Gaza Siege Committee slams unity government for worsening conditions

By Julie Webb-Pullman

Dr Merwan Aburaas and National Committee to Break the Siege members, Gaza City

Dr Merwan Aburaas and National Committee to Break the Siege members, Gaza City

Dr Merwan Aburaas, spokesperson of the National Committee to Break the Siege, told a press conference on Saturday that Gazans are very disillusioned with the unity government, not because the siege has not been lifted, but because conditions in Gaza have actually got worse.

“The National Committee is extremely concerned about the situation, but unfortunately, our concern has not so far been shared by the unity government or the Palestinian Authority (PA),” he said.

Noting that the health sector is particularly problematic, Aburaas lashed out at the lack of communication between the Ministry of Health in Ramallah and its sister ministry in Gaza, especially since the formation of the reconciliation government.

Massive shortages of medications and medical supplies – zero stocks of 471 medical supplies plus zero stocks of some 122 essential drugs and another nine soon to run out – have led to the cancellation of elective surgery in Gaza since last week.

“Media reports that 20 truckloads of supplies have been sent were just that – reports. No trucks have yet arrived,” Aburaas said.

“This catastrophe is a direct result of the Ramallah Ministry failing to deal with the issue with the necessary urgency, or national and domestic sensibility – the message it sends to Palestinians in Gaza is that their health, their lives, are not valued by this government.”

Aburaas also derided the unity government for failing to address the critical labour problem. 170,000 Palestinian workers in the Gaza Strip have lost their jobs since entry of construction materials was prevented. These workers held high hopes that the fruits of reconciliation would be a future with work and dignity. Instead the borders remain closed and the only construction materials coming in are bound for NGOs.

“The unity government apparently has no plan to address this urgent situation, not even temporary job schemes or social relief,” he lamented.

Electricity is where Palestinians feel an even greater sense of injustice, and completely discriminated against. Aburaas said that the unity government has continued to impose the “Blue Tax” on manufactured fuel to run Gaza’s only power station – a practice which increases the price from 2.2 NIS per litre at the point of origin in the West Bank to 6.8 NIS by the time it enters Gaza., and which should have stopped with the reconciliation government.

He expressed gratitude to the state of Qatar for donating millions to help pay this tax, but to the outside observer it appears to be little more than a money-earner for the PA, while resulting in no improved services in Gaza.

“Is it fair that the poorest Palestinians, the people of Gaza, should be discriminated against in this way? Is it even legal to discriminate between the cost of electricity in the West Bank and Gaza electricity? Does the unity government have an urgent plan to address this situation?” Aburaas asked.

Pointing out that the municipalities of Gaza have been striving to provide wastewater and garbage disposal services in conditions of very high-density population and without even the minimal necessary facilities and equipment, such as pumps and the fuel to run them, Aburaas demanded that the unity government put this issue at the top of its priorities.

100,000 cubic metres of untreated waste water are being pumped into the sea daily according to Baha al-Agha of the Gaza Environment Quality Authority, and 75% of garbage trucks have no fuel to enable them to do their job. Gaza’s beaches, the only relief in the densely-packed enclave in the middle of summer, are closed due to the resulting pollution leaving the population high and dry – and surrounded with refuse.

“The unity government and the Palestinian president need to shoulder their responsibilities as soon as possible to address this serious humanitarian problem,” Aburaas said.

On May 13, 2014 the head of the Fatah delegation to the reconciliation talks, Azzam Al Ahmad, announced that the Rafah Crossing would open as soon as the unity government was in place. The government has been in place for a month now, and Rafah remains almost completely closed, with more than 50,000 people on the waiting list to leave. Some with foreign residency which they will lose if they cannot return to the country to renew it, students with offers of places in foreign universities which they will lose if they cannot arrive in time, people needing medical treatment to save their lives – which will be lost if they do not receive it.

“What are the obstacles?” asks Aburaas. “We hear the unity government wants the presidential guard to operate the crossing, as per the 2005 agreement – why haven’t they done it?”

As if the forgoing were not enough evidence of how the unity government is failing the people of Gaza, the government employee crisis is the very bitter icing on their reconciliation cake.

Some 40,000 employees in the public sector have not been paid for several months – and the unity government has so far made no attempt to pay them despite Qatar providing funds which the banks continue to decline. Many of these employees, especially in the health and education sectors, have served under both Fatah and Hamas administrations – but are now being refused payment based on the fact they worked for the Hamas administration – when in actual fact they worked for the sick and the children of Gaza, of all factions.

“This is a stab in the heart of the nation,” said Aburaas. “Such discrimination between one employee and another has no historical precedent over the long history of Palestine. It is as if reconciliation came to reward some people and punish others. The employees of the West Bank and Gaza are all brothers and sisters and have the same rights. This is a national crime.”

In an ironic reflection of the apartheid policies of the Israeli state, Aburaas noted that the unity government seems to be determined to create ‘two people’ with regard to salaries, electricity, labour, health, education, industry, agriculture and all aspects of life.

“These dilemmas could be easily solved by the unity government and the presidency – if the Palestinian peoples’ interests are prioritised,” he said.

In a muted expression of growing national dissatisfaction with the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and the apparently discriminatory policies of the unity government, Aburaas concluded by saying, “We are fully aware that the ugly Israeli occupation is the basis of every suffering and calamity, but we must honestly and conscientiously seek to install loyal people in the face of the occupation’s crimes. We must consider our people as one nation who all deserve to live in dignity, regardless of political affiliation.”

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