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Israel Threatened by Shoes, Toilet Paper And Laundry Detergent
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ISRAEL APPARENTLY considers toilet paper, laundry detergent, dish soap and shoes threats to its security—why else would it add these mundane and harmless items to a laundry list of basic necessities not allowed into Gaza? Nor is the exclusion of these necessities a harmless idiosyncrasy—for, with the exception of goods that are smuggled in (see Jan./Feb. 2009 Washington Report, p. 19), nothing can enter or leave the Gaza Strip without Israeli approval. The besieged and battered 25-mile-long stretch of land, regularly referred to as the world’s largest prison, is home to 1.5 million inadvertent inmates, nearly two-thirds of whom are under the age of 18.

Shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Israel and Palestine during the first week of March, European diplomats and various international organizations began raising objections to Israel’s sweeping restrictions. Several international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also have protested Israel’s arbitrary restrictions on basic necessities. One example cited by the United Nations was Israel’s blocking for several weeks of a World Food Program (WFP) shipment of chickpeas, the main ingredient of hummus. With food supplies scarce, hummus provides the essential protein and iron normally obtained from meats and cheese.

Sari Bashi, executive director of the Tel Aviv-based Israeli human rights advocacy group Gisha–Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, confirmed in April that Israeli authorities continue to restrict the entry of even the most basic goods into the Gaza Strip.

“After the last attack on Gaza, Israel opened alternate crossings such as Karem Shalom,” he said. “However, this cannot provide more than 20 percent of what Gazans need. Israel has closed the Karni Crossing, the main commercial lifeline for Gaza.”

Closest to the West Bank, the Karni Crossing serves as the main artery for goods and services between the West Bank, Israel and Gaza. Although Gaza has a full seaport and airport, Israel continues to bar ships and planes from using these facilities, thereby forcing all trade to and from to be conducted through Israeli-monitored or manned checkpoints.

“The international community is not doing enough,” Bashi said in frustration. “They called for rebuilding Gaza weeks ago. You can’t rebuild Gaza without cement and construction materials!”

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) confirms that Israel has allowed 50 tons of cement into Gaza, to be used for repairs on the water treatment facility damaged in Israel’s latest assault. Despite its arrival in Gaza, however, the cement sits unused.

A Local Municipal Water Authority employee explained the reason: “Such supplies [as cement] are useless without water pipes”—which have been sitting on the Israeli side of the border since Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire in mid-January. The Water Authority also confirmed that, despite some improvement in the water supply, 40,000 Gazans remain cut off from clean water, with an additional 100,000 experiencing only intermittent access.

The Israeli Cabinet issued a decision in late March to lift all restriction of food shipments into Gaza. More than a week later, however, the people of Gaza had yet to see any tangible improvement to their situation or in the availability of food and basic consumer products. Despite Israel’s continuing promises that it will open the borders and insistence that it is not blocking essential supplies, the “facts on the ground” reveal otherwise.

Noted Faiq Al Nazleh, a wholesale distributor: “For the past eight months, we’ve been unable to get shampoo, laundry detergent or dish soap. It’s only recently that Israel allowed toilet paper into the Gaza Strip. However, we still need furniture and raw materials, including wood, glass and electrical components. All these things were available before January 2006”—when Hamas won free and fair parliamentary elections. “Since then,” he lamented, “things have gotten much worse.”

Gaza City resident and mother of five Ebtisam El Sheikh is worried because, as her children continue to grow, she is unable to provide them with such basic necessities as shoes, socks, underwear and clothing. “All the seasons of the year pass and my children are growing, yet they don’t have enough clothes,” she cried during a telephone interview.

Israeli human rights organizations increasingly have joined the chorus of international agencies and governments complaining about the Israeli government’s hoarding of humanitarian goods, its ever-changing requirements and guidelines, as well as its unwillingness to resume a regular flow of products and humanitarian necessities into Gaza. This uncertainty has created major logistical problems for aid groups and donor governments, rendering them impotent and unable to plan in advance. According to UNOCHA, “Israel has refused clearance for fortified wafers, halva [a sweet nutty root], canned tuna, biscuits, tomato paste and jam in a USAID-funded shipment.”

These banned basic food staples, UNOCHA added, were in addition to a list of toys intended for UNICEF’s rehabilitation program for children also prohibited by Israel from entering the Strip. “European diplomats have asked Israel to allow pasta and jam into Gaza, but not cement and construction materials,” Bashi added, noting that the European Commission needs to pressure Israel to include basic building materials as well.

“The United Nations called for an increase in the quality and quantity of [building, food and humanitarian] materials going into Gaza,” said Jerusalem-based Allegra Pacheco, deputy chief of UNOCHA. The region is in desperate need of fuel, spare parts, construction materials and cash, she added.

El Shiekh agreed. “Bar soap and liquid soap, in addition to diapers for babies—none of these are available in the market. It’s just in the past few days we’ve finally started to see toilet paper entering Gaza!” she said. “What is the significance of not allowing laundry detergent into Gaza?” she wondered, noting that the lack of cooking gas also presents serious problems.

When asked that very question, the press officer for the U.N.’s World Food Program, which is in constant contact with Israeli authorities regarding logistics, replied, “Israel usually doesn’t provide information on why materials are not allowed.” Lacking explanations or guidelines, he acknowledged, there is little suppliers can do to avoid delays.

According to a report by a National Lawyers Guild delegation which visited Gaza in February (see p. 58), Israel’s “comprehensive closure destroyed the already feeble Gaza economy, further increased the number of Palestinians needing international humanitarian assistance from 60 to 80 percent, and created a situation of chronic malnutrition. Forty-five percent of children in Gaza today suffer from acute anemia. The closure depleted Gaza hospitals of basic medicine and medical supplies, leaving them, and Gaza’s infrastructure as a whole, unequipped to handle the casualties that resulted from Israel’s assault.”

Most people in Gaza already know this, of course, because they live it. What Gazans really want to know is, how much longer must they wait to simply take a bath with soap and water again?

Award-winning journalist Mohammed Omer reports from the Gaza Strip, where he maintains the Web site <www.rafahtoday.org>. He can be reached at <gazanews@yahoo.com>.

Source >  WR Mea | May 28

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