Last week I met with Professor Michael Lynk, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories. I heard from first-hand experience of the immense suffering faced by the citizens of Gaza. In 2016 alone, 1,094 Palestinian structures and homes were destroyed or seized by authorities. Refugees face uninhabitable conditions and overcrowding in areas where almost 97% of water is undrinkable. The water supply is further limited to only 4 to 6 hours of water twice a week. The environment too, suffers at the hands of the Hamas administration which refuses to allocate energy to human waste facilities, leaving coastal towns no choice but to begin dumping waste directly into the Mediterranean. Millions of litres of untreated waste water are pumped into the Mediterranean daily, rendering beaches unusable and fish inedible. This doesn’t stop the hundreds of thousands of refugees, who otherwise risk starvation.
In such conditions, injury and illness is inevitable, and treatment is often only possible in East Jerusalem, requiring a permit for travel into Israel. Applications for a permit have to happen well in advance for the patient and a single companion. In 2017, nearly half of all permit applications were denied, many for arbitrary reasons. At the checkpoints leaving Gaza, even emergency ambulances are subject to checks which take, on average, 24 minutes. This is often the differentiator between life and death for a patient. After this, the patient must be transferred to a second ambulance across the border, which poses complications for the critically ill.
The unemployment rate in Gaza is the highest in the world; over 44% of Gazans are jobless. Additionally, 61% of people aged between 15 and 29 are unemployed, which has drawn the Gazan economy to a halt. 60% of Gazans rely on some form of humanitarian aid and, when they need it most, the USA has chosen to withhold $65 million in aid. The UK has not been deterred by this, and we continue to support Palestinian refugees. It is clearer than ever that the UK and Europe need to unite to fill the international leadership vacuum created by the USA’s decision. Most rational people recognise Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks coming from Gaza or any Palestinian territory, but the miserable existence for the 1.9 million Gazans should be a wake-up call for all of us to see new impetus towards a two-state solution.