Five months after Israel promised to introduce measures to ease the blockade of the Gaza Strip, there are few signs of real improvement on the ground, 22 international human rights and humanitarian organizations charged in a report issued early Tuesday morning.

While the report accused Israel of failing to fulfill the promises it had made to relax the blockade, it argued at the same time that any easing of restrictions would be insufficient and that the only solution to the hardships of the Palestinian population was to lift it altogether.

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“The ‘easing’ has left the foundations of the illegal blockade policy intact,” the organizations charged. “In order to have a positive impact on the daily lives of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom are children, Israel must fully lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.”

According to the report, Israel proposed to expand and accelerate the influx of construction materials for international projects. In fact, however, “it has so far only approved 7 percent of the building plan for UNRWA’s projects in Gaza, and of that 7%, only a small fraction of the necessary construction material has been allowed to enter for projects including schools and health centers.”

As a result, the report charged, not a single one of the 25 projects is currently being built.

The organizations pointed out that 40,000 children in Gaza were turned away from UNRWA schools this past fall for lack of space in the existing schools and UNRWA’s inability to build new ones.

As a result, the children must study in Hamas-run schools.

Israel promised to cancel the list of goods permitted to enter Gaza that had been in force until June and replace it with an explicit list of goods that are forbidden. As a result, imports, mainly food, have increased from 20% to 35%.

However, the organizations charged, the list of forbidden goods extends far beyond the international definition of dual-use items. Furthermore, many of the items that are not on the forbidden list still require special approval and many do not receive it.

Israel promised to expand the operations and capacity of the border crossings into Gaza to enable processing of a significantly greater volume of goods. According to the report, “the crossings’ operation is still far from sufficient.”

For example, Israel said it would increase the number of trucks passing through the Kerem Shalom crossing daily from 86 prior to the “ease,” to 250 in the first stage and to 400 later on. Today, an average of 183 trucks enter the crossing each day.

Israel promised to streamline entry and exit permits to Palestinian civilians for humanitarian and medical reasons and to aid workers.

According to the report, the sweeping ban remains and the number of permits granted is currently 1% of the level in 2000. Furthermore, the number of permits approved for local UN humanitarian staff has dropped in the past five months.

According to the report, the blockade is responsible for the situation in which 80% of the Gaza population is dependent on international aid, 61% has no food security, the unemployment rate is 39%, 60% of the population receives running water once every four or five days for six to eight hours at a time, about 90% of the water supplied to Gaza residents is unsuitable for drinking and 78% of the homes severely damaged during Operation Cast Lead have not been rebuilt.

The organizations that published the report included Amnesty International, Christian Aid, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam International and Save the Children UK.

The spokesman for the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories issued the following response to the charges.

“We regret the manner by which the organizations have chosen to present their claims through the media, without providing Israel with the opportunity to respond to the report.

“The claims of the organizations, as they appear in the report, are biased and distorted and therefore mislead the public. The changes in the civilian situation in the Gaza Strip are clearly described in reports carried out by international organizations, for example, the World Monetary Fund, the Summary of the AHLC Conference and during official visits to Israel by figures such as Special Envoy to the Middle East Senator George Mitchell; Envoy of the Quartet Sir Tony Blair; and High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union Catherine Ashton.

“Israel is fully committed to implementing civilian policy toward the Gaza Strip as decided by the Israeli cabinet in June 2010. The implementation will continue with the coordination and cooperation of the international community and the involvement of the PA.

“Israel will not allow any party with a hidden agenda to disrupt the process to which both the government of Israel and the international community are fully committed.”

Despite the descriptions in the report, it is important to highlight that since the cabinet’s decision, the number of truckloads entering the Gaza Strip everyday via the Kerem Shalom crossing has increased by 92%. Though Israel has increased the capacity so that 250 trucks can enter Gaza every day, the Palestinians themselves are not yet able to handle this volume. From the beginning of August, the average number of truckloads entering Gaza each day stands at 176.

Meanwhile, exports from the Gaza Strip are intrinsically connected to security and logistical concerns at the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Israel has therefore started a process of infrastructure renovation and development with the aim of widening the capacity of the crossing. This process should be finished by the middle of 2011.

Regarding the claims about the prevention of building material from entering the Gaza Strip, it is important to note that in accordance with the security cabinet decision, building material for specified projects that were approved by the PA can enter under the supervision of the international community.

The simple reason for this is to prevent the trickling of material into the Gaza Strip that can be used by terrorist organizations for hostile activities or other military purposes.

Since the cabinet decision Israel has approved 64 new projects, in addition to 14 that were approved prior to June 2010 – 26 of them were approved for UNRWA. To date, 1,052 truckloads of building material have entered Gaza.

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