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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 15:48 GMT
Eyewitness: Gazans pushed into poverty
Israeli checkpoint
Border control is very tight - few are allowed through
By Hilary Andersson

The Gaza strip is closed to the outside world and more than a million Palestinians are locked in.

Impenetrable barriers surround Gaza on three sides - and there is no way out by sea.

Palestinian vegetable sellers
Palestinian farmers often cannot get their produce to market
At dawn the border crossings to Israel used to heave with people - 25,000 Palestinian workers crossed daily.

But since October, Israel has closed off all the borders and now almost no-one gets through.

Gazans grows fruit for export to Israel - but now it is hard to transport it out, and most of it goes to waste. Some farmers have lost almost all their incomes. The cost of Israel's policy of closure is estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds.

Israel's army says Gaza has been sealed off for security - to prevent Palestinians infiltrating and attacking Israelis. But the Palestinians accuse Israel of squeezing them with poverty, so they will submit.

Sealed border

All Gaza's liquid gas, petrol and diesel come through one depot. When Israel locks the gates of Gaza, it sporadically cuts off the supply. The Palestinians ask, what this has to do with security?

And humanitarian aid is a problem too - 25,000 tons of extra food aid is needed. The United Nations has called it an emergency.

Since the siege began, seven times as many families in Gaza have become dependent on donated flour and oil. In just four months of closure, a quarter of a million more people have fallen below the poverty line.

It has made the UN's job bigger, and suddenly, much harder too.

The Israelis now make the aid trucks unload and reload aid at Gaza's borders, in the name of security. The new restrictions and fees often mean badly needed aid does not get through on time. The UN thinks it is deliberate obstruction, but Israel says that is not true.

Gaza has been closed now for more than 100 days, its borders tightly sealed from outside. At times the Israelis block off Jewish settler roads too, leaving Gaza in three sections. On these days, cities in the Gaza's north are cut off from the south.

On such days, some cancer ward doctors cannot get to work, because Nasser Hospital, where they work, is in the north. Some patients cannot get through the roadblocks either.

On such a day, Mohammed Eid manages to get to the hospital for a blood transfusion. His family gets him around the checkpoint in a donkey cart. He has a blood disorder and without regular treatment he could die.

'Trapped'

The doctor told us about a four-year-old girl called Zenab, also due for treatment that day. She has cancer and her appointment is a crucial day in her chemotherapy schedule. If she misses the appointment her chances of survival will drop dramatically.

Palestinian man throwing stones
Israel says it wants to protect itself from Palestinian attacks
We go to find Zenab in her village, on the other side of Gaza but we are stopped. The road ahead is closed by the Israelis. We can try another way, but that would take two hours driving.

Zenab's village, Muasi, is one of the most isolated in Gaza. It is also one of the poorest. We are among the first outsiders to visit since the recent troubles began.

The village is completely surrounded by Israeli soldiers - the villagers are penned in. For 16 weeks it has been almost impossible to get in or out.

Zenab's family does not have a penny to live on and are borrowing money from neighbours. They are farmers but cannot get anywhere to sell their produce

Zenab has lymphoma and may not live. Her family has enough other troubles and they have almost given up hope.

"She has been prevented by the Israelis from going to hospital many times already, explains her uncle. "Sometimes we're imprisoned in this village for weeks.

"We don't know why the Israelis have to do this to us - we are peaceful people, farmers - all we want to do is earn a living, and live our lives."

Across the road from Muasi is a Jewish settlement where 6,000 settlers live in Gaza. They just want to live their lives too, but living here is a poor pretence at normality. Israelis here live cooped up behind their own security, and in fear of their Arab neighbours

On 20 November, early in the morning, a bomb sliced through an Israeli school bus in Gaza, killing Israelis and leaving others with grotesque injuries. On the bus were three children from the same family. They will never recover fully

Israel Cohen is seven-years-old, He lost half his leg. His eight-year-old sister had both her legs blown off. His other sister lost her foot. His mother says the boy still will not cry.

Poverty breeds resentment

Closure is meant to protect people like this. Most Israelis believe the economic squeeze is not the aim, but the effect.

The children's parents say that, if anything, closure should be tighter

But deliberate or not, the economic squeeze on Gaza is very real. And poverty here breeds resentment and extremism, feeding back into the problem the Israelis say they are trying to solve.

Israel's policy of closure does not seem to work well - or serve anyone. It humiliates and generates more hatred, while the violence it is supposed to stop still goes on.


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