The World Population Day is an occasion to stress governments’ role and responsibility for ensuring respect for their constituent population’s enjoyment of their human rights. It represents an opportunity to reflect on the need to provide meaningful protection for populations at risk around the world.
In the Gaza Strip, this occasion is marked by substantial socio-demographic changes that warn of a grim future. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the population density in Gaza is estimated at 5,453 person per square kilometre, the average family size has dropped from 6.5 in 2007 to 5.7 in 2018, and the percentage of families headed by women stands at 9%, with women’s economic participation in the labor force remaining disproportionately low. Also, the gap between available sources and people’s needs continues to widen.
These are the some of the repercussions of Israel’s continued violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). Perpetuated on a collective basis, these violations span the rights to housing, health, education, and dignity. With the blockade and closure kept tight for 12 years, Gaza’s economic sectors have all been dramatically affected, particularly due to the restrictions on imports and exports. In the meantime, people’s resilience in face of compounded hardship has been drastically undermined.
In spatial terms, opportunities for safe, private, and affordable housing have been diminished. Israeli forces continue the pattern of destroying buildings, including residential complexes, and displacing thousands of people. From 2008 to 11 July 2019, Al Mezan has documented 46,599 residential units that have been targeted, with 11,290 of them being completely destroyed and 35,309 partially damaged. As a result, 392,345 people have been displaced, including 136,098 women and 192,473 children. Israeli forces went further in denying displaced people’s the basic right to housing through imposing severe restrictions on imported construction materials. Since Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Israel has continuously prevented the entry of sufficient construction materials and equipment.
International support for housing projects has also decreased. About 402 families of refugees whose houses were destroyed stopped receiving rent support regularly, leading to aggravation of their living conditions.
These conditions have affected all segments of the society and challenge the well-being of Palestinians in Gaza, individually and collectively.
Decline in economic activities, reflected in minimized levels of production, is worsened by the continued internal Palestinian divisions. With thousands forcibly sent into early retirement or having their salaries, often significantly, cut, the rate of food-insecurity among families in Gaza soared to 68.5%, posing additional difficulty for already-disadvantaged groups such as disabled and senior citizens to be able to attain dignity or good health conditions to benefit from educational and development opportunities. This economic deterioration is also reflected in the dwindling level of consumption by Palestinians in Gaza, as measured by the decline in the amount of hard waste from 259,878.190 tons in 2016 and 249,510.460 tons in 2017 to 217,338.710 tons in 2018. This decline is registered despite the reported population growth.
Gaza’s population’s access to healthcare has, furthermore, been affected. Medicines and medical necessities continue to be in short supply at public hospitals and clinics. As of June 2019, the number of zero-stock medicines stood at 257, raising the percentage of deficit to 49.8%, and the number of zero-stock medical necessities stood at 213, raising the percentage of deficit to 25%. The most dramatic facet of this deficit is that of 29 medicines for mothers and children only nine are available.
Recalling the United Nations’ adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the various international human rights conventions, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights warns against the serious consequences of Israel’s systematic pressure on Palestinians’ living conditions in Gaza which has been perpetuating a serious process of de-development and spreading extreme poverty that hits entire generations. These consequences are the natural result of the continuing violations of human rights and various forms of collective punishment.
The internal Palestinian division also plays a part in amplifying and exacerbating these consequences, while also leading to serious deterioration in the enjoyment of liberties and distrust in government and the judiciary.
Al Mezan calls on members of the international community to honor their moral, legal, and humanitarian obligations vis-à-vis the rights and needs of the population in the Gaza Strip. On the World Population Day, Al Mezan specifically calls on: