Trying to Survive Under Sanctions

Residents of Umm Al Nasser rescue their livestock after a sewage treatment reservoir collapsed March 27, flooding the village (Photo M. Omer).

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June 2007, Gaza on the Ground / Mohammad Omer

FOURTEEN MONTHS after voters democratically elected a Hamas government, the Israeli-mandated, U.S.-enforced embargo, sanctions, and siege of Palestinians continues unabated. The World Bank has proclaimed this collective punishment the Palestinians’ “worst ever economic crisis.” There is growing unease and disgust in Europe and Russia over this tactic, with its accompanying military crackdown and the use of sophisticated weapons on civilians trapped behind walls, between checkpoints and lacking safety and freedom. The results of the siege and of constant punitive Israeli incursions are malnutrition, despair and other physical and psychological maladies.Palestinian political parties recently managed to form a national unity government, with nearly all factions represented. The new minister of foreign affairs is independent Zyad Amro, and Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank official and member of the “Third Way,” is minister of finance.

Norway was the first country to pledge to break the more than year-old boycott, with a senior diplomat coming to Gaza to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Following suit, many countries are calling for the lifting of the embargo on Palestinians. Yet, the boycott remains in place, alongside growing fear among Gazans, according to different Palestinian parties, of a major Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip. Thus, even with the formation of a national unity government, the situation remains bleak, with borders closed, poverty high, dependence on food aid skyrocketing, and salaries still unpaid.
Pregnant women without access to maternity care deliver babies with low birth weights and serious medical conditions and deformities. Children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders and other psychological ailments are now the norm rather than the exception.

Medications to treat diabetes, heart conditions and cancer remain scarce. Even a Band-Aid is rare. The effects of these policies—imposed by by the outside world as punishment for a people voting their will in a free and fair election—will reverberate for generations.

“Our hospitals are threatened by the lack of medicine, milk, medical supplies, and maintenance for medical machines,” reported the Ministry of Health’s Khaled Radi. “The international sanctions prevent us from maintaining our morgues [essential to prevent the spread of disease]. Those who are disabled and need medical supplies like wheelchairs…can’t find these in hospitals. This equals a slow death for our elderly and the young.”

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