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Gaza on verge of humanitarian disaster

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Enduring hardships: Palestinian patients undergo dialysis at the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City in this recent photo. Power outages in the Gaza Strip threaten the lives of many patients.
Enduring hardships: Palestinian patients undergo dialysis at the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City in this recent photo. Power outages in the Gaza Strip threaten the lives of many patients.

London: Anyone who thinks that the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is acceptable should talk to a doctor from Gaza. There is an acute shortage of all drugs, and a complete lack of all cancer and cystic fibrosis medication. The hospitals have generators, but often no fuel, and switching from mains to an emergency supply wrecks the equipment.

One of the strip’s three CT scanners is bust because of fluctuations in current. This also makes the temperature control of incubators for newborn babies unreliable. There have been some transfers of the sick to Israeli hospitals, but none to Egypt. According to one source, more than 230 patients died last year waiting for a permit to leave.

The list goes on: the majority of Gaza’s children present the symptoms of mild or severe post traumatic stress disorder. About 45 per cent of children under five have iron deficiency from lack of fruit and 18 per cent of children have stunted growth. There is one other statistic: 71 per cent of children interviewed at a school recently said they wanted to be a “martyr.”

A six-month ceasefire, or a period of “quiet” between Israel and Hamas, exists in name only.

The current volley of raids and rockets started on November 4 when Israel said it uncovered a tunnel Hamas was planning to use to capture soldiers. Israeli forces have killed at least 10 Hamas gunmen, and as the rockets rained down on Sderot and Ashkelon, the gates of Gaza were locked.

They were opened on Tuesday when 45 trucks of food, medical supplies, cooking gas and fuel were let through. Israel says it will stop its blockade the moment the rockets cease and defends itself from the charge that its actions amount to collective punishment by drawing comparisons with other sanctions regimes. But Israel is not the only player.

Conditions in Gaza are daily news in the Arab media and Egypt is coming under pressure to open its border with Gaza. British Ministers may protest about the border closures, but the whole world community is complicit with the policy of punishing Palestinians for having elected Hamas.

There is no defence for Hamas’ use of rockets against Israeli civilian targets. Making Israeli children cower in concrete shelters is not “resistance.”

But nor can one justify the policy of keeping 1.5 million Palestinians on life support and then turning the ventilator off from time to time. Even less should it be tolerated by the incoming Obama administration. One cannot point, as Dennis Ross has done, to the dangers of Gaza becoming a failed state, while supporting policies which ensure the state continues to fail.

Keeping Gaza perched on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe should not appeal to a U.S. President who intends to use his middle name to reach out to the Arab world. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008


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