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Gaza: The simple truths that go untold

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Saturday, 16 October, 2010

"A crisis that affects every aspect of public and private life in Gaza." John Ging, UNRWA director of operations in Gaza examines the devastating impact of the blockade.

Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right. And so said Dr Martin Luther King, four decades ago.

I am delighted that the Elders come again to Gaza to witness and speak of simple and obvious truths that go untold. The truth that every one of the 800,000 children in Gaza knows is that we are in the fourth year of an illegal, inhumane and counterproductive blockade on 1.5 million innocent civilians.

Instead of dealing with the obvious facts on the ground, the truth is either denied or ignored and instead a debate rages around whether there is a humanitarian crisis or not and whether adjusting or easing an illegality is the appropriate response. Let me say unequivocally that there is a crisis that is far larger than a “humanitarian crisis”; there is a crisis that affects every aspect of public and private life in Gaza.

As the Elders will see, the water and sanitation infrastructure is a state of collapse with 80 million cubic litres of untreated sewage pumped into the Mediterranean every day; 90% of the water unsafe to drink by World Health Organisation standards. They will also see the poverty and staggering levels of aid dependency, where 80% of the population are dependent on handouts of food from the United Nations. Yes the shops are full of consumer goods, now from Israel rather than the tunnels, but very few can afford to buy them. Unemployment is at record levels with 95% of the private sector businesses closed and the ban on commercial imports and exports still firmly in place.

The result of this and much more is that 100% of the innocent civilians despair at the mismatch between the political rhetoric of the international community and their refusal to take effective action to uphold international law, including the failure to implement Security Council Resolution 1860 adopted in January 2009. Not one school has been built in 4 years in Gaza as neither Israel nor Egypt have allowed the necessary construction supplies to enter and the governments of the international community have been unwilling to mobilise via the sea. The result is 40,000 children denied a UN education due to a lack of space.

Thankfully, most of the world’s political leadership have recently pronounced the situation in Gaza unsustainable. But shamefully, it has taken the tragic deaths of activists on a flotilla to generate this new level of political clarity and resolve. For most of us in Gaza, it is now obvious that the illegal blockade will end, just as every siege in our human history has fallen. Yet the question is when and how much more suffering and violence will occur in the interval.

It is self-evidently obvious that adjustments which only serve to ease the political pressure on those imposing the blockade or seek to excuse inaction on the part of the international community, but do not alter the scale of aid dependency, poverty and despair, will not achieve the objectives of security and peace. Equally, there must be action to end all violence emanating from Gaza into Israel and to secure the release of Gilad Shalit and Palestinians administratively detained in Israeli prisons, including more than 300 children.

In the Middle East we have for too long been on the road of perpetual regret and diminishing opportunities. The hope, as ever, lies in the positive potential of the ordinary people and in particular in the children. The good news is that 800,000 children provide an abundance of positive potential. Whether it is realized or not depends on the triumph of truth over propaganda and legality over illegality. The fate of children well beyond the borders of Gaza is at stake.

John Ging is director of operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). He has previously served in peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans; led the Irish NGO Goal in Rwanda, Zaire and Tanzania in the immediate aftermath of the Rwandan genocide; and served as Chief of Staff in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Mr Ging took up his UNRWA post on 1 February 2006, five days after Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature elections. He is in charge of UNRWA’s development programmes as well as the provision of humanitarian assistance to 1.1 million refugees.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.

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