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Over 1M Palestinians under Poverty Line in Besieged Gaza, UN Says

The UN report calls for a stop to 13-year-long Israeli siege that has crippled economic activities in the coastal enclave.

The Israel-led blockade of the Gaza Strip cost the Palestinian enclave more than $16bn and pushed more than one million people below the poverty line in just more than 10 years, according to a new United Nations report.

The document issued on Wednesday by the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to the General Assembly covered the years between 2007 and 2018.

It called for an immediate stop to the continuing siege that has caused a near-collapse of economic activities in Gaza and a poverty rate of 56 percent. 

“The situation is going to get worse if the blockade continues,” said Mahmoud Elkhafif, coordinator of the Assistance to the Palestinian People of UNCTAD.

“This unfair blockade in which two million Palestinians are kept inside Gaza should be lifted immediately. They should be allowed to move freely, do business, trade with the outside world and reconnect with their families outside of the Strip,” Elkhafif added.

Since June 2007, people of Gaza have been confined to the 365 square kilometres enclave of the Strip and subject to a land, air and sea embargo. The entry of goods has been reduced to a minimum, while external trade and exports have been stopped. Meanwhile, the population has very limited access to safe water and lack regular electricity supply or even a proper sewage system.

“Unless Palestinians in the Strip get access to the outside world, it is difficult to see anything but underdevelopment being the fate of the Gaza Palestinian society,” said  Richard Kozul-Wright, director of the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies at UNCTAD. “It is really shocking that in the 21st century, two million people can be left in that kind of condition.”

In addition to the prolonged blockade and restrictions by neighbouring Egypt, the Hamas-run enclave endured three Israeli military operations in 2007, 2012 and 2014 that severely damaged civilian infrastructure and caused heavy casualties.

At least 3,793 Palestinians were killed, some 18,000 were wounded and more than half of Gaza’s population was displaced, according to the UNCTAD’s report.

More than 1,500 commercial and industrial enterprises were damaged, along with some 150,000 household units and public infrastructure including energy, water, sanitation, health and educational facilities and government buildings.

As a result of the siege and the wars on Gaza, the poverty rate jumped from 40 in 2007 to 56 percent in 2017, meaning that more than 1 million Palestinians have no survival means. The report estimates that bringing these segment of the population above the poverty line would require an injection of funds amounting to $838m, four times the amount needed in 2007.

Between 2007 and 2018, tge economy in Gaza grew by less than 5 percent, and its share in the Palestinian economy decreased from 31 percent to 18 percent in 2018. As a result, GDP per capita shrank by 27 percent.

Meanwhile, the isolation of the Strip has not prevented the coronavirus pandemic from reaching Gaza, worsening an already critical situation. As of Monday, 14,768 people had contracted COVID-19, with 65 deaths.

On Monday, health authorities in Gaza warned of an imminent catastrophe if Israel continued to block humanitarian access as well as the entry of necessary health equipment and medical supplies. Hospitals and healthcare staff are in need of protective clothing, ventilators and beds.

“The health crisis is exposing the underlying conditions that have been worsening over a decade,” said Kozul-Wright.

Addressing UN reporters in Geneva, the UNCTAD official said he was hopeful there would be a change in Israeli-Palestinian relations under the new US administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew its funding of UNRWA, the UN agency that supports five million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

“The $200m cut was a huge hit to the Palestinian economy. It will be interesting to see if the new administration will go back to its decision towards UNRWA,” said Kozul-Wright. “However, even before 2016, the human rights of Palestinians and the international law as codified in the UN resolution were ignored and political tensions were high.”

The report called for the end of the blockade in the context of Security Council resolution 1860 (January 8, 2009) to allow Gaza’s economy to reintegrate with the rest of the world and the reconstruction of all essential infrastructure.

It also called for the restoration of the basic human rights of people in Gaza, their right to free movement, healthcare, study and work, and recommended that the state of Palestine be enabled to develop offshore natural gasfields discovered in the 1990s in the Palestinian territorial waters off the Gaza coast.

These revenues would allow some financial respite and funding for the reconstruction of essential infrastructure.

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