Measures imposed in June 2007 to hold Hamas accountable for rocket attacks have crippled Gazan economy.
The aid flotilla attacked by Israeli troops on Monday was trying to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip imposed by Israel in June 2007.
Israel said the blockade was intended to hold Hamas — which it views as a terrorist group — “responsible and accountable” for rocket attacks on Israeli territory. It is also intended to constrain Hamas's ability to rule in Gaza, and to put pressure on it to release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive for four years.
The blockade, preventing all exports from Gaza and confining imports to a limited supply of humanitarian goods, has failed to bring down Hamas but has heaped misery on Gaza's 1.5 million residents.
The U.N. humanitarian co-ordinator said last week that the formal economy in Gaza has “collapsed” and 60 per cent of households were short of food. According to U.N. statistics, around 70 per cent of Gazans live on less than $1 a day, 75 per cent rely on food aid and 60 per cent have no daily access to water.
Luxury foods are banned and a U.N. report last year said that on average it took 85 days to get shelter kits into Gaza, 68 days to deliver health and paediatric hygiene kits, and 39 days for household items such as bedding and kitchen utensils. It said that school textbooks and stationery had been delayed.
The effect of the blockade was felt even more acutely in the aftermath of the invasion of the strip by Israeli forces in the winter of 2008-9, as materials needed for reconstruction were delayed or banned from entering Gaza. A U.N. fact-finding mission described the blockade as “collective punishment”.
In the absence of imports, goods have been smuggled in through tunnels built under the Gaza-Egypt border. The World Bank estimates that 80 per cent of Gaza's imports arrive by tunnel. The goods, which are taxed by Hamas, attract inflated prices that are out of the reach of most ordinary residents.
The Free Gaza Movement, an international human rights organisation, first sailed from Cyprus in August 2008 in an attempt to highlight the plight of the citizens of Gaza suffering under the blockade.
The first sailing made it to Gaza, but subsequent boats carrying supplies during the Gaza conflict were intercepted and in June last year Israeli forces boarded a boat taking aid to the strip and detained campaigners, who were later deported. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010