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Gaza: Crisis will repeat unless restrictions are lifted

Oxfam: Gaza humanitarian crisis will repeat unless restrictions are lifted

Israeli and Palestinian leaders must seize the opportunity of the new ceasefire to end the violence once and for all. Lasting peace for all civilians will only be possible if Israel permanently lifts its restrictions on Gaza’s economy and people, Oxfam said in a new report issued today.

“Recent history must warn everyone that this ceasefire will only be a short-term fix, rather than a foundation for lasting peace, as long as Palestinian civilians in Gaza are denied their basic rights,” said Nishant Pandey, head of Oxfam in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.

Oxfam said lessons must be learnt from the last ceasefire, in November 2012, which ultimately broke down. The following year was marked by the quietest security period in a decade, but commitments to ease the Israeli blockade of Gaza and improve the lives of civilians there remained largely unmet.

"Civilians cannot afford for the same mistake to be made again. The deadly hostilities of the past 50 days are likely to re-occur ever more frequently without an end to the blockade, which has left people in Gaza mired in poverty, unable to trade or move freely," said Pandey.

The current humanitarian crisis is the worst Gaza has seen in decades. More than 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed and are sheltering in overcrowded schools with less than an hour of running water a day. Billions of dollars of damage to infrastructure will take years to repair.

Oxfam's report, "Cease Failure: Rethinking seven years of failing policies in Gaza," says long-term peace for Palestinians and Israelis will require not only an end to the violence by both sides, but also an end to policies that have reduced a once vibrant economy to dependency on international aid. Israel's "policy of separation" - economically, socially and politically isolating Gaza from the West Bank - fuels poverty, denies people basic rights, and undermines the chances of a viable two-state solution.

The blockade of Gaza - part of the "policy of separation" - has prevented farmers, manufacturers and businesses in Gaza from selling their produce in other Palestinian markets in the West Bank. Now, exports from Gaza are at just two percent of levels before the blockade was put in place in 2007. Students, families, businessmen and women, and government officials cannot freely travel between Gaza and the West Bank. Only three students from Gaza have been allowed to study in the West Bank in the past 14 years. Fishermen are prevented from going more than a few kilometres out to sea so are unable to make a living.

The report sets out specific immediate steps that should be taken to ensure rights and development for people in Gaza while addressing Israel's security concerns, including:

• Protecting civilians on both sides from military operations and rocket fire, by deploying international personnel to monitor ceasefire violations, and ensuring adequate border inspection.
• Ensuring people can move between Gaza and the West Bank by re-opening crossings to all except cases related to specific security concerns, instead of the current broad restrictions on civilian movement.
• Ensuring movement of goods essential for Gaza's recovery and development, by removing restrictions on vital goods and upgrading the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing.
• Increasing diplomatic engagement with the new technocratic Palestinian unity government, which offers an opportunity to overcome divisions between Gaza and the West Bank and is a necessary step towards a viable two-state solution.

Notes:

• The full briefing paper is online here: http://www.oxfam.org.nz/reports/cease-failure-rethinking-seven-years-failing-policies-gaz

• Oxfam's 2013 report, "One year since the 2012 ceasefire," is available here: http://eepurl.com/IZDMX. It finds that despite overall improvements in security, the blockade continued and promised improvements to the lives of Palestinian civilians in Gaza failed to materialize.

ENDS

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