No Exit for Civilians in Gaza in the Midst of War
by Ken Bacon, President of Refugees International
“The current conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas is having a devastating impact on civilians. An immediate ceasefire is essential. But with bleak prospects for one in the near term, reducing civilian suffering must be the priority of all actors. Israel must allow full access for humanitarian supplies to the territory. Civilians need to have the minimum freedom of movement to access humanitarian distribution points and hospitals. Both the Israeli armed forces and Hamas must respect civilian infrastructure, avoiding unwarranted damage to essential services.
“In similar situations around the world, civilians caught in the midst of conflict would have the option of seeking safety in neighboring countries as refugees. Gazans have no such option, as both Israel and Egypt restrict access for Palestinians to their territory. They are trapped.
“Prior to the intensification of hostilities, civilians in Gaza were highly dependent on humanitarian assistance for their survival. Over the past 18 months, basic services and economic opportunities deteriorated due in part to Israeli restrictions on goods flowing into the territory. Israel imposed these restrictions in response to Hamas rocket attacks, and with the aim of undermining political support for Hamas.
“Since December 27th, the bombardment and the land invasion have made a bad situation worse, creating a humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, only a two to three day supply of wheat flour remains in Gaza, where daily needs amount to 200-300 tons. Damage to infrastructure and lack of fuel have reduced the reliable supply of electricity, hampering the operation of pumps and filtration systems, and thus preventing access to clean water for 250,000 people Hospitals are relying on erratic generators, jeopardizing care in intensive care and neo-natal units. Some 300 babies are born every day in Gaza, but pregnant women are being forced to deliver outside hospitals as all available beds are reserved for war injuries and other emergency cases.
“An immediate ceasefire-the halt of Israeli military operations in Gaza and of Hamas rocket attacks into Israel-is essential as a first step towards creating the possibility for political dialogue that will lead to safety and security for civilians on both sides. Even without a ceasefire, however, Refugees International is calling for the following five measures to immediately enhance the protection of civilians in Gaza:
1. Israel and Hamas must do everything possible to avoid injuring or killing civilians;
2. Israel and Hamas must respect the civilian nature of basic infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals, clinics, and other public buildings, avoiding destructive attacks and the use of these facilities for military operations;
3. Israel and Egypt must open all border crossing points into Gaza to enable the delivery of humanitarian supplies, with an emphasis on food and medicine, gas for cooking, and fuel for the central power plant;
4. Israel must grant freedom of movement to Gazan civilians to access humanitarian distribution points and hospitals safely;
5. Israel must speed the granting of permission for international medical personnel to access Gaza.
“The situation in Gaza is perilous. Member states of the Security Council and governments in the region need to put maximum political pressure on the parties to the conflict to achieve a ceasefire and take measures to protect civilians.”
Ken Bacon became President of Refugees International in 2001 after serving more than six years as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and Pentagon spokesman. http://www.refugeesinternational.org