In Gaza, Few Festivities, Mostly Sacrifice on the Festival of Sacrifice

• No Money, No Electricity: Tens of Thousands of Families Suffering Effects of Israeli Prevention of Cash Flow to Gaza.

• Gaza’s Power Plant Will Shut Down Tonight.

Sun., December 7, 2008 –  More than half a million people in Gaza will remain without money during the Muslim Festival of Sacrifice which begins tonight. As part of an overall closure policy, Israel is preventing the transfer of cash to banks in Gaza, primarily harming 77,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority and the 460,000 family members they support, who have not received their November salary. Thousands of additional workers and recipients of international assistance are also left without money after Gaza’s banks ran out of money and closed their doors last week.

B.M., 27, Gaza resident and employee of the Palestinian Authority: "I feel terrible. I have a salary, I have money in the bank, and I can’t buy my daughter sweets or new clothing for the holiday. I went to the ATM, but there is nothing, it doesn’t work. On the Festival of Sacrifice, Muslim men are supposed to give money gifts to their female relatives. I can’t visit my family this year, because I have nothing to give them."

Israel controls the borders of Gaza and does not permit the entry of goods except via Gaza’s crossings with Israel. Israel therefore exercises control over the banking system in Gaza, which is completely dependent on the flow of cash and financial instruments via Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza. Gaza’s banks need 150-200 million shekels in cash reserves each month, but last October, Israel permitted passage of just 50 million shekels, and last month no cash at all was allowed to enter Gaza.

Depriving Gaza of cash reserves is part of the nearly hermetic Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip, in place since June 2007, a policy that constitutes collective punishment of 1.5 million people. Israel is also preventing the passage of industrial diesel to Gaza’s power plant, responsible for producing 33% of Gaza’s electricity supply, causing power outages of up to 16 hours per day. Israel again closed Gaza’s fuel pipelines today, and as a result, Gaza’s power plant will shut down tonight for lack of industrial diesel.

International law prohibits deliberately harming civilians and punishing them for acts they did not commit. Just as it is strictly forbidden to fire rockets at civilians in southern Israel, so it is strictly forbidden to punish 1.5 million civilians in the Gaza Strip in response – depriving them basic goods and the means necessary to support themselves.

According to Sari Bashi, Director of Gisha: "Blocking the flow of cash to Gaza’s banks threatens to completely topple Gaza’s already battered economy, depriving 1.5 million people of basic needs and their right to a dignified livelihood. It is not clear what the Government of Israel wishes to achieve by destroying the economic and humanitarian foundations of Palestinian society".