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Children in Rafah collect water from one of the working public taps July 13, 2014. (Photo: Oxfam International/flickr/cc)

Aid Groups to World Leaders: Time to Force Israel to Lift Blockade on Gaza

'We urge you to take action to press for an end to these restrictions now, so that families are lifted out of the rubble and homes, schools, and hospitals can be built.'

Sarah Lazare

Over 150,000 people and dozens of humanitarian organizations say it is time for world leaders to force Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza and allow its residents to recover from last year's 50-day military onslaught, in what the groups are saying is the largest global appeal of its kind.

Released Wednesday, the anniversary of the formal ceasefire, the call notes: "Not one of the 19,000 homes that were bombed and destroyed has been fully rebuilt."

"[W]e are calling on you to press Israel to end the blockade and to immediately remove wood, steel bars, cement, aggregates, and other essential construction materials from the list of items restricted from entering the Gaza Strip," reads the call to action, which was issued Wednesday to heads of state from the United States, France, Germany, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, as well as officials from the European Union and United Nations.

"World leaders have pledged $3.5 billion to rebuild Gaza, but Israeli government restrictions on the entry of building material are costing reconstruction efforts severe delays," continues the letter, whose signatories include Oxfam, ActionAid, Avaaz, and Japan International Volunteer Center. "As concerned citizens, we urge you to take action to press for an end to these restrictions now, so that families are lifted out of the rubble and homes, schools, and hospitals can be built."

The letter is the latest in a series of appeals from people in and beyond Gaza, as reconstruction continues at a snail's pace, obstructed by the blockade of materials—which is led by Israel, bolstered by Egypt, and politically and financially backed by the United States. The 81 hospitals and medical centers damaged in the war have not had access to materials to rebuild. Meanwhile, roughly 120,000 people do not have access to water and sewage networks, according to the estimates of international NGOs.

"Many of my friends and family members have been homeless for months now," said Ibrahem El Shatali of Gaza City in a press statement. "How can we live like this, surrounded by rubble with no hope, no future and no prospect of things getting better? All we need are basic building materials and a fresh start."

Tuesday's missive follows earlier warnings from aid groups, including a statement in April from nearly 50 humanitarian agencies declaring reconstruction has "barely begun" with aid not getting through. In June, international campaigners demanding an end to the siege sought to break the blockade aboard a "freedom flotilla" but were forcibly—and violently—stopped by the Israeli navy.

Amid bleak conditions in Gaza, residents continue to mobilize for their right to rebuild.

Earlier this month, Gaza residents marched alongside hundreds of UN Relief and Works Agency employees to protest cuts to the agency's services and demand dignity. In late July, the General Federation of Palestine’s Trades Unions in Gaza reiterated their support for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and condemned "continuing impediments on the reconstruction of Gaza, and the ongoing 7-year unjust siege on our people."

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