GAZA — Seventy members of the U.S. Congress are urging the Trump administration to immediately reinstate U.S. aid in order to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Israel has seized a boat and detained almost two dozen people as they were trying to reach Gaza by sea with a cargo of medical supplies.
“In Gaza, more than 50 percent of the children live beneath the poverty level, living on $1.74 per day. A report from the U.N. noted that 95 percent of tap water is not safe to drink and last year warned that the Gaza Strip could become ‘unlivable’ well before 2020,” the lawmakers, all Democrats, stated in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton on Monday, July 30.
The lawmakers say Palestinians in Gaza should not be held hostage to politics.
“We all recognize the serious security and political challenges in Gaza,” the lawmakers stated. “However, U.S. support for the basic human rights of Palestinians living in Gaza must not be conditioned on progress on those fronts. For this reason, we strongly urge you to immediately restore all U.S. funding for humanitarian aid in Gaza.”
Since the start of the year, the Trump administration has frozen some $300 million in U.S. contributions to UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestine refugees, as part of its effort to blackmail the Palestinian Authority to go along with “peace” negotiations that would liquidate Palestinian rights under the banner of President Trump’s “ultimate deal” or “deal of the century.”
Already UNRWA has been forced to lay off hundreds of staff and there have been dire warnings that unless the funding gap is filled, UNRWA will be unable to provide schooling for half a million children and will have to scale back basic humanitarian services.
Basic goods banned
In early July, Israel closed Gaza’s only commercial goods crossing, severely tightening the blockade on virtually everything except food and medicines.
All goods were banned from exiting and vital supplies were prohibited from coming in, including construction materials, water pumps, spare parts, generators, clothing and blankets.
Israel also banned fuel imports, forcing hospitals to begin shutting down.
The 70 U.S. lawmakers also state that the U.S. should push for an increase in Gaza’s electricity supply and ease the blockade
A week ago, Israel started allowing fuel and cooking gas back into Gaza, but other supplies remained banned.
In 2010 the International Committee of the Red Cross affirmed that Israel’s blockade “constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”
Israel’s minister of war, Avigdor Lieberman, has made it clear that the latest measures are further collective punishment against Gaza’s entire population of 2 million, half of them children, for incendiary kites and balloons launched from Gaza that have burned fields on the Israeli side of the boundary.
This week, the international development charities Oxfam, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Premiere Urgence Internationale said the “current restrictions further tighten the unlawful blockade” with devastating consequences already being felt.
As a result of Israel’s ban on imports, construction of desperately needed water and sewage treatment facilities for hundreds of thousands of people is now on hold.
In their letter, the 70 U.S. lawmakers also state that the U.S. should push for an increase in Gaza’s electricity supply and ease the blockade, “especially for materials and supplies related to critical projects like medicine, hospital supplies and water treatment.”
“Alleviating the poverty, unemployment, food insecurity and lack of access to adequate health, clean water and electricity in Gaza is a critical first step to improving the security and safety of both Palestinians and Israelis,” the lawmakers added.
One of the authors of the congressional letter is Mark Pocan, a U.S. Representative from Wisconsin who was denied entry to Gaza in 2016 by the Israeli authorities.
In April, Pocan and two other lawmakers wrote to the Israeli government, again requesting permission to visit the besieged territory.
The desperate situation in Gaza as a result of the blockade has been driving protests under the banner of the Great March of Return for 18 weeks, despite Israel’s violent response and severe collective punishment.
More than 150 Palestinians have been killed— the vast majority unarmed protesters shot by Israeli snipers— and thousands more have been injured.
Israel abducts flotilla boat
On Sunday, Israeli forces seized a boat carrying nearly two dozen activists and journalists aiming to break Israel’s maritime blockade on Gaza.
Flotilla organizers discounted Israel’s claims that its forces had intercepted and “redirected” their vessel to Israel “without incident.”
“According to first-hand evidence that we have been given, the Israeli occupation forces violently attacked our Norwegian-flagged boat Al Awda (The Return) as she was in international waters,” the Freedom Flotilla Coalition said on Tuesday.
“Prior to all of our electronic communications being cut to and from our boat, at least four warships had appeared,” the organizers added. “Following some unlawful radio directives to our captain and our insistence that we had a right of innocent passage in international waters, armed, masked soldiers boarded Al Awda without permission.”
Israeli soldiers beat passengers and used tasers against them, organizers said.
One of the passengers assaulted was Dr. Swee Chai Ang, a founder of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. Dr. Ang was a witness to the 1982 massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugees camps in Beirut during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon.
According to the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, two Israeli passengers and two Al Jazeera journalists aboard the boat were released by Israeli authorities. But by Tuesday, 18 others had spent a second night “unlawfully detained in Givon Prison.”
The Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemned the seizure of the boat, stating that “the closure of Gaza is considered a collective punishment, illegal under international law.
“Given the Israeli forces’ history of using violence with international activists [as] part of other flotillas, Al Mezan expresses its concern that Israeli forces may subject the activists to ill-treatment or abuse while detaining them,” the group added.
In the early hours of May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos boarded and seized several boats in international waters as they tried to reach Gaza.
Israeli forces carried out a particularly violent armed attack on the largest vessel, Mavi Marmara, killing nine persons. A 10th victim died of his injuries in May 2014.
At least 20 others were seriously injured aboard the Mavi Marmara.
The International Criminal Court prosecutor found that Israeli forces likely committed war crimes when they attacked the Mavi Marmara, but has declined to prosecute the perpetrators.
Organizers of the current flotilla are urging that Norway and other governments intervene to protect activists who are trying to deliver medical aid.
Another boat, Freedom, is currently heading towards Gaza. John Turnbull, the captain of Freedom, told The Real News in a recorded interview published Tuesday that the boat was about 300 miles from Gaza’s shore.
The boat’s progress can be tracked on the Freedom Flotilla Coalition website.