The decision by Egypt’s military rulers to open the Rafah border with Gaza will not only allow the movement of people and goods across the border. Perhaps more importantly, it will end the feeling of isolation the Gazans have had since the blockade was imposed by Israel –with Egypt’s collaboration- more than three years ago.
The blockade on Gaza has had a devastating effect on Gazans’ health and quality of life, despite a partial easing of the restrictions by Israel in recent months. “The situation in Gaza remains very serious from a humanitarian perspective. The blockade has been eased in some respects but it has been maintained in other respects, and it continues to put the population there under great psychological and physical stress,” stated last October Professor Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Professor Falk added that Israel’s continued refusal to allow export of goods from Gaza has destroyed its internal economy, and young people from Gaza continue to be denied the right to visit their families in the West Bank and East Jerusalem or attend universities in other parts of the territories.
The most vulnerable -old people and children- are the ones who suffer the most. Even the supply of paper is limited, for fear it may be used to print propaganda, making children unable to play and draw pictures with crayons.
Lacking raw materials and the chance to export, Gaza’s businesses are unable to compete with cheaper, imported goods. At the same time, inflow of construction materials is only 11% of pre-blockade levels. “What I see in Gaza is a reversal of development,” stated Joyce Dalgliesh, a Scots charity worker after a visit to Gaza.
The blockade has predictably had a detrimental impact on the health of the people living in the Strip. On average, two patients die every month waiting for Israeli permits so the sick can leave Gaza for treatment, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO also stated that a shortage of required medicines poses a threat to the working of hospitals in the Strip.
According to the WHO, 38 percent of basic medicines in the Strip were out of stock in early 2011, while 40 percent of primary health care services and 80 percent of general services offered by hospitals suffered as a result. Out of 260 cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy in Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, 100 are not able to receive treatment because several medicines are required and are not available.
Many times, several basic illnesses such as diarrhea, pneumonia and skin infections cannot be treated due to lack of antibiotics. Even drugs needed for asthma treatment are not easily available in the Strip’s central warehouses.
Former UK Prime Minister and United Nations envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair stated in June of 2010, “The policy of Gaza is counter-productive and what [Israel] should be doing is allowing material in to rebuild homes and sanitation and power and water systems and allow business to flourish. Nor do we in fact do damage to the position of Hamas by harming people in Gaza. People are harmed when the quality of service is poor and people cannot work.”
The permanent opening of the Rafah border crossing by Egypt will bring new hope to Gazans of surviving a brutal occupation. In the poem “Silence for the Sake of Gaza” Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s greatest poet, said:
The enemy may defeat Gaza. (The stormy sea might overwhelm a small island.)
They may cut down all her trees.
They might break her bones.
They might plant their tanks in the bellies of her women and children, or they might toss her into the sand, into the sea, into blood.
Gaza will not repeat the lies.
Gaza will not say yes to the conquerors.
And she will continue to erupt.
It is not death, it is not suicide, it is Gaza’s way of announcing she is worthy of life.