Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Blockade Gazans Can Only Dream Of

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has just (14/6/10) issued a document, Gaza closure: not another year. These are its opening sentences:

"The serious incidents that took place on 31 May between Israeli forces and activists on a flotilla heading for Gaza once again put the spotlight on the acute hardship faced by the population in the Gaza Strip. As the ICRC has stressed repeatedly, the dire situation in Gaza cannot be resolved by providing humanitarian aid. The closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is about to enter its fourth year, choking off any real possibility of economic development. Gazans continue to suffer from unemployment, poverty and warfare, while the quality of Gaza's health care system has reached an all-time low. The whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law... The international community has to do its part to ensure that repeated appeals by States and international organizations to lift the closure are finally heeded. Under international humanitarian law, Israel must ensure that the basic needs of Gazans, including adequate health care, are met... Furthermore, all States have an obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of all relief consignments, equipment and personnel."

In June 1940, Britain's Channel Islands, off the French coast, were occupied by the Germans, causing the Royal Navy to blockade the islands. As Wikipedia puts it, "there was considerable hunger and privation during the five years of German occupation, particularly in the final months when the population was close to starvation." However, "[i]ntense negotiations resulted in some Red Cross humanitarian aid, leading to the arrival of the Red Cross supply ship Vega in December 1944."

Here's a fuller account:

"Things were at their very lowest ebb in December 1944 when we ran out of bread altogether, having already been on half rations... for a fortnight. The total shortage lasted for 3 weeks, and people subsisted as best they could on boiled potatoes, swedes and turnips... Morale had reached its very lowest ebb, when suddenly came news of a Red Cross ship, and rumours ran around the Island like wildfire. After several false alarms, the Vega arrived on 31 December 1944 and her cargo was unloaded and stored in a heavily guarded warehouse on the quay. Distribution of of parcels started on 2 January and a typical parcel contained six ounces of chocolate, twenty ounces of biscuits, four ounces of tea, twenty ounces of butter, six ounces of sugar, a two ounce tin of milk, fifteen ounces of marmalade, fourteen ounces of corned beef, thirteen ounces of ham or pork, ten ounces of salmon, five ounces of sardines, eight ounces of raisins, six ounces of prunes, four ounces of cheese, a three ounce tablet of soap, one ounce of pepper or salt. In addition there was a consignment of special-diet and invalid parcels, plus a number of layettes for new-born babies, supplied from a fund set up by Lady Campbell, wife of the British Ambassador to Lisbon. Everyone in the Islands received two parcels, and there was a surplus which was withheld and would only be distributed when it was known that the Vega had left Lisbon on her second journey. In addition the Vega brought a good supply of white flour, and the bread ration was re-established for the time being. As well as the parcels, the Vega also brought small quantities of cigarettes, tobacco, medicines and shoe leather, and we began to feel almost pampered. She continued to visit about every five or six weeks and, in addition to her usual cargo, she brought things like paraffin, candles, seeds, nails, matches and clothing. Thereafter, the diet was much more varied and interesting although by no means ample, and the other odds and ends filled many a long-felt want. The spirits of the Islanders began to rise. They never stopped rising until our longed-for liberation on 9 May 1945." (A Doctor's Occupation, John Lewis, 1982, pp 184-185)

Truly, a blockade the people of Gaza can only dream of.

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