The slow death of Gaza has picked up speed as months have gone by with only the most minimal humanitarian supplies getting through to the population—80 percent of which depends entirely on food aid. In addition, there are no medical supplies or drugs for Gaza’s ailing hospitals and no fuel for Gaza’s electricity plant or for generators during long blackouts.
Israel’s official explanation for blocking even minimal humanitarian aid, according to IDF spokesperson Major Peter Lerner, is "continued rocket fire and security threats at the crossings." Israel’s blockade, in force since Hamas seized control of Gaza in mid-2007, is one of the policies designed to isolate the population of Gaza, cripple its economy, and incite the population against Hamas by harsh—and illegal—measures of collective punishment. These actions are not all new: the blockade is but the terminal end of Israel’s closure policy, in place since 1991, which in turn builds on Israel’s policies as occupier since 1967.
In practice, Israel’s blockade denies a broad range of items deemed non-essential—food, industrial, educational, medical. It means that industrial, cooking, and diesel fuel, normally scarce, are virtually absent now. There are no queues at petrol stations as they are closed. The lack of fuel in turn means that sewage and treatment stations cannot function properly, resulting in a decreasing supply of potable water and tens of millions of liters of untreated or partially treated sewage being dumped into the sea every day.
The lack of fuel means electricity cuts—from around 8 hours a day to 16 hours in many areas—affecting all homes and hospitals. Even candles are running out.
The measures of collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are illegal under international humanitarian law. Fuel and food cannot be withheld or wielded as reward or punishment. But international law was tossed aside long ago. The blockade has been presented as punishment for the democratic election of Hamas, punishment for its subsequent takeover of Gaza, and punishment for militant attacks on Israeli civilians.
The overarching effect of Israel’s blockade of Gaza has been to reduce the entire population to a state of survival mode. Individuals are reduced to the daily detail of survival and its exhaustions. Consider Gaza’s hospital staff: in hospitals, the blockade is as benign as doctors not having paper upon which to write diagnostic results or prescriptions, and as sinister as those seconds—between power cut and generator start—when a child on life support doesn’t have the oxygen of a mechanical ventilator. It means a nurse on a neo-natal ward rushing between patients, battling the random schedule of power cuts. It means a hospital worker trying to keep a few kidney dialysis machines from breaking down by farming spare parts from those that already have.
Rich, poor, taxi drivers, human rights defenders, and teachers alike spend hours speculating about where to get a canister of cooking gas. Exhaustion is gripping all in Gaza. Survival leaves little room for political engagement. Beyond exhaustion, anger and frustration are all that is left.
Andrea Becker works for Medical Aid for Palestinians in London as well as the occupied Palestinian territory.