For the 7th consecutive day, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have continued their offensive on the Palestinian civilian population, their property and civil facilities in the Gaza Strip from the air, sea and land. In the peak of the ongoing grave escalation of war crimes that are being committed by IOF, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is getting worse and worse, and the suffering of more than 1.5 million civilians is exacerbating.
The suffering of Gaza civilians continues due to the denial of their economic, social and cultural rights, in addition to their civil and politic rights. The main concern of the whole population have become looking for safe shelters to protect their right to life, safety and security of person. Ensuring the basic humanitarian needs, including food; medicine; electricity and fuel, has become a hard and complicated task, as the civilian population have been exposed to incessant horror, and due to the continued and total tightened closure of all Gaza border crossings and the practice of the economic and social strangulation policy.
Through its operating staff, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is following up the developments and outcome of the IOF military operation. PCHR’s follow-up covers war crimes that IOF are still being committed against the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip, that have resulted in hundreds of deaths and casualties among Palestinian civilians, in addition to the destruction of civilian facilities.
Besides, PCHR is observing the deteriorating humanitarian conditions, and impacts on economic and social rights as a result of the systematic destruction of the entire components of the human life, including the ability to enjoy adequate standard of living, access to food, medicine and drinking water, access to healthcare, adequate and safe shelter, and to the rights to education and work.
The Gaza Strip is suffering a catastrophic nutritional status at all levels. The suffering of the civilian population continues to aggravate due to the restricted flow of food consignments to cities, villages and refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. According to various official sources, the shortage of grains and flour is still affecting the work of Gaza flourmills. The situation even gets more tragic in view of the risks posed to civilians in case of leaving their homes for bread and flour. The following is a review of the deteriorating nutritional conditions resulting from tightening the total closure of all Gaza border crossings:
Flourmills and bakeries:
Gaza flourmills and bakeries are suffering from chronic shortages in their stocks of grains and flour that is caused by the reduction of grains and flour supplies to Gaza during the past two months. Mr. ‘Abdul Nasser al-‘Ajrami, head of Bakeries Owners Association in the Gaza Strip, stated that the quantity of flour available at the stocks of Gaza six flourmills is very limited. He said this quantity is being distributed with reduced quantities to Gaza bakeries, in coordination between the Ministry of National Economy and his Association. He gave details on the available quantity of flour as follows:
– On Thursday, 1 January 2009, the quantity of flour available at the al-Iman flourmill was 500 packages (each package weighs 60 kilograms). At the end of the same day, this quantity of flour was distributed to Gaza bakeries. The flourmill shut down on Friday, 2 January 2009.
– On Thursday, 1 January 2009, the flour available at the al-Salam flourmill was approximately 950 packages. At the end of the same day, this quantity of flour was distributed to Gaza bakeries. The flourmill shut down on Friday, 2 January 2009.
– On Thursday, 1 January, 2009, the flour available at Palestine Flourmills Company was approximately 1,050 packages. This quantity of flour was distributed to Gaza bakeries on Friday afternoon, 2 January 2009 and the Company shut down then.
– Al-Huda flourmill shut down when it ran out of flour on Thursday morning, 1 January 2009.
– Al-Faiha’a flourmill still have approximately 1,100 packages of flour, which will be enough until today afternoon, Saturday, 3 January 2009.
The Gaza Strip, with a population of approximately 1.5 million Palestinians, daily needs approximately 500 tons of grains to produce flour. The reduced flour quantities that are being distributed to Gaza bakeries now do not exceed 100 tons per day. Gaza civilians have already been suffering from severe shortage in wheat and flour supplies, even prior to the beginning of the IOF ongoing offensive on Saturday, 27 December 2008. In December 2008, the Gaza Strip flourmills had suffered from a chronic and serious crisis, that resulted in the complete shutdown of Gaza flourmills on 18 December 2008, when their stocks of wheat ran out. The last shipment of wheat that was allowed into the Gaza Strip before the beginning of the IOF ongoing offensive was on 14 December 2008 and its quantity was 1,000 tons. IOF also allowed the delivery of 90 truckloads of grains and flour into the Gaza strip between 26 and 30 December 2008.
Mr. ‘Abdul Nasser al-‘Ajrami, head of Bakeries Owners Association in the Gaza Strip, stated to PCHR that 37 out of 47 bakeries, that produce Shami bread in the Gaza Strip, work with low productive capacity ranging between 10 and 16 hours only per day, depending on the available quantities of flour. These bakeries are suffering from continued electric cutoffs. Gaza bakeries depend on cooking gas, diesel and electricity to operate their ovens. Several days before the beginning of the ongoing offensive, 10 bakeries in Gaza had completely shut down because of unavailability of cooking gas on which they depend in their work. IOF stopped supplying cooking gas to Gaza on 4 November 2008. Since then, quantities of cooking gas sufficient only for five days were allowed into the Gaza Strip. As a result, the Gaza Strip has suffered from a chronic and severe shortage in cooking gas.
Scarcity of Food Items in Gaza Markets and Increase of Their Prices
Markets and shops in the Gaza Strip witness severe shortages in many basic goods and needs necessary for the civilian population. According to statements by many traders and owners of shops, civilians’ demand on basic goods has increased before and during the IOF ongoing offensive on the Gaza Strip. Local traders had run out of flour and wheat several days before the ongoing offensive. In addition, local shops are suffering from severe shortages in many food items, including baby milk, pasteurized milk and dairy products. In addition, many other basic items have run out from local markets, including batteries for lightening, toilette papers and tissues.
Prices of all goods have sharply increased because of their limited quantities that are offered at local markets, and because Gazans rushed to markets to buy their needs in fear of the continuation of the ongoing offensive and their inability to get out of their homes to buy their needs due to the continued and indiscriminate IOF bombardment. Fuel and petroleum products that used to be supplied to Gaza from Egypt via tunnels were reduced, mainly because IOF have launched intensive raids, since the beginning of their ongoing offensive on the Gaza Strip, on tunnels under the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Sources from the Association of the Owners of Petroleum Products Companies stated that the Gaza Strip is still suffering from a chronic shortage in cooking gas, benzene and diesel, which used to be supplied to the Gaza Strip via Nahal Ouz crossing, east to Gaza City. The prices of the quantities of Egyptian benzene and diesel available in the markets of the Gaza Strip have sharply increased. Demand on kerosene has increased because thousands of Gazan families use it in kerosene stoves to compensate the chronic shortage in cooking gas. The price a liter of kerosene has increased from 2 NIS prior to the ongoing offensive to 4 NIS.
Continued Suspension of UNRWA’s Food Aids Deprives Hundreds of Thousands of Palestinian Refugees of Food
The largest program for the distribution of food aids in the Gaza Strip, which is managed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), is still completely suspended, in spite of the deterioration of the humanitarian conditions of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. Within less than a month, UNRWA had stopped the distribution of its food aids for twice. UNRWA was forced to close its distribution centers that provide food aids for approximately 750,000 Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip. Refugees in the Gaza Strip depend on UNRWA’s food aids, that they used to receive periodically. Sources from UNRWA say that the tight closure of the Gaza Strip border crossings and the ban on the delivery of food and medicine consignments or limitation of these consignments to the lowest levels, are the main reasons for the cessation of UNRWA’s food aid program. These sources also state that security conditions prevailing in the Gaza Strip impede the reopening of UNRWA food aid distribution centers. The continued IOF bombardment hinders the work of UNRWA staff and the transportation of food aids from UNRWA central warehouses in the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, who live in eight refugee camps throughout the Gaza Strip, have been affected in terms of health conditions and ability to access necessary food.
In view of continued IOF offensive and air raids on the Gaza Strip, the civilian population are still suffering from continued electricity cutoffs. This situation gravely affects civilians’ ability to access water, including drinking water. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Gaza Strip are looking for resources to get and store their needs of water for the upcoming days, mainly under security risks posed by IOF bombardment of facilities and establishments. Crews of the Gaza Strip municipalities and the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) are unable to access water wells and sewage water treatment plants, because of risks imposed by the security conditions and because these wells and plants are located in remote areas.
Eng. Monther Shublaq, CMWU Director General, stated the following:
“Drinking water supplies and sewage are facing complicated problems. These problems are aggravating over the time. Our chronic problem is the ban imposed by IOF on the needs of water and sewage water facilities, including tools, equipment and spare parts. However, the new developments have made the situation more complicated. As a result, have been obliged to appeal the residents of the Gaza Strip to rationalize the use of water available in their tanks, since CMWU is not able at the moment to deliver water to broad areas in the Gaza Strip in view of the ongoing security conditions. Now, approximately 70% of civilians in the Gaza Strip, mostly in Gaza City, lack water, including drinking water.”
According to sources from CMWU, the status of water supplies and sewage can be summarized as follows:
1. Drinking Water
– Due to continued electricity cutoffs, the water production from water wells, including 150 water wells supervised by CMWU, has dropped from 220,000 m3 per day to 120,000 m3. As a result, all Gaza civilians are suffering from severe shortages in water supplies. The Gaza Strip had suffered a chronic shortage in water prior to IOF ongoing offensive.
– CMWU has been forced to reduce water distribution hours to a single hour per day in areas that have electricity. The continued electricity cutoffs, for several days in some areas, have created several problems in the distribution of water to broad areas in the Gaza Strip. CMWU has not been able to deliver water to many residential neighborhoods for more than five days.
– There are concerns that the problem of water would aggravate. These concerns increase as diesel is running out from CMWU stocks. Five water wells in the northern Gaza Strip have already run out of diesel. These wells provide approximately 40% of water needs of Gaza City (3 of them are in the northeast of Gaza City and the remaining two are in Beer al-Na’aja area). Four water wells in al-Mughraqa area, south to Gaza City, have also run out of diesel. These wells provide water to al-Mughraqa area, al-Nussairat refugee camp, al-Zahraa’ town and al-Boreij Refugees Camp.
According to reports prepared by PCHR field workers, many complaints submitted by civilians throughout the Gaza Strip stated that civilians had suffered electricity cutoffs and shortages in water for more than six days. Residents of al-Shoja’eya, al-Zaytoun, al-Tufah, Sheikh Radwan neighborhoods and parts of the Southern al-Remal neighborhood have so far suffered electricity and water cutoffs. Residents of al-Mughraqa village, al-Zahra’a town and large parts of al-Nuseirat refugee camp stated that they had suffered electricity cutoffs for four days, and that they had been unable to access water, including drinking water.
2. Sewage Water
– The electricity cutoffs in the majority of the Gaza Strip, including the areas where there are sewage water treatment plants, have caused a drop of the efficiency of sewage water treatment that had been already dropped by 50%.
– Due to the acute shortage in diesel, CMWU is suffering has been unable to provide sewage water treatment plants with diesel, which is required to compensate the electricity cutoffs and operate the plants. Sewage water treatment plants require huge quantities of diesel that CMWU cannot ensure.
– The sewage water treatment plant in Sheikh ‘Ejleen area needs approximately 3,000 liters daily to be operated as it suffers continued electric cutoffs. CMWU cannot afford ensuring this huge quantity of diesel. As a result, CMWU was forced to shut down the plant. Now, the plant only receives sewage water and then pumps it after primary treatment to deposit planktons, into the sea. Hence, the sewage water pumped into Gaza sea without treatment, except for primary treatment to the deposition of planktons, has increased to approximately 40,000 liters per day. There are real concerns about the environmental risks caused by the pumping of untreated sewage water into Gaza sea. Gaza sea and shores would be polluted and marine life and fisheries would be destroyed. CMWU has been forced to pump untreated sewage water into the sea out of concern of sinking Gaza with sewage water.
– Concerning the sewage water treatment plant in Beit Lahia town, although the plant suffers continuous electricity cutoffs, CMWU is obliged to operate the plant at any cost to avoid the recurrence of the disaster that broke out in the Bedouin (Um al-Nasser) Village, when a sewage water cesspool positioned near the village broke and sank dozens of houses and killed a number of civilians. CMWU provides 700 liters of diesel per day to operate the plant in Beit Lahia Town.
In light of the continued deterioration of the security conditions, CMWU has forced to establish 5 emergency areas, each headed by the director of that area. The heads of the emergency areas, in cooperation with CMWU Director General and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza, follow up the status of water supplies and sewage in the Gaza strip. On Friday, 2 January 2009, CMWU managed to enter 48 tons out of 60 tons of chloride, which is used to decontaminate drinking water. The delivered quantity of chloride is enough for 3 weeks only. CMWU technical crews continue their work amidst complications and critical security conditions, mainly when it is relating to the decontamination of drinking water with chloride and provision of sewage water treatment plants with diesel required to operate them.
The military campaign initiated by the IOF is committing grievous crimes against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. In addition, the violations committed by IOF are leading to the unprecedented mass displacement of thousands of civilians who have started to look for safe areas to protect themselves and their families. IOF military operation started while the civilian population of the Gaza Strip were already suffering poverty, unemployment and deprivation, as a result of the unique form of collective punishment that has been imposed on them, in the form of the blockade, for more than 18 months. The siege is denying civilians’ access to food, medicines and all other needs which are necessary for their survival. Collective punishment is a violation of international humanitarian law.
In light of the above, PCHR calls upon the international community, particularly the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War:
· To promptly and urgently intervene to ensure respect for the provision of the international humanitarian law and human rights law, in order to put an end to the serious deterioration taking place in the daily life of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, and to ensure the respect for their civil and political rights, in addition to their economic, social and cultural rights.
· To exert continuous pressure on IOF to open all Gaza commercial crossings in order to enable the civilian population in the Gaza Strip to obtain their needs of food, medicines and all other necessary needs such as electricity, fuel, cooking gas and other goods and supplies.
· To compel IOF to stop practicing the policy of the collective punishment imposed on the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, including the continued closure of border crossings that leads to severe deterioration in civilians’ enjoyment of their economic and social rights.
· To remind the State of Israel, as the occupying power of the Gaza Strip, of its obligations towards the civilian population under article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that stipulates: ” To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate. The Occupying Power may not requisition foodstuffs, articles or medical supplies available in the occupied territory…only if the requirements of the civilian population have been taken into account.”
· That the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth 1949 Geneva Convention commit to their obligations under article 1 of the Convention that stipulates: “The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.”
· That all countries, governments and international organizations, including UN bodies, particularly UNRWA, exert serious pressure on IOF to provide all forms of humanitarian aid, including food aid, medicine, shelter and healthcare, to the victims of the IOF ongoing offensive on the Gaza Strip.