The area of the world where the right to water is perhaps most severely abused is the Gaza Strip. Since 2003, no piped water has existed. Out of Gaza’s 145 wells, only 55 are functional. The World Health Organization reported that 80% of the “drinking” water in Gaza is unsafe for consumption. Since the closure of Gaza’s Public Monitoring Facility in Jan. 2009 the monitoring of water quality has stopped. This lack of one of the basic necessities for life has–as expected–created an ongoing public health disaster. Gaza has seen rises in typhoid fever and cholera–two diseases which occur when water supplies are contaminated with fecal matter. Treatment of cholera requires proper hydration.
The water situation is but one example of the many hardships that the people of Gaza are forced to endure. With a population of 1.6 million, 80% of the people are reliant on foreign aid, with roughly 50% of the population unemployed, and roughly 50% living in extreme poverty–meaning living on less than $2 a day. The root of these hardships goes back to Israel’s ongoing policy to displace and exclude the Palestinian people from their own land–the most recent example of which is the brutal economic siege on Gaza.
Waged after Hamas won free and fair elections in the Palestinian Authority, the blockade is a deliberate attempt by Israelis to wage “economic warfare” on Gazans. By controlling Gaza’s borders, airspace, and seas–in addition to regular invasion by the Israeli Defense Forces–Israeli elites have managed to prevent all but the most essential necessities to flow into Gaza, and put its economy on life support. The UN Human Rights Council reported that before the 2007 blockade, in one year Gazans exported 1,380 truckloads of goods. After the blockade, from 2007 to 2009, only 134 truckloads of goods were exported. After the 2008-2009 invasion of Operation Cast Lead until September 2010 there was only one export of flowers out of Gaza.
While Israeli officials condemned international efforts at boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, they have engaged in their own BDS campaign against the people of Gaza. It is a BDS campaign that is blanket, dehumanizing, and a brass violation of both the laws of war and international human rights law.
Fortunately, there are two rays of hope out of this morass of despair. The first is Egypt’s announcement to no longer support Mubarak’s policy of enforcing the blockade on the Egyptian border. Egypt’s new interim Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, described Egypt’s support for the blockade as “disgraceful,” and agreed to allow the free flow of goods between the two countries. The second is the effort by international activists to break the siege on Gaza by sea. Last year, international solidarity activists sailed to Gaza with supplies and words of support. Their attempts to reach Palestinian shores were thwarted when activists on the Mavi Marmara were attacked with an “unacceptable level of brutality,” killing activists in “summary execution” style, according to the UN Human Rights Council, which investigated the matter.
Despite this brutality people have not given up. In late June a U.S. boat–the Audacity of Hope–is headed towards Gaza with other internationals. This freedom flotilla plans to break the illegal and immoral Israeli blockade, sending a message to the world, that human rights will be protected and international laws followed.
The organizers of the Audacity of Hope are looking for people to write letters of solidarity to the people of Gaza. Called “To Gaza With Love,” it is a reference to Alice Walker’s idea that the radical power of love can create social change. It is hoped that by tapping into this “radical power of love” the people of Palestine will realize their long dream of a just peace in their own land, of being able to control their lives, and of having the power to write their own futures.
Please send letters of support to: Letters to Gaza, 119 West 72nd St. #158, New York, NY 10023.
–Marco Rosaire Rossi of the Chicago U.S. Boat To Gaza