Now entering its 11th year, the Gaza blockade affects every aspect of life for Palestinians. The blockade, imposed by the Israeli military in June 2007, has devastated Gaza’s economy and left most people largely cut off from the outside world. Today, 80 percent of its population relies on international humanitarian aid to survive. The image below produced by Middle East Eye displays Gaza’s borders, major cities, and population figures as of May 2018.
The blockade has prevented almost every type of goods from entering the Gaza Strip. Shipments are thoroughly searched by the Israeli military to halt the spread of weapons throughout the area, which usually results in confiscation of supplies that are deemed forbidden from entering Gaza. International aid groups continuously attempt to send supplies to Gaza, although most aid convoys undergo Israel’s extensive search process before entering the Gaza Strip. Most recently, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, a grassroots people-to-people solidarity movement working to end the blockade of Gaza, has sent three boats with much-needed medical supplies in an attempt to break the naval blockade. However on 29 July 2018, the boat was seized by Israel along with the activists and supplies on board.
Basic necessities for clean water, infrastructure, and medicine are routinely blocked from the territory by land or sea, as Israel is expanding its list of goods forbidden from entering Gaza. For medical supplies, Gaza relies on donations from the international community and non-governmental organizations, like International Medical Corps, Anera, and Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF). In addition, the West Bank sends shipments to equip Gaza’s hospitals with vaccines, cancer medicine, and required medical aid.
Still, these supplies are not enough, and the blockade continues to severely undermine the ability of Palestinian authorities to respond to the increasing health needs of Gaza’s residents. Gazan citizens are denied access to medical treatment and safe recovery conditions, prompting many of them to attempt to break the blockade from within. On 29 May 2018, a humanitarian flotilla left Gaza with 17 patients on board. Among the passengers was Nafeth al-Loh, a 39-year-old leukemia patient. This operation was the first attempt to evacuate humanitarian cases by sea since the Great March began on 30 March 2018, and would have provided al-Loh with the healthcare his condition requires. The main boat in the flotilla, known as the “Freedom Boat.” However, the flotilla was intercepted by Israeli naval forces and all 17 of the sick passengers were detained and returned to Gaza.
On 10 July 2018, a second Freedom Boat attempted to leave Gaza. Mohammed Arour, a 33-year old with a severe bladder injury, was one of the eight sick and injured Palestinians on board. His bladder was severely injured during Operation Protective Edge when a drone strike targeted his house in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the center of the Gaza Strip on 22 July 2014. Much like al-Loh, Arour’s boat was captured, and he and the other eight Palestinians were sent back to Gaza.
Border crossings from Israel into Gaza are closed frequently, halting any goods from entering the Strip. This further hinders access to necessary medicine and food, and Gaza’s residents do not have widespread access to medicine or adequate fuel supplies for fully functioning hospitals. The blockade’s 11-year timespan has significantly worsened as violent escalations continue, harming Gazans as a consequence. By imposing a system that severely restricts access to healthcare within a framework of collective punishment, the Gaza blockade represents a major infringement of medical impartiality.
According to a United Nations report, Gaza could be unlivable by 2020 if the situation keeps deteriorating. The Israeli-led blockade infringes on International Humanitarian Law (IHL), specifically Article 17 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which calls for the “the removal from besieged or encircled areas… and for the passage of… medical personnel and medical equipment on their way to such areas”, as well as International Human Rights Law, specifically Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which ensures the “right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. Defenders for Medical Impartiality calls upon Israel to remove all aspects of the blockade as it hinders the movement of the two million inhabitants living throughout the region, and allow entry of medical assistance – such as the Freedom Flotilla Coalition – to the residents of Gaza.