Yesterday, the Israeli Security Cabinet convened for a discussion regarding possible measures to “assist with the humanitarian situation” in Gaza. It is both disturbing and discouraging to learn that the three-hour discussion was fruitless, and no decisions were reached. Israel’s political and military leadership have publicly acknowledged the substantial deterioration of living conditions in the Strip. Yet, instead of recognizing Israel’s legal and moral responsibility to act and implement significant changes to its own destructive policies in Gaza, the cabinet concluded its unproductive discussion with alarming indifference.
According to preliminary reports, the plans discussed by the cabinet have been on the table for years and have even been presented to donor countries and international institutions on numerous occasions such as: increasing to the volume of electricity sold to Gaza from Israel; doubling the amount of water permitted for sale to Gaza; granting approvals for repairs to infrastructure and construction of water desalination plants; allocating a minor quota of permits for laborers from Gaza to work in Israel, and; developing an industrial zone at Erez Crossing. Israel must recognize that these steps are far from benevolent “gestures,” but rather – measures Israel is obligated to advance given its continuous control over life in the Strip. As long as Israel wields comprehensive control over Gaza’s land, sea and air spaces, it is accountable for allowing Gaza residents to live with dignity.
The internal Palestinian divide, Egypt’s drawn-out closures of Rafah Crossing and the international community’s reluctance to invest in Gaza all play no small part in contributing to the deteriorating situation in the Strip. But none of these factors relieve Israel of its responsibility for its central role in shaping the reality faced by Gaza’s civilian population. Without lifting restrictions on the sale of goods from Gaza to its largest markets – Israel and the West Bank – there can be no economic growth; without lifting restrictions on the entry of construction materials and other industrial inputs, there can be no upgrade of Gaza’s collapsing infrastructure or of its economy; without allowing people to exit Gaza to work, there can be no solution to Gaza’s astronomic unemployment rates; without removing sweeping restrictions on movement of people, Gaza’s two million residents cannot realize their fundamental rights to livelihood, education, professional development, family life and well-being.
The time for “humanitarian gestures” and collective punishment is up. Israel must accept responsibility for its prolonged control over Gaza, recognize its legal and moral obligations towards its residents, and take action to reverse the process of decline in the Strip, thereby promoting stability in the region as a whole.