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UN Official: Gaza Facing a Crisis of Dignity

A senior U.N. official says the degraded living conditions in the Gaza Strip, caused by the loss of livelihoods and the decline in infrastructure and vital services, are causing a crisis of dignity. The official, who is based in Jerusalem, warned Wednesday that moderate sectors of Gaza's society are becoming radicalized as a result.

Senior U.N. official Philippe Lazzarini says the blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza since 2007 continues to have negative humanitarian consequences.

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem chief Lazzarini says Palestinians in Gaza live in a state of deep poverty and misery.

He says there has been very little recovery and rehabilitation of structures damaged or destroyed during Israel's military incursion into Gaza two years ago. The Israeli military says it entered Hamas-administered Gaza to stop terrorist rocket attacks on Israeli territory.

A rocket attack last week from Gaza killed a farm worker in Israel.

Hamas, a U.S. State Department designated terror group, has vowed to destroy Israel.

Lazzarini says people in Gaza continue to live amidst the rubble, drained of all quality of life.

"We are not qualifying Gaza as a classical humanitarian crisis, if you would compare the situation with Somalia today," he explained. "But what we are talking about when it comes to Gaza, it is a massive human dignity crisis. It is a population, which all of a sudden has become totally reliant and dependent on international aid assistance. So we are talking of about almost a so-called humanitarian welfare society because of this blockade," Lazzarini added.

The United Nations reports that about 85 percent of goods brought into the Palestinian territory last year and so far this year, consisted of food and hygiene items -- compared to 17 percent before the blockade was enacted. It says construction materials, equipment for water and sanitation projects, electrical equipment and vehicles are severely restricted.

The United Nations says the ban on commodities exports from Gaza is straining the economy. It notes that restrictions on border crossings by Egypt and Israel have led to a virtual collapse of the private sector and has caused unemployment to jump to more than 44 percent.

Lazzarini says all of this has created a so-called tunnel economy. Because of the Israeli and Egyptian restrictions, tunnels operating under the border with Egypt are proliferating. He says goods that are needed to keep a society going are being smuggled into Gaza through these tunnels.

Lazzarini warns that the moderate sectors of Gaza society are being weakened politically and economically, and that this is fueling radicalism.

"There have been a number of incidents in Gaza which targeted the establishment, which might be a sign that there is a growing impatience or a space for more radical elements," he said.

The United Nations is calling for Israel and Egypt to lift border restrictions. It says the blockades constitute a collective punishment for the entire population.