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How international aid has normalised Israel's 15-year siege of Gaza

The humanitarian aid has unwittingly become a means for Israel to continue with the siege and normalise it
A boy holds a bottle of oil and a food ration from the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza City, on 28 January 2021 (AFP)

In 2005, Israel announced the withdrawal of its military bases, checkpoints, and settlements from Gaza. The end of direct Israeli colonisation over Gaza was replaced in 2007 by a siege.

The Israeli siege over the past 15 years has regulated every aspect of Palestinian life, including health, social mobility, access to natural resources, electricity, water, telecommunications and the economy. According to a 2020 UN report, the blockade has pushed more than one million Palestinians in Gaza below the poverty line and cost the enclave $16.9bn.  

Gaza: 15 years of a devastating blockade that benefits no one
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In addition to the total blockade of Gaza, Israel has carried out frequent military attacks, killing thousands, injuring tens of thousands, and destroying homes, schools and hospitals.

As such, what Israel has called “withdrawal” in 2005 was, in fact, the introduction of a new and draconian way of governing the two million-plus people of Gaza. One of the tactics used by Israel is the meticulous control of goods going into and out of Gaza. It has, for a period, decided to ban essential commodities like paper, wood and cement.

In 2009 Israel even refused sanitary towels and toilet paper. It did this because it could do so without being held accountable. In 2022 over 96 percent of the water in Gaza is not safe for drinking. The poverty rate is 59 percent and the unemployment is 45 percent.

The Israeli siege has routinely blocked medicine and medical equipment from entering Gaza. This has meant that urgent medical treatment is delayed for the fortunate few and denied to the majority. According to the European Commission, approximately 80 percent of people are reliant on humanitarian assistance because of the siege.

Normalising the siege

The crisis caused by the siege has resulted in the world reacting with an outpouring of humanitarian aid.

Over the past 15 years, the international community has donated $ 5.7bn to provide relief for Palestinians in Gaza. These humanitarian relief efforts have saved the Palestinians in Gaza from genocide. However, the international humanitarian aid has unwittingly become a means for Israel to continue with the siege and normalise it.

Aid has come to support what Dov Weisglass, as a senior advisor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in 2006 said, “to put the Palestinians on a diet".

In 2012, it was revealed that Israel had calculated to allow, based on a person’s average requirement, 2,300 calories a day to enter Gaza. This was just sufficient enough “not to make them die of hunger,” as Weisglass stated.

The common understanding of siege, therefore, does not reflect Israeli practice and should be called a “neo-colonial siege policy”. This operates in several ways.

First, Israel demands that any aid to Gaza goes through Israel, either physically or with its approval. Israel’s diktat forces humanitarian organisations to work with the colonialist Israeli government. These negotiations with Israel by international humanitarian groups implicitly legitimise Israeli colonial authority.

Further, foreign aid helps Israel as an occupier deflect its responsibilities under international law, the Hague Convention and the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect the Palestinian population and its property. Israel avoids its duty because humanitarian aid is preventing Palestinians from dying of hunger.

Israel’s neo-colonial siege policy is also geared to destroy the generous humanitarian aid provided by the international community

In fact Israel portrays itself as benevolent in "allowing" humanitarian aid to reach Gaza while tightening the stranglehold. 

Israel’s neo-colonial siege policy is also geared to destroy the generous humanitarian aid provided by the international community. Israel’s attacks and siege on Gaza have caused economic damage of more than $16bn between 2007 and 2018, according to the UN study.

That means Israel’s neo-colonial blockade has ensured that, for every dollar the international community sends to Gaza, Israel enforces damage of over two dollars. The Israeli siege policy thus creates a perpetual deficit, leaving the people of Gaza in a state of permanent humanitarian crisis

It is through these and other neo-colonial means that Israel has been able to normalise the siege of Gaza.

Holding Israel accountable

As the Gaza blockade enters its 16th year, it is time that the international community not only reforms the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza but also holds Israel responsible for its siege and numerous human rights violations.

Palestinian children carry pots as they wait to receive a meal prepared with ingredients obtained from donors wishing to help needy families, in an impoverished neighbourhood in Gaza City, on 28 January 2021 (AFP)
Palestinian children carry pots as they wait to receive a meal in an impoverished neighbourhood in Gaza City, on 28 January, 2021 (AFP)

To expose Israeli violations and hold it to account, relief efforts must be carried out parallel to political demands. At present, the investments by international organisations in humanitarian aid far outstrip campaigns for political lobbying, litigation, education, and civil society mobilisation. 

The poverty rate of Gaza is increasing not because it is “poor” but because Palestinians in Gaza  are denied the fruits of their land and labour by the Israeli siege

There needs to be sustained pressure on governments to diplomatically and economically isolate Israel.

Equally, efforts to enforce international law must be supported. Israel should be required to compensate for the havoc it is wreaking upon the people of Gaza and answer to charges of war crimes.

Civil society needs to be educated and mobilised to rise in solidarity. They should be prepared to lobby their respective governments to champion justice, help end the Israeli neo-colonial siege and participate in boycotts.

The tragedy unfolding in Gaza is not due to any environmental or “natural” causes but designed and delivered by Israel. It is worth repeating: the poverty rate of Gaza is increasing not because it is “poor” but because Palestinians in Gaza are denied the fruits of their land and labour by the Israeli siege.

Humanitarian aid offered through the present Israeli matrix will always be inadequate. It will never elevate the Palestinians in Gaza over the poverty line.

While human compassion binds individuals with the besieged people of Gaza, it must be acknowledged that without parallel pressure - legal, political, economic, diplomatic - on Israel, humanitarian aid cannot turn their suffering into normality.

Until there are tangible measures to end the siege, hope for a better life or freedom for Palestinians in Gaza will not come any time soon.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Ismail Patel is the author of “The Muslim Problem: From the British Empire to Islamophobia”. He is also Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leeds and the Chair of the UK based NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa.