PCHR Holds Conference on: The Humanitarian Conditions in Gaza Post-IOF Aggression
Date: 09 June 2021
On Wednesday, 09 June 2021, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) organized a press conference on “The Humanitarian Conditions in Gaza Post-IOF Aggression.” The conference was attended by specialized professionals from the Ministries of Health, Public Works and Housing, Education, and Economy; as well as the Power Authority and the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility. Additionally, several private sectors, organizations, media, and humanitarian and civil society organizations participated in the event. PCHR held the conference in response to the catastrophic destruction caused by the recent Israeli military aggression on Gaza that implicated its infrastructure, services, thousands of houses, health and economic and educational institutions, as well as Gaza’s main roads.
PCHR Director, Raji Sourani, opened the conference with remarks on the implications of the latest IOF aggression on the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, asserting that the occupation purposefully used excessive force against civilians and destroyed infrastructure and civilian objects to intensify the suffering of Palestinian civilians. Sourani added that the occupation’s attacks were premeditated to cause maximum damage to the humanitarian conditions in Gaza via all available means, including the bombardment of service-providing establishments, and the ongoing closure, which enters its 15th consecutive year, and its consequences on the delayed reconstruction process after all the destruction IOF caused.
Sourani added that Israel targeted women and children in its latest aggression, and attempted to silent local and international media with its intentional bombardment of towers housing media institutions. He confirmed that PCHR teams work around the clock to document IOF crimes to prosecute Israeli war criminals.
The first session addressed the “Repercussions of the military aggression on the health sector and infrastructure,” and was managed by Dr. Fadel alMzainy, Head of PCHR’s Economic and Social Rights Unit.
Gaza Mayor, Yahiya al-Sarraj, addressed the aggression’s impact on municipal services in the Gaza Strip, particularly Gaza city. Sarraj emphasized that IOF focused their attacks on municipal facilities, including roads and main intersection; thereby, impressing the work of municipal emergency teams. He added that the intense bombing caused severe damage to water networks, affecting water supply to civilian homes; saying that municipal crews did their best to mend those networks in collaboration with other entities in extremely dangerous circumstances. He added that all the mainframe work that has been done to date is temporary, and the municipalities across the Gaza Strip require urgent funding to fix all the roads and services that sustained damage in the aggression.
Sarraj concluded with remarks on the already-weary situation of Gaza municipalities under the closure, which prevents any progressive development in infrastructure, only to be worsened by the latest Israeli attacks and under extreme circumstances and scarce resources. He demanded that the Gaza reconstruction process be spared from politicization and for it to proceed immediately, stressing the need to open all Gaza crossings as a fundamental step towards reconstruction.
Dr. Medhat Abbas, General Director at the Ministry of Health, overviews the impact of the Israeli military aggression on the health situation in Gaza, saying that Israel purposefully targeted civilian facilities, including health facilities, as 24 health care facilities sustained damage in the attacks. Abbas added that the Israeli occupation’s attacks on main roads and intersections in Gaza city and northern Gaza imposed the movement of its rescue and enemy crews, causing prolonged delays in rescuing victims and arriving at Shifaa Medical Complex. Abbas affirmed that the health institutions in Gaza suffer under multiple-layered crises due to the Israeli closure, primarily the shortage in medicines, medical consumables and devices. Abbas condemned the Israeli closure of Gaza crossings since the last aggression and ban on the entry of necessary medicines as hundreds of injuries flooded Gaza hospitals daily. Abbas estimated MOH needs at USD 46 million for it to run efficiently and provide medical services for the Gaza population. He added that IOF bombardment of Gaza’s central laboratory for COVID-19 testing challenged efforts to contain the pandemic and threatened an increase in infection cases. He concluded with calls to spare the health sector from aggressions and to provide the necessary protection to medical crews during military aggressions.
Eng. Monther Shoplaq, Director General at the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), said that the latest Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip has had a negative impact on water and sanitation facilities, stressing that Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) intentionally caused severe damage to water desalination and sewage treatment plants. Shoplaq added that after the 2014 Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, the CMWU in in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), put distinctive signs on all service-providing facilities, including the water desalination and sewage treatment plants, to avoid targeting them by IOF. He also pointed out that despite serious situation during the Israeli offensive on Gaza, the CMWU crews continued their work quickly and immediately in order to provide basic services for citizens upon emergency plans previously prepared by the CMWU. Shoplaq clarified that they contacted the ICRC to coordinate with the Israeli authorities in order to allow technical crews to repair services-providing utilities that were targeted by IOF, but the occupation authorities refused. As a result, the untreated sewage seeped into the groundwater. Shoplaq said almost 160,000 m3 of wastewater are being extracted in the Gaza Strip, making it a main challenge to treatment plants, especially as they sustained severe damage during the latest Israeli offensive on Gaza Strip.
Eng. Hala al-Zebda, Director General of the Power Authority in Gaza, talked about energy sources and electricity networks that were targeted during the Israeli offensive. She said that Gaza Strip suffers from electricity crisis even before the Israeli offensive, as there is acute shortage in the electricity supply available in the strip. She added that the latest offensive on Gaza exacerbated the electricity crisis, as more than half of the limited power available in Gaza was lost due to the destruction of 5 main power lines and the shutdown of the Gaza power plant. Al-Zebda pointed out that severe damage to the electricity networks increased the suffering of citizens who receive daily only 4 hours of electricity. Al-Zebda emphasized that technical crew of the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) made urgent repairs during the Israeli bombardment in order to provide electricity for service-providing facilities such as hospitals and water facilities. She also pointed out that the financial losses of GEDCO were estimated at 13 million shekels during the latest offensive on the Gaza Strip.
The second session managed by Director of PCHR’s Fieldwork Unit, Ibtisam Zaqout, addressed the “repercussions of Israeli offensive on civilian facilities”.
Eng. Mohammed ‘Aboud, Reconstruction File Officer at the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, talked about the Ministry’s role in following up the file of houses destroyed during the Israeli offensive. He emphasized that since Day 1 of the offensive, the Ministry has started to remove all the rubble along with the civil defense crews that retrieved Palestinian victims from under the rubble of their houses. He also pointed out that construction vehicles belonging to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, municipalities and emergency committees re-opened many roads and streets that were targeted by Israeli warplanes. He added that following the offensive, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing crews initially began damage assessment in order to disburse urgent payments for 500 families whose houses were affected by the Israeli bombardment. He also said that the ministry attempts to increase the number of beneficiaries to 3000. ‘Aboud remarked the challenges facing the Ministry during the reconstruction process; most prominently having the necessary funds, as the Ministry needs about 350 million dollars; 200 million dollars for the reconstruction of the destruction caused by the previous Israeli offensives on Gaza and 150 million dollar for the reconstruction of the destruction caused by the latest Israeli offensive. ‘Aboud emphasized that the Ministry agreed with some international bodies on disbursement of around $2,000 to each family that lost their houses until other payments be available for the reconstruction of the destroyed houses.
Eng. ‘Abed al-Fattah Abu Mousa, the Spokesperson of the Ministry of National Economy, discussed the impact of the destruction of economic facilities during the offensive on the already-fragile economic situation due to the ongoing Israeli closure on the Gaza Strip for the last 15 years that has undermined the economic situation in the strip and due to the emergency measures imposed by the outbreak of coronavirus. Accordingly, work in several economic facilities decreased or was suspended; and thousands of workers were impacted by this pandemic. Abu Mousa condemns the deliberate targeting of hundreds of economic facilities during the offensive.
He added that following the offensive, the Ministry of National Economy launched a website for citizens to register and report their damages electronically in order to facilitate the Ministry’s assessment of the damage and spare citizens from attending to the ministry. Abu Mousa said that the Ministry of National Economy in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor registered about 1500 facilities that were destroyed during the offensive. He also said that the Ministry of National Economy’s efforts during the offensive concentrated in maintaining the inventory and protecting citizens from commercial exploitation and monopoly. Abu Mousa also condemned the ongoing closure of the Gaza Strip crossings and the entry ban of raw materials needed for the factories, basic materials, including fuel for Gaza Power Plant, which negatively affected all aspects of life in Gaza, especially industrial, economic and services-providing facilities.
Dr. Rashid Abu Jahjouh, Director General of Planning at the Ministry of Education, emphasized that the Israeli offensive on Gaza caused extensive damage to many of the Ministry’s facilities as the number of damaged facilities due to this offensive reached 299 administrative buildings and 422 schools, ranging between partial and total damage. Abu Jahjouh added that this huge damage has forced the Ministry to end the school year early due to its inability to repair the destruction urgently to guarantee the continuation of the school year. He remarked that the affected schools included 286,000 students and around 14,000 employees, including teachers. Abu Jahjouh has fears that the Ministry would not be able to repair the damaged schools before the beginning of the new school year that would definitely increase the classroom density and thereby hindering the educational process in light of the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic across the Gaza Strip.
Mr. Loay al-Madhoun, Commissioner of the Ministry of Social Development, overviewed the efforts by the Social Development Ministry during the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip. He said that the Ministry provided assistance to 100,000 families, including distribution of food parcels to the persons displaced due to the Israeli hostilities and giving financial assistance to many of those who lost their houses, in cooperation with international partners and donors. Al-Madhoun added that the Ministry’s building and its storehouses were directly targeted by the Israeli warplanes, inflicting huge financial losses. Al-Madhoun said that the Israeli offensive came in a time when thousands of families in the Gaza Strip suffers from abject poverty, worsening their economic conditions and increasing the burdens on the Ministry of Social Development. Al-Madhoun emphasized that the Ministry has launched a psychosocial support program, where 400 local activists participate to treat the impact of the offensive on the directly affected families.
At the end of the conference, a broad discussion was opened and the participants made their recommendations:
- International protection shall be provided to civilians in time of Israeli hostilities and to the facilities providing basic services and infrastructure from deliberate targeting, which aggravates the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip.
- A serious investigation shall be conducted into the crimes committed by the IOF against the Palestinian civilians, including medical and civil defense crews. War criminals should be also prosecuted and brought to international courts for using excessive force and prohibited weapons according to the international humanitarian law.
- Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip shall be compensated and provided redress for any losses incurred during the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, taking in consideration compensating those who were affected by the previous offensives and has not so far compensated, especially the 2014 offensive.
- Urgent relief programs shall be carried to help civilians, who has become homeless after their houses were destroyed, and those who lost their economic facilities and commercial projects and so their source of income, which secures their basic needs.
- The High Contracting Parties to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention should take practical steps, according to their legal obligations, to force the Israeli occupation authorities to lift the unjust closure and open all crossings in order to allow the entry of all construction materials and speed up the reconstruction process of thousands of houses and civilian facilities that were destroyed during the Israeli offensive
- The donor states shall provide urgent assistance to start the Gaza reconstruction process as the delayed arrival of these funds to the people affected would contribute to delaying the reconstruction process and aggravate the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.