500,000 sign petition to end Israel’s Gaza blockade

Arab countries that didn’t follow up on reconstruction pledges cited, but Israel mostly blamed for Strip’s condition

Palestinian workers offload a truck loaded with cement after it entered from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza Strip, August 20, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib /Flash90)
Palestinian workers offload a truck loaded with cement after it entered from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza Strip, August 20, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib /Flash90)

More than half a million people have signed a petition to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza, within one day after it was posted. Israel says it maintains the blockade to prevent Gaza’s Hamas rulers from importing weaponry.

The petition, posted Wednesday on political activism website Avaaz, calls for an end to the blockade in order to enable the reconstruction of Gaza. Some 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis died in the war, which also destroyed 18,000 homes. None has been rebuilt yet, with money going only to repairing damaged homes. (Almost half of the Gaza fatalities were combatants and Israel blames Hamas for all civilian fatalities, since it emplaced its war machine in residential areas.)

Construction has moved slowly because pledged donations have been slow in arriving, and, according to international aid organizations, because of delays due to Israel and Egypt closing off Gaza’s borders. But the petition lays the blame principally on Israel.

“Palestinian political parties have failed to reconcile and prioritize reconstruction, and Egypt’s closure of its border has further limited supplies entering Gaza,” the petition says. “The principal obstacle to reconstruction is Israel’s blockade.”

The petition, which has been signed by human rights organizations including Oxfam, calls on the international community to pressure Israel to end the blockade.

“Our governments have already pledged to rebuild Gaza, and called on the government of Israel to lift the blockade,” it says. “If we now show them that people everywhere want urgent action to stop this injustice, they are more likely to insist the Israeli government stop hindering reconstruction.”

Land crossings in and out of the coastal enclave are also strictly controlled by Israel and Egypt. Israel says its blockade is essential to prevent terrorists from obtaining materials to fortify military positions, dig tunnels and build rockets to fire at the Jewish state. The Egyptians are concerned that Gaza-based Palestinian groups are providing military support to Islamic fundamentalists who are behind a spate of attacks on Egyptian security forces and tourist sites in the Sinai Peninsula that have claimed hundreds of lives.

Some 600 trucks of supplies cross into Gaza from Israel daily according to COGAT, the IDF body that coordinates civilian issues with the Palestinians and manages the crossings with the Gaza Strip.

Israel allows small quantities of construction materials into the Strip as part of the rebuilding effort in the wake of the war, but says that in Hamas’s hands, large amounts of concrete and piping would be diverted to military projects.

Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas. An Islamist terror group, it is committed to the destruction of Israel.

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