Israeli Economic Siege Closes Schools and Impoverishes Farmers

Israel has enforced a strict economic blockade of the Gaza Strip for several months. Only the most basic humanitarian supplies are permitted into the Palestinian territory. No exports are permitted. Fuel has been severely restricted, causing a huge trickle down of negative effects throughout the territory.

With fuel levels running dangerously low power generation, transportation, and water pumping have all but ground to a halt. Prices have skyrocketed. Taxi drivers, farmers, shopkeepers, factory workers, and much of the rest of the labor force has little or now work and some have mounting debts. The World Bank estimates that the siege has directly resulted in the loss of $12 million due to the inability to ship recent crops of strawberries and carnations. One farmer has incurred $30,000 worth of debt due to his inability to ship his produce. His story is just one of many. (Guardian UK article re. effect on farming here)

Another unlikely casualty of the siege – education. In April of 2008 the Atfaluna School for Deaf Children had to suddenly close down. The reason? High fuel costs grounded their school buses. Alternative means of transportation – personal vehicles, taxis and public buses were also grounded or prohibitively expensive. Unlike a neighborhood school that students might be able to walk to, Atfaluna provides services to deaf students from all over Gaza.

This news story was personally surprising to me as I have been to the Atfaluna school. As some of you know back in the late 90s we were with a team of summer volunteers working with children in Gaza. Most of us ran an English camp for a local school, but some of our team worked at Atfaluna. In fact, we had two deaf team members who had accompanied us specifically to assist there.

Calls to lift the siege seem to be ignored by the Israeli government, or they are rebuffed with an attitude that the Palestinians themselves can end the siege when militant activity ceases. I fail to see how a deaf teenager or a strawberry farmer has any involvement in or influence on militant activities originating in the Gaza Strip. Yet Israel continues to resort to collective punishment to try to accomplish its political goals. A recent Electronic Intifada article addresses the closing of Atfaluna due to the economic blockade.

Collective punishment of a civilian population is illegal under international human rights law. However, the fuel crisis imposed by Israel, which is disrupting education in schools across the Gaza Strip, and has hit special needs pupils especially hard, amounts to collective punishment. Schools are struggling with cope with insufficient resources, shortages of electricity, low morale, and a public transport system that simply cannot cope with the overall demand. Suad Lubbad and her colleagues do not know when they will be able to re-open their school. Meanwhile their 275 pupils are being denied their right to an education, and remain stranded at home, waiting.

Some might say – it’s only 275 students. What if one of those 275 was your child? The EI article points out other hardships facing this student population – a shortage of hearing aid batteries. Slowly but surely hearing aids are having to be turned off as the Israeli government won’t even allow tiny batteries for a deaf child’s hearing aid through it’s blockade.  This is shameful.

Please pray for the faculty, students, and parents of the Atfaluna School for Deaf Children in Gaza. And pray for peace in the Middle East.

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