In the summer of 2014, all eyes fell on the tragic events of the 51-day war in Gaza, infamously known as Operation Protective Edge. The harrowing stories of death, loss and destruction, sparked a monumental show of solidarity across Britain, with many calling for an end to the killing of innocent children and civilians, and demanded a long lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
Today marks the second anniversary of the beginning of the war, and it is a crucial time for us to remember Gaza. The war saw over 2200 people killed; almost 1500 were Palestinian civilians, of which 551 were children, as well as 68 Israeli soldiers and seven Israeli citizens. While the ceasefire promised a new beginning involving new pledges and hopes, two years on, these promises have not transformed to reality.
Only 30% of aid pledges have been delivered and more than 75,000 Palestinians in Gaza are still homeless. Meanwhile a number of hospitals continue to lie in ruins, and whole neighbourhoods have no access to running water.
A key aspect of the ceasefire agreement was to ease the devastating restrictions on the movement of people and goods coming in and out of Gaza. Over the course of a near decade long blockade Israel has controlled access to medical supplies and construction materials, such as cement, which are needed to rebuild homes, schools and hospitals demolished in the war. Only 10% of the 11,000 homes that were completely destroyed have, to date, been rebuilt.
The psychological effects of war and blockade cannot be underestimated. Half the population in Gaza are children, and those aged 6 and above have already lived through three wars and many have only ever known a life with blockade. Moreover, being effectively trapped in a small and densely populated area has caused a multitude of problems for Gaza's residents, including severe depression, trauma and anxiety. According to a report by the Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, suicide rates in Gaza have risen over 30% in the last three years alone.
And then there is the dire economic situation. Unemployment levels have soared to 43%, resulting in the highest unemployment rate in the world. Among the worst off are fishermen, who are prohibited by the Israeli authorities from fishing beyond six nautical miles. This has had a devastating impact on their catch and ultimately, their livelihood with over 95% of fisherman in Gaza in receipt of humanitarian aid. Many have families and cannot provide even the basics such as food or school uniforms for their children.
The ruling to limit the fishing zone to this parameter is in violation of the Oslo Accord of 1993, which states fishermen should be allowed 20 nautical miles of fishing space. Despite this, fishermen's lives are continually put at risk; if they go beyond the six mile limit, they can be shot at, arrested or have their boats confiscated.
The Government of Israel implemented the blockade of Gaza quoting security fears, however countless INGOs, human rights organisations and politicians across the globe see this as a form of collective punishment to the 1.8 million civilians trapped inside, which is illegal under international law.
Humanitarian agencies are taking measures to address the protracted crisis. For example, the international charity ActionAid is working with Palestinian partners to provide income opportunities and psychosocial support to women and children. However ActionAid and other organisations point to the absence of any viable plan or seemingly the political will to end the illegal occupation and thereby alleviate the entrenched cycle of poverty, periodic wars and aid dependency.
But what can we do in Britain to help end the humanitarian crisis? First, our long-term strategic aim should be to put pressure on our government to call on Israel to end the humanitarian crisis by lifting the blockade on Gaza. While Israel has legitimate security concerns to consider, it is clear that the blockade has failed to bring real security to Israelis and has had devastating consequences for the entire population of Gaza.
Second, in the short term the Israeli government must remove certain goods from its "dual use" list. This list refers to materials Israel believes could be used for military purposes and includes steel bars, cement, and wood - items essential to civilian life and found in homes, offices, schools and hospitals across Europe. X-ray machines and pumps needed to power water and sewage lines are also included in the list, thus impacting on quality healthcare and access to clean drinking water.
We must now act to challenge a tide of cynicism by demonstrating our commitment to human rights and international solidarity. We must speak out when others' rights are being violated and we must hold our government to account when it chooses to turn a blind eye to injustice. Taking action to avoid a future war in Gaza and to end the suffering under a near decade long blockade is a vital place to start. Ultimately Israel must end its illegal occupation, and a peace agreement, which is fair and just to both sides, must be secured once and for all.
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