” Reuters reported.

International activists plan to deliver large quantities of humanitarian assistance to the Israel-blockaded Gaza Strip in the third week of June.

The Freedom Flotilla II, organized by a coalition of pro-Palestinian groups, most of them based in Europe, is to consist of around 15 vessels and over 1,500 activists.

The mission is named after the first Freedom Flotilla, which Israel attacked on May 31, 2010, killing nine Turkish activists and injuring around 50 others.

“Those, who believe Turkey should take certain steps to stop [the new flotilla], must first warn Israel not to repeat the human tragedy it caused last year,” Davutoglu said.

“We have shared our views about the safety of our citizens with all related parties. That was the case last year and it is not any different this time.”

Israeli military officials have, however, confirmed that preparations are underway to stop any new flotilla.

The Turkish statesman further called Tel Aviv’s four-year-old siege of Gaza, which has been depriving the 1.5-million Palestinians there of food, medicine, fuel and other necessities, ‘unlawful.’

( / 21.05.2011)

Rutte tikt Wilders op de vingers om term ‘islamitisch stemvee’

Premier Rutte heeft zich vandaag tijdens het verantwoordingsdebat gedistantieerd van een opmerking van PVV-leider Geert Wilders. Die had eerder over ‘islamitisch stemvee’ gesproken, waarop SP-fractievoorzitter Emile Roemer boos de zaal verliet.

Wilders zei dat de PvdA Nederland de afgelopen decennia zou hebben laten volstromen met  ‘islamitisch stemvee’. Roemer vond dat zo beledigend voor moslims dat hij tegen Wilders zei dat hij weigerde nog verder te luisteren. Daarop verliet hij de plenaire zaal van de Tweede Kamer.

Later in het debat vroeg Roemer aan Rutte of hij zich van de uitspraak wilde distantiëren. De premier deed dat, en sprak van een ‘zeer ongepaste term’.

( / 21.05.2011)

Palestijnen naar VN voor erkenning staat

De Palestijnen gaan de Algemene Vergadering van de Verenigde Naties in september vragen een Palestijnse staat te erkennen. Dat heeft Nabil Shaath, een hoge Palestijnse functionaris, zaterdag gezegd.

De Amerikaanse president Barack Obama had donderdag in een toespraak gezegd dat het voor de Palestijnen geen zin heeft bij de VN te streven naar erkenning van een Palestijnse staat. Hij repte van ”symbolische acties met als doel Israël in de VN te isoleren”.

Obama liet de afgelopen week weten dat hij veel belang hecht aan het hervatten van het vredesproces. De Palestijnen dienen het bestaansrecht van Israël te erkennen en geweld tegen dat land af te zweren.

Van Israël vraagt Obama ”dappere maatregelen” om het vredesproces vlot te trekken. Obama stelde dat de grenzen van voor de Zesdaagse Oorlog in 1967 de basis moeten zijn voor een akkoord tussen de partijen.

( / 21.05.2011)

Oppositie Jemen tekent akkoord alvast

SANAA – De oppositie in Jemen heeft zaterdag alvast de handtekening gezet onder een overeenkomst met president Ali Abdullah Saleh, om zijn aftreden te regelen. Saleh beloofde eerder deze week de afspraken zondag te ondertekenen.

Ali Abdullah Saleh. EPA
Ali Abdullah Saleh.

De 69-jarige Saleh zegde al twee keer eerder toe om de overeenkomst te tekenen, maar liet tot woede van de oppositie steeds verstek gaan. Het gaat om een voorstel van de regionale Samenwerkingsraad voor de Golf (GCC). Daarin staat onder meer dat Saleh binnen dertig dagen aftreedt in ruil voor immuniteit.

In Jemen wordt al meer dan drie maanden betoogd tegen het regime van Saleh, die al 33 jaar aan de macht is in het straatarme land. Door zijn harde optreden, dat aan zeker 145 mensen het leven heeft gekost, verloor de president de laatste tijd steeds meer aanhang.

( / 21.05.2011)

Syrische ordetroepen beschieten rouwende menigte: vijf doden

  • De begrafenis van een agent die vrijdag bij anti-regeringsprotesten werd gedood

De begrafenis van een agent die vrijdag bij anti-regeringsprotesten werd gedood

Syrische ordetroepen hebben zaterdag het vuur geopend op een menigte rouwende mensen. Daarbij zijn zeker vijf mensen gedood, tientallen anderen raakten gewond. Dat zegt een woordvoerder van een Syrische mensenrechtengroep gezegd.

De schietpartij vond plaats in de westelijke stad Homs, waar een dag eerder ook al veel doden vielen. De menigte was dan ook samengekomen om die doden te begraven.

Dodelijkste dag

Vrijdag vielen in het hele land zeker 44 doden door het gewelddadige optreden van de eenheden van president Bashar Assad. Het was een van de dodelijkste dagen sinds de opstand twee maanden geleden begon.

Duizenden betogers gingen vrijdag de straat op om te demonstreren tegen het autoritaire regime. De autoriteiten reageerden met geweervuur, met een groot aantal slachtoffers tot gevolg. De meeste doden vielen in de noordelijke provincie Idlib en in de centrale regio Homs, aldus de organisatie.


Bij de grens met Libanon zouden inmiddels duizenden Syrische militairen zijn gestationeerd om te voorkomen dat Syriërs naar het buurland vluchten. Sinds vorige week zouden al tienduizend Syriërs de grens hebben overgestoken.

( / 21.05.2011)

Islam is a religion of peace not terrorism : Zardari

Islam is a religion of peace not terrorism : Zardari President Asif Ali Zardari has said that Islam is a religion of peace and tranquillity and totally opposed to friction and terrorism. President Zardari, in his message to the International Imam Council, organisers of Syeda Fatima (S.A.) Interfaith Conference at the House of Lords here last evening, noted that such conferences highlight the real image of Islam being a peaceful religion and clear the confusion that Islam, in any way, favours terrorism. The President said: ”It gives me immense pleasure that Imam Hussain Council arranged an Interfaith Conference in recognition of Hazrat Fatima Tu-Zahra ( S.A.) , the daughter of our Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is a distinguished personality of the Muslim world. “She is a shining moral example for all the women across the globe. Her life, her teachings, her mannerisms and even her authority over her father, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is a precedent for us to follow even today.”

( / 21.05.2011)