Gaza City, 18 March 2018 — Al Mezan Center for Human Rights has held a press conference to launch its latest report on the situation of economic, social and cultural rights in the Gaza Strip in 2017. During the past year, deterioration of humanitarian conditions was beyond all expectations. Worst in record, this deterioration is the result of various human rights violations, the most influential of which is the Israeli closure and blockade, which has been in place for over 3,756 days now.
Al Mezan’s 2017 annual report shows that, internally, the Palestinian division, itself also exceeding 3,856 days, has led to catastrophic decline in development and governance, leaving the entire Gaza Strip out of the span of developmental planning. In June 2017, the Palestinian Authority introduced a number of measures that were understood to be punitive against Gaza, including decreasing funding of basic services; reduction of supply of electricity and of drugs and medical disposables; cuts of salaries of public sector employees and sending thousands into early retirement; and delays in processing of medical referrals for patients from Gaza.
The report documents the implications of the Israeli-imposed closure and blockade, grounded in serious violations of economic, social and cultural rights. These implications are reflected by the following indicators:
- During 2017, Israeli forces continued attacking Palestinians; 31 were killed and 916 injured, including 160 children and nine women.
- In 2017, restriction of access to necessary healthcare became more stringent. 54 patients from Gaza lost their lives as a direct result of having their permits delayed or rejected, which denied them access to hospitals outside the Gaza Strip. In addition, shortages in drugs and medical disposables reached a peak in the past five years.
- The number of patients referred to the psychiatric hospital in Gaza rose by a rate of 21%, compared to 2016 figures. Moreover, the number of psychiatric patients visiting governmental mental healthcare clinics rose by 69% compared to the number documented in 2016.
- The Ministry of Social Development reduced by 50% its services to female victims of domestic abuse who stayed in shelters and whose numbers rose from 96 in 2016 to 181 in 2017. The Ministry’s reduction of services also affected children in vocational training centers of the Ministry as well as those kept in juvenile custody in Al Rabee Organization.
- The level of social security has diminished. In 2017, the number of juvenile delinquents reached 429, a 41% increase from 2016; challenges to attaining food security continued to grow; and the number of people seeking marriage dropped down by 10.8%, compared to 2016.
- The number of female breadwinners grew by 9.5% in the Gaza Strip.
- Housing problems in the Gaza Strip worsened, with current housing needs assessed at 102,000 new residential units required and 24,000 more to be reconstructed. 36.2% of families reside in homes with less than 120m2 in area. 53.6% of the Gaza Strip’s families live in residence with one or two bedrooms.
- The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), which was introduced in 2014 following Israel’s assault on Gaza, has failed to bring about the desired outcomes. At the end of 2017, 53% of the houses that were completely destroyed had been reconstructed, over three years after the mechanism was initiated.
- 2017 marked the lowest recorded percentage in exports since 2000, at 2%, of the total trade, registering a 96% trade deficit. The closure and blockade incurred economic losses of 16 million USD a month.
- Sea pollution has grown to affect 73% of the coast of the Gaza Strip. Diarrhea among children below three years in age was recorded in 80% more cases, indicating high water pollution. Also, 97% of underground water in the Gaza Strip is no longer drinkable.
- The percentage of bounced bank checks increased from 6% in 2014 to 11% in 2017, with a large number of businesspeople and traders arrested for financial liabilities. The total number of imprisonment orders issued on financial liability against individuals, businesspeople and traders reached 100,000.
- Unemployment rose to 46.6% in the Gaza Strip, with the unemployment rate of youth exceeding 60%, that of women in excess of 85%, and that of graduates close to being full.
- 3,568 dunums of agricultural lands were damaged by chemical spraying by Israeli forces (one dunam is 1,000 square meters). Due to the electricity crisis, the amount of irrigation water decreased while the operational costs of storing agricultural and animal products increased.
- The electricity crisis grew worse, with a daily supply at about four hours with a 20-hour of daily blackout on average. On the best days, electricity supplies would be at six hours a day.
- Inspectors of the Ministry of Labor registered 192 work injuries in 2017. Three of these injuries were lethal.
- Education in the Gaza Strip continues to face tremendous challenges in light of shortage of school buildings. 142 new schools are needed to bridge this shortage. Also, students currently enrolled at higher education institutions, 85,660, continue to struggle to keep up with their studies; their struggle is the result of being unable to pay their tuition or other indirect costs of their education, in addition to Israeli restrictions on movement.
- Archeological sites were subjected to looting and tampering. Tal Al Sakan site, to the north of Al Zahra city, was critically damaged in leveling operations aimed at distributing its land to employees of the government in Gaza in compensation for their financial dues.
With this report, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights expects that this deterioration in the situation of economic, social and cultural rights will continue as far as the Israeli closure and blockade and the intra-Palestinian political division are not brought to an end. These two factors result in serious human rights violations that have had devastating cumulative effects, leading to aggravated human suffering amid shrinking opportunities for amelioration and absence of political stability. As has been the case with the GRM, the experiences in the past years indicate that an increase in international humanitarian and development aid cannot fend for effective solutions, as the closure measures will inevitably hamper any development efforts. Given this dire situation, Gaza is on its path to become incapable of adequately supporting human life before 2020.
In the 2017 report, Al Mezan highlights the need for immediate actions to improve the situation in the Gaza Strip. The following are the most urgent recommended actions the report calls for:
- The international community must honor its moral and legal obligations by intervening swiftly and effectively to lift the closure and blockade and to pressure Israeli authorities to comply with rules of international humanitarian law and human rights law. To this end, the international community must take action to ensure accountability.
- The international community must foster international cooperation in resolving the complex problems faced by residents of the Gaza Strip. In engaging in humanitarian and development actions, which need to be multiplied rapidly, international community must reject the restrictions imposed by the Israeli closure, which could foil and meaningful interventions.
- All Palestinian political powers must work together to end the internal division and end the duality in the political system. A comprehensive process of reconciliation involving all political powers and civil society must be supported to achieve unity, which is essential in preventing the collapse of the Gaza Strip.
- The remaining punitive measures introduced by the Palestinian Authority against the Gaza Strip in 2017 must be immediately removed. The national consensus government must be empowered on the ground to act upon its authority and responsibilities towards Gaza, and it should partner with all political, economic and social actors to achieve this end.