In the last hour, I’ve received a startling amount of information about the horribly, grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The lack of fuel impacts a number of critical basic necessities for folks living in Gaza, everything from refrigeration, transportation, food and water supplies (which are predominantly being sent into the region), hospitals, any and all aspects of what we rely on electricity for in our daily lives. There’s a full breakdown of this further down in the post from the latest United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs humanitarian report.

This, undoubtedly, puts the matzah shortage in quite a bit of perspective.

The information might be a lot for folks to digest, but we must face it. If Pesach requires nothing else, we are required to grapple with, and act, in the face of oppression. We must address the narrow places, the places where we are still not healed or healing. We must not turn away.

The crisis in Gaza has been all but shut out by the U.S. media. Hence the reason I find out more about this through email lists than my almost daily news monitoring. Jewish Voice for Peace has set up an opportunity for folks to write letters to the editors, calling on the media to cover the situation in Gaza. Take action there, and please add other ways that people can get involved in the comment roll.

We must call (as Serry does below) for an end to the collective punishment of Gaza, and for all sides to account, and take responsibility, for ending all this violence.

Israel once again pumped industrial diesel to the Gaza Strip’s sole power plant on 23 April, just hours before it was scheduled to stop operations due to a lack of fuel.

An Israeli official told IRIN about one million litres would be sent in, provided no “security incidents” took place. The plant said it needed about 3.5 million litres a week, though Israel has committed to transferring only 2.2 million.

The amount sent in on 23 April could only be spun out for a few days.

Speaking to reporters in Gaza, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry called on Israel to restore sufficient fuel supplies to Gaza and allow the passage of humanitarian and commercial goods.

“The collective punishment of the population of Gaza, which has been instituted for months now, has failed,” Serry said.

I was also emailed the full transcript of Serry’s speech:

ROBERT H. SERRY
UN SPECIAL COORDINATOR
FOR THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
AND PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE
OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL TO THE PLO AND THE PA

STATEMENT TO THE PRESS IN GAZA

23 April 2008

Thank you, John. Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. You are very welcome here at UNSCO Headquarters.

You have just heard from John Ging about the grave fuel situation and the broader humanitarian distress facing the people of Gaza, and the immense challenges current conditions are also posing for UN operations. The facts he has briefed you on speak for themselves. The situation here is both unacceptable and unsustainable.

The killing of civilians, including many children here in Gaza, and also a cameraman, the destruction of the economy, shortages of daily necessities, the lack of access to and from Gaza, the separation of Gaza’s institutions from the Palestinian Authority, the danger of more and more escalation, with even more suffering for the Palestinians, and serious consequences also for Egypt and Israel. We are at a crossroads and the parties must make responsible choices to step back from the brink.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is extremely concerned at the humanitarian, human rights, security and political crisis here. He and I and the entire UN system are absolutely committed to averting a further worsening of the situation, and seeing Gaza return to better times.

The UN is leading the humanitarian effort to sustain the people of Gaza under conditions of great adversity. We are also very active, politically and diplomatically, pushing all parties, and the international community, to work for a different and more positive strategy for Gaza. We are giving our strong support to the current Egyptian efforts to calm the violence, and we call on all concerned to work with Egypt in that effort.

In this context, the recent attacks by Palestinian militants against crossing points into Gaza are deeply disturbing. I appeal to Hamas to immediately end attacks against the crossings, whether by it or any other faction or group. These attacks endanger both international and Israeli civilians, and cannot possibly contribute to Palestinian efforts to ease the blockade of Gaza. On the contrary, they serve only to deepen and prolong it.

The United Nations has repeatedly condemned the killing of civilians by Israeli military operations here in Gaza, which is a depressingly and unacceptably regular occurrence. We have also repeatedly condemned deliberate attacks on civilians at crossings or by the firing of rockets into Israel. Not just because they bring nothing but misery to Palestinians, but because all attacks on civilians are wrong.

It is also wrong for Israel to punish a civilian population for such attacks. I call on Israel to restore fuel supplies to Gaza, and to allow the passage of humanitarian assistance and commercial supplies, sufficient to allow the functioning of all basic services and for Palestinians to live their daily lives. The collective punishment of the population of Gaza, which has been instituted for months now, has failed.

The path to true security and well being for Israel, the Palestinians, and Egypt is a different one. The immediate and common goal must be an end to violence and a reopening of crossings. This is a vital first step if other, broader goals are to be achieved – the stabilization of conditions in Gaza; the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority; genuine progress in negotiations leading to a final status agreement with Israel; the creation of a sovereign, independent, contiguous and viable State of Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

All Palestinians, no matter what faction, want and deserve these things to be achieved. As UN Security Council Resolution 242 stresses, these goals must be achieved through negotiation based on the principles of an end of occupation, an end of conflict, and a just solution to the refugee issue. That is why we strongly support the current political process, despite all the difficulties it faces, and why we hope that, when it comes to Gaza too, wisdom and restraint will prevail, for the welfare of all Palestinians and their neighbours.

And for those who are wanting a more in depth coverage of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, I’m posting a full report that came out today below from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

Gaza Strip fuel situation report as of 23 Apr 2008

There is currently no fuel available in the Gaza Strip on the open market and there are power cuts of three hours per day in almost all of Gaza. For months the fuel crisis has hampered vital humanitarian work, but the complete absence of fuel will dramatically worsen the humanitarian situation.

KEY OBSERVATIONS

– Provision of UNRWA’s food assistance to 650,000 refugees in Gaza will stop on Thursday.

– 12 municipalities and solid waste management councils have stopped all their operations, affecting at least 500,000 Gazans.

– Ministry of Health hospitals have between 33 and 170 hours of fuel supply. Hospitals managed by NGOs have fuel for less than one week.

– The Central Drug Stores ran out of fuel on 22 April. Vaccines for 50,000 babies will be spoiled if power cuts exceed eight hours and will take six months to replace.

– UNRWA Gaza’s vehicle fleet will be grounded as of Thursday which will prevent normal operation of UNRWA’s 214 schools, 19 health centers and solid waste collection.

FOOD

– Provision of UNRWA’s food assistance to 650,000 refugees in Gaza will stop on Thursday. WFP’s planned food distribution for 127,000 beneficiaries which is due to start in the coming few days will be halted.

– 70 per cent of Gaza’s 4,000 agricultural water wells depend on fuel-powered pumps. Without water crops will die leading to price inflation and food shortages. For example, the price of tomatoes in Gaza City has increased from less than one shekel to six shekels.

– Flour mills have fuel to transport flour until April 28. Without fuel for generators, mills will also reduce production which will lead to shortages and price inflation.

– It will not be possible to collect humanitarian aid and other goods from the border crossings or move it from places of storage to the market.

– Scarcity of fuel has made fishing expensive and unviable. Although it is the height of the sardine season when fish are normally cheap and plentiful, sardines are scarce and expensive. The current price of 1 kg of sardines is between 20-25 NIS compared to 8-12 NIS, the same time last year.

WATER AND SANITATION

– 15 water wells (not connected to electricity) are not working at all and 125 water wells operate only when there is electricity supply.

– 25 waste water pumping stations have less than 500 liters of fuel which will last five days. When fuel runs out, pumping stations and the streets around them could flood, like the Zeitoun area of Gaza City in January.

– 12 waste water pumping stations and Gaza’s three treatment plants have no fuel and cannot pump or treat sewage during power cuts.

– 12 municipalities and solid waste management councils have stopped all their operations, affecting at least 500,000 Gazans. Another 13 municipalities and solid waste councils will stop their garbage collection services by the end of the month.

– UNRWA’s solid waste collection in Gaza’s eight refugee camps, which benefits approximately • 500,000 people, will stop on Thursday.

HEALTH

– Ministry of Health hospitals have between 33 and 170 hours of fuel supply. Hospitals managed by NGOs have fuel for less than one week.

– The Central Drug Stores that keep the cold chain for the vaccines ran out of fuel on 22 April. Vaccines for 50,000 babies will be spoiled if power cuts exceed eight hours and will take six months to replace.

– Surgical operations have been cut by 50 per cent in Nasser hospital and Gaza European hospitals in Khan Younis. The laundry room in Shifa hospital is working at half capacity.

– Power cuts will also affect 412 patients who receive kidney dialysis and 162 patients in special care units at Gaza hospitals.

– Attendance at out-patient-departments dropped by 29 per cent because of lack of transport which could lead to patients not receiving timely diagnosis and treatment.

– Medicins Sans Frontieres: Programmes are operating at between 25-50 per cent capacity because staff and patients cannot travel. Mobile teams are able to visit less than a quarter of their post- trauma rehabilitation patients. Only half of patients who visit clinics for treatment can travel for their appointments.

– The Palestine Red Crescent Society has enough fuel for one week to operate two hospital generators and 32 ambulances.

EDUCATION

– The grounding of UNRWA’s vehicle fleet as of Thursday will prevent normal operation of UNRWA’s 214 schools and 19 health centers.

– Students at one of UNRWA’s two vocational training centers have been unable to find transport since April 14, effectively halting classes.

– Only 50% of students were able to attend the second training center since April 14.

SOURCES: OCHA, UNRWA, WHO, FAO, WFP, UNICEF, MSF