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Home > News & Analysis > Fact Sheets
Humanitarian Crisis in the Gaza Strip
UPDATED November, 2011. Originally published May, 2010.

Kids play in the Gaza Strip (Photo Credit: Jehan AlFarra)
On the morning of November 2nd, two boats carrying nearly 30 international human rights activists from five countries set sail from Turkish ports to challenge Israel's illegal blockade and siege of the Gaza Strip. Among the passengers is an American, Kitt Kittredge, of Washington State.

Dubbed "Freedom Wave to Gaza" this effort follows Freedom Flotilla II which comprised ten ships with civilians from 22 countries who attempted to sail for the Gaza Strip in July of 2011 but were thwarted as a result of Israeli pressure. The year before, on May 31, 2010, Israel attacked Freedom Flotilla I, killing nine civilians including one U.S. citizen. While Freedom Wave to Gaza carries a symbolic amount of humanitarian aid, the stated goal of the organizers is to challenge the illegality of the blockade itself.

The IMEU offers the following facts and figures on Israel's blockade and how, after more than five years, it has affected life for the roughly 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza.

1. Is Israel's blockade of Gaza legal?

No. The stated aim of Israel's blockade is to apply "pressure" or "sanctions" to weaken the economy of Gaza and decrease support for Hamas. This amounts to collective punishment of Gaza's civilians, and as such is a violation of international humanitarian law under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Further, as an occupying power, Israel is required under Articles 55, 59 and 60 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure free, unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief and is prohibited from impeding the full realization of the occupied people's human rights. Israel's blockade impedes Gazans' rights to food, to an adequate standard of living, to work, and to the highest attainable standard of health, and therefore is a violation of international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross, a UN fact-finding mission into Israel's attack on the 2010 Gaza flotilla, and a UN panel of five independent Special Rapporteurs have all found the siege to be in violation of international law.

2. Israel claims that it allows necessary humanitarian provisions to enter Gaza. Is this true?

No. The amount of goods allowed into Gaza by Israel falls far short of the minimum required to avoid malnutrition, poverty, and prevent or treat a variety of illnesses. The United Nations' fact-finding mission regarding Israel's attack on the 2010 humanitarian flotilla found that "a deplorable situation exists in Gaza" that "is totally intolerable and unacceptable in the twenty-first century. It is amazing that anyone could characterize the condition of the people there as satisfying the most basic standards." Consider the following statistics:

  • 54 percent of households face food insecurity, defined as inadequate physical, social or economic access to food. An additional 12 percent are considered vulnerable to food insecurity. Only 20 percent of Gazan households are food secure.
  • 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
  • Since the blockade began, the number of Palestinian refugees completely unable to secure access to food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water ('abject poverty') has tripled to 300,000.
  • 75 percent of households polled by the World Food Programme in the Gaza Strip received outside aid.
  • Gaza's hospitals are at "zero stock levels" for 178 of 480 essential medications, with another 69 at low stock. Of 700 essential medical supplies, 190 are at "zero stock levels" and another 70 at low stock.
  • Due to lack of fuel, the Gaza Power Plant runs at 45 percent capacity, leading to daily blackouts of eight to twelve hours. Given this fuel shortage, 90 percent of private cars are no longer driven and of public services, only 15 percent are operational. (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, The Illegal Closure of the Gaza Strip: Collective Punishment of the Civilian Population, December 10, 2010)
  • In the Gaza Strip, 95 percent of water sources are unfit for drinking. Water-borne diseases cause 26 percent of illnesses in Gaza.
  • Because of lack of treatment capacity and electricity, Gaza authorities must release around 80,000 cubic meters of sewage into the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis.
  • The construction of 86,000 houses is required to meet natural growth and recover from previous Israeli invasions.

3. Does the blockade prevent the functioning of Gaza's economy?

Yes. Export of Palestinian goods, the import of raw materials and access to Gaza's natural resources have been severely restricted, devastating Gazan businesses and the ability of the region to be self-sufficient, thereby rendering it dependent on international aid. For example:

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