The Palestinian region of the Gaza Strip has been under a permanent blockade by Israel and Egypt since 2007. Both countries imposed a temporary blockade from 2005 to 2006 but decided to make it permanent after the Palestinian nationalist organization and militant Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist movement Hamas took control of the area in 2007. This cut off the area and its people from the rest of the world. The rationale behind this decision centers on preventing the smuggling of weapons and reducing the geopolitical influence of Hamas. However, while the national interests of Israel and Egypt have benefitted from the blockade to a certain degree, the impact of the Gaza Strip blockade on the lives of its residents has affected different socioeconomic facets, thus becoming a full-blown humanitarian crisis.
Framing the Impacts of the Gaza Strip Blockade as a Humanitarian Crisis: Social and Economic Consequences of the Blockade of Gaza
Gaza Strip has been described as an open-air prison. This comes from the severe restrictions on movement brought about by the Israeli and Egyptian blockades. Israel imposes a land, sea, and air blockade on the area while Egypt maintains a land blockade and controls entrance and exit through a single passage via the Rafah Border Crossing.
The blockade of the Gaza Strip has effectively isolated the area and its inhabitants from the rest of the world. This has serious impacts at the macro and micro levels. Critical sectors have been in distress and living conditions have worsened as a result. Most individuals are trapped and left with no choice but to depend on humanitarian aid.
Critics have argued that the sweeping restrictions due to the blockade are a form of collective punishment bestowed upon Palestinians. This is also suggestive of the fact that the dire situation in the area is an inalienable part of the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine. The following are the details of the impacts of the Gaza Strip blockade:
Restricted Movement of Individuals
It is impossible for a young Palestinian in Gaza to pursue his or her studies and earn a degree abroad. The same is true for a doctor or other healthcare professionals who want to attend training elsewhere. Families would also have a hard time visiting their relatives in the West Bank. Traveling for leisure is almost impossible. Those who need serious medical attention would need to secure permits and have to endure bureaucratic processes.
Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of movement. This freedom is nonexistent in the Gaza Strip. Most Palestinians living in this area are not afforded with this basic human right. These individuals and their families also do not have the option to choose where to live. The blockade prevents them from moving out of the area. The same restriction also bars other people from entering the area without permits.
Take note that Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed an “Agreement on Movement and Access” in November 2005 following the Israeli disengagement in the Gaza Strip. It aims to improve the movement of people and economic activity in the area. However, according to a 2006 report from the Israeli non-profit organization Gisha, Israel established a domestic legal framework for sealing off the area from Israel and the West Bank.
Severe Macroeconomic Devastation
Economic collapse is one of the most dire consequences of the Gaza Strip blockade. Israel halted all exports from the area following the implementation of the total blockade in 2007. It allowed the resumption of agricultural exports in 2010 but a 2015 report from the World Bank revealed that the gross domestic product losses since 2007 were above 50 percent and it entailed large welfare losses that negatively affected the living conditions.
The same report from the World Bank showed that the once significant manufacturing sector also shrunk as much as 60 percent due to reduced access to raw materials and finished product exports. The maritime blockade also impacted the fishing industry which used to provide a significant source of livelihood. Palestinians lost access to about 85 percent of maritime area according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Efforts.
A United Nations report described the Gaza Strip as among the poorest places in the world. The unemployment rate is about 46 percent and the more specific youth unemployment rate is about 60 percent. The U.N. Relief and Work Agency also mentioned that more than 3 out of 5 people in the area lack consistent access to sufficient food for a healthy life or are food insecure. More than 80 percent of the population depends on humanitarian aid.
Limited Basic Goods and Services
The restriction of movement is not limited to people. Tangible items are restricted from moving in and out of the Gaza Strip. Israel and Egypt have rationalized this decision based on their need to prevent Hamas and other militant factions from acquiring military equipment and from accumulating assets that can be circulated or traded within the area. This restriction has left people in the area with limited access to basic goods and services.
Clean water is unavailable for 95 percent of the population and electricity is available up to an average of 11 hours per day according to the data from the U.N. Relief and Work Agency. The ongoing power shortage and power interruption have impacted the availability of other essential services such as healthcare and sanitation while also undermining the already fragile local economy, especially the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.
Basic goods such as construction materials are also restricted. This hampers the development of facilities and infrastructure for development and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. Household items and medical supplies are also limited. Take note that Israel controls the supply of water and electricity. Imported fuel has to go through Israeli checkpoints. It also restricts the flow of goods through a mandate that limits imports to disposable single-use items.
Dismal Public Health Situation
About 50 percent of cancer patients in Gaza are unable to receive proper treatment according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Patients inflicted with other medical conditions have to either settle for available treatment options in the area or go through the arduous process of securing permits from Israel. The fragile health care system and impeded right to access quality health care also represent the dire impacts of the Gaza Strip blockade.
There are healthcare facilities in the area. Most of these are under the control and supervision of humanitarian organizations. However, because of the blockade and the tense situation in the greater region, these facilities are unable to develop medical expertise. Healthcare workers are prevented from getting in-service training and young individuals are unable to pursue studies abroad. There is also a shortage of medical supplies and equipment.
Overall public health has suffered. Gaza Strip has one of the highest population densities in the world. Hence, apart from the overstretched facilities, healthcare workers, and medical supplies, residents in the area also suffer from the negative health effects of poor access to quality food and a dire socioeconomic situation. The U.N. Relief and Work Agency noted that most Palestinians in Gaza cannot meet their daily caloric requirement.
Consequences of the Gaza Strip Blockade in a Nutshell: How the Blockade Has Resulted in a Complex and Multi-Faceted Socioeconomic Crisis
The impacts of the blockade of the Gaza Strip are evident both at the macro and micro levels. Prolonged restrictions have sealed off the area from the rest of the world and limited its participation in regional and international trade. This has resulted in an economic collapse. The same blockade has also deprived most of its Palestinian residents of basic human rights. These include the freedom of movement and the right to access quality health care. Nevertheless, because of the dire socioeconomic conditions and the restrictions imposed upon the people, there is a strong reason to describe the area as an open-air prison.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- 2006. Disengagement Danger: Israeli Attempts to Separate Gaza from the West Bank. Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. Available via PDF
- The World Bank. 2015. “The Staggering Cost of Violence and Blockade on Gaza’s Economy and Living Standards.” Economic Monitoring Report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee. The World Bank. Available via PDF
- N. General Assembly. 2020. Economic Costs of the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian People: The Gaza Strip Under Closure and Restriction. Available via PDF
- N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Efforts. 2019. “Gaza’s Fisheries: Record Expansion of Fishing Limit and Relative Increase in Fish Catch; Shooting and Detention Incidents at Sea Continue.” The Monthly Humanitarian Bulletin. U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Efforts. Available online
- N. Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. 2023. “Gaza Strip.” Where We Work. U.N. Relief and Work Agency. Available online