The Gaza blockade broke the Leningrad record

Five unknown facts about the isolation of the Palestinian territories

Tatiana Krasilnikova, Dmitry Ivanov

After the Israeli military attack on the humanitarian cargo ships, Palestinians are left with no water and medicine. But, experts believe that the loud scandal will not obstruct Israel’s further isolation of the Gaza Strip.

A reaction to Hamas

The economic blockade of the Gaza Strip began on September 17, 2007, as a response to the coming of power of the Hamas movement, which is recognized by most countries as a terrorist organization. On January 18, 2008, Israel introduced a full transport blockade in the Gaza Strip: blocking land, maritime and air traffic. All security check points between Israel and Gaza had been closed.

Surrounded from all sides

The Gaza blockade has been ongoing for 988 days (the Leningrad blockade lasted for 872 days). During this time, human rights activists have made nine attempts to break the blockade through the sea, and once opened a security checkpoint on the border with Egypt. In January of 2008, the wall dividing Gaza and Egypt was taken down, and thousands of Palestinians flooded the passageway in hopes of obtaining the basic necessities. The land border is closed by reinforced concrete barriers, topped with barbed wire. The last time the Israeli military had stopped a humanitarian vessel was in January of 2009. At that time, there were no casualties.

Under the sea blockade the Israeli military forces have blocked the maritime space of Gaza in order to close access to the regional shores. According to Anatoly Kolodkin, president of the International Maritime Law Association, even in a naval blockade, the Israeli fleet does not have the right to apprehend a non-military ship. “There are only a few conditions under which military ships have the right to stop civilian vessels: if the vessel is used in piracy operations, if it is being used to transport slaves, if illegal TV or radio broadcasting is being done from the vessel, and if the ship is without nationality,” the expert explained to Trud. The UN international conventions do not provision sanctions for violation of these rules. The decision is made by the UN Security Council, which has already condemned Israel’s attack on the Freedom Flotilla.

Yes – to coffee, no – to chocolate

According to the nonofficial list of items that are permitted to be transferred to Gaza, Palestinians could receive flour, garlic, salt, toilet paper, tea, coffee, and food for animals. Some of the prohibited items include chocolate, fruit juices, and jams. According to Israeli officials, 15,000 tons of various commodities are weekly transferred to the Gaza Strip. However, representatives of the Embassy of Palestine in Russia say that it often happens that only a few dozen trucks are allowed to pass in a single day. Meanwhile, the needed daily volume of goods requires several hundred trucks.

“Sometimes, even the most harmless items, such as pencils for example, are not allowed due to ‘security reasons’,” a Palestinian embassy representative told Trud. Neither are fuel, gasoline, and construction materials allowed in the Gaza Strip.

The simple life

Residents are forced to live in tents or build housing from clay. Everything, aside from medicines and food, is smuggled from Egypt. According to international humanitarian law expert and lecturer at the Moscow State University ‘s Journalism Department, Andrey Raskin, humanitarian cargo primarily includes medicine, food, and clothing. “Construction materials are a negotiable item. And, Israel has the right to prohibit their transfer out of security-related concerns,” explained the expert.

Today, there are 1.4 million people living in Gaza. Half of the population is under the age of 15. According to the Embassy of Palestine in Moscow, 80% of the region’s residents are unemployed. People cannot leave the territory to study or work. Electricity is rare. One of the main problems is the shortage of drinking water.

Due to the blockade, the healthcare system is experiencing many difficulties. The outdated medical equipment can rarely be replaced or repaired. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the stockpiles of 110 essential medicines in Gaza’s hospitals are depleting. Hospitals don’t have clean linens; the sewage runoff is not being cleaned.

Flowers, under arrest

Exporting goods from Gaza is practically impossible. One of the rare cases was Israel’s permission to export 25,000 carnations from the region to Europe on St. Valentine’s Day in 2009. Before the blockade, the Gaza Strip had annually exported about 40,000 flowers. Today, the majority of the cultivated production is destroyed. Gaza residents are not allowed to work or shop in Israeli settlements, which are located on the Sector’s territory.

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary General of the UN Security Council, Oscar Fernandez Taranco urged Israel to stop the economic blockade. However, according to Raskin, even after the condemnation of Israel’s actions by the member countries of the UN Security Council, the Jewish state is unlikely to cancel the blockade. “In the best case scenario, Israeli authorities will issue an apology and ease the control at the security checkpoints,” he said.