For the second time in less than a month, I’ve managed to get myself locked out of the Gaza Strip. I was locked out a few weeks ago because the Erez border crossing into Gaza was shut for the Israeli festival of Sukkot whilst I was having a meeting in Jerusalem – and it took me four days to get home. This time I was on my way back to Gaza after a week’s holiday, when the Israeli military closed Erez without notice for ‘security reasons’. These reasons include a number of rockets fired from Gaza towards Israel after an Israeli military incursion into the eastern Gaza Strip, during which six Palestinians were killed. The Israeli military has now closed all six border crossings into Gaza. Bar a handful of international aid workers, neither people nor goods can enter nor leave Gaza at the moment. The Strip is sealed.
This total closure includes Nahal Oz crossing, which is used exclusively for fuel deliveries. Gaza has now almost completely run out of fuel, inducing massive power cuts across the whole Strip. ‘We haven’t had electricity at home for twenty four hours,’ one of my friends, Khalil, tells me over the phone, which also keeps cutting out because of the power cuts. Another friend who lives in Gaza City has neither electricity nor water at her house, as the water pumps also need electricity.
Gazans are used to being deprived of fuel and other essentials. Israel routinely subjects the entire population of Gaza to collective punishment, and in the absence of a roaring international outcry, will no doubt continue to do so, despite the fact this is illegal under international law. So my colleagues and friends know damn well they’re going to endure another cold, dark and miserable winter. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which distributes humanitarian aid across the Strip, has once again been literally stretched to breaking point, as aid is also not being allowed through the crossings. The situation inside Gaza is, as they say in Arabic, zift.
But zift or not, I still want to get back to my apartment in downtown Gaza City. Early this morning I telephoned the Israeli military at Erez crossing to find out whether I had been granted special coordination to enter Gaza. I work with a medical charity and have some research that needs to be finished urgently. I was told to call back tomorrow. There are hundreds of people locked out of Gaza, and some have been waiting weeks, even months, to get back inside. I’m staying with a friend in Jerusalem, less than two hours drive from Erez crossing, but one of my Gazan friends has been stranded in Jordan for more than two months. Israel has refused to grant him a permit for the six hours he needs to drive from the Jordanian border to Erez crossing, so he can go home to his family in Gaza.
It is easy to see why aid agencies, and activists, decry the ‘humanitarian crisis’ which they say is strategically manufactured by Israel to cause as much misery and deprivation to as many people at once as possible. But Gaza is not facing a humanitarian crisis: this is a human rights crisis. Getting aid into Gaza will meet basic needs and alleviate day to day food and water insecurity– but nothing will change until Israel is forced to acknowledge that it is still occupying the Gaza Strip, and therefore has a legal responsibly for the welfare of the people inside the world’s largest prison.