Israeli wars & illegal blockade pushing Gaza to “systemic collapse of infrastructure & economy”

(This article is published in AlterNet.)

The Red Cross has warned that Gaza faces “a systemic collapse of an already battered infrastructure and economy.”

This comes days before President Donald Trump will be taking his first trip to Israel.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which experts say is illegal, will mark its 10-year anniversary in June. The blockade and periodic, disproportionate and intensely destructive Israeli wars have reduced the nearly 2 million Palestinians in Gaza to lives of extreme oppression and bitter poverty.

The International Committee of the Red Cross released a statement on May 15 addressing the adverse effects of electricity shortages on life in the strip.

“Severe power and fuel shortage has reached a critical point in Gaza, endangering essential services including health care, wastewater treatment and water provision,” the humanitarian organization wrote.

“Without immediate intervention, a public health and environment crisis is looming,” it added.

On average, many people in Gaza have electricity for just six hours a day. The strip has only one power plant, which was bombed by the Israeli military in 2014.

“All aspects of life in Gaza have been affected,” the Red Cross noted in its statement. “As a result, a systemic collapse of an already battered infrastructure and economy is impending.”

Israel has imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza for a decade. In 2011, a United Nations panel of human rights experts stated clearly that Israel’s blockade is in “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law” and amounts to collective punishment of Palestinians.

Despite its illegality, Israel’s blockade has largely been normalized. It is not often discussed, and rarely even acknowledged in Western media reports on Gaza.

Although the Israeli government, on paper, officially ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, the reality is the close U.S. ally has effectively continued occupying the strip. Israel controls Gaza’s waters, airspace, electromagnetic field and population registry. The Israeli government oversees virtually everything that enters and leaves the strip, including human beings.

The Red Cross’ warnings are consistent with a 2015 U.N. report that warned Gaza would be become “uninhabitable” by 2020 if this political situation does not radically change. The blockade imposed and wars waged by Israel have accelerated the “de-development” of the Palestinian territories, the study noted.

Another 2016 U.N. report concluded that, were it not for Israel’s illegal occupation, the Palestinian economy would double.

Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza has a massive humanitarian toll. A staggering 80 percent of Gazan households live below the poverty line, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. And 80 percent of families in Gaza would starve without international food aid.

Even more destructive are the wars the Israeli military wages in Gaza every few years. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed in the recent wars in 2008 to 2009, 2011 and 2014. And bombing by the Israel Defense Forces has ravaged the infrastructure and health system of Gaza, destroying or damaging myriad hospitals, schools and civilian homes.

Israel’s 51-day war in 2014 killed 2,251 Palestinians, approximately two-thirds of whom were civilians, according to the United Nations. Human rights organizations said Israel likely committed war crimes in the conflict.

Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders faced intense criticism in April 2016 for simply observing that the Israeli military’s bombing of Gaza was disproportionate and indiscriminate.

In March of this year, the Israeli military’s chief of staff openly admitted that this is true. “The Israel Defense Force employs a policy of using aggressive, and disproportionate, force in order to prevent situations in which they fire rockets at us and we return shells,” Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told a parliamentary panel. “For us, there is one address in the Strip: Hamas.”

The Trump administration has only continued to ramp up support for Israel, despite its constant violations of international law and illegal military occupation, which will mark its 50th year this June. President Trump will meet with Israeli government officials on May 22, just two weeks before this anniversary.

The administration of President Barack Obama likewise expanded U.S. support for Israel, boosting annual unconditional U.S. military aid from $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion.