Prior to 1948, there were approximately 80,000 people living in the Gaza Strip. In places like the town of Deir el-Balah, families have continuously lived in ancestral homes. The extravagant height of the palm and date trees in backyards and city streets is a testament to the continuity and lineage of native Gazans. The old families of Gaza have a sense of place that is somewhat different than other Palestinians; they were not forced out of their homes and villages as the majority of Palestinians had been in 1948. And the Gazans have had the benefit of the sea on the western side; the tradition of fishing has been passed on from generation to generation. Presently, all access to the sea for fishermen is denied. The fishing boats remain grounded while the people in Gaza Strip slowly starve.
In 1948, the Gaza Strip absorbed an influx of more than 200,000 Palestinian refugees. With each passing year, the number has grown. The land mass of Gaza is approximately 146 square miles. The current population of Gaza works out to an approximate ratio of 9,000 people per square mile.
Gaza Strip is sealed on all sides and the people are trapped inside. Internally, the intra-Palestinian clashes continue in the streets. Externally, the Israeli army tanks routinely roll far into Gaza. The attacks also come from the air and the sea.
Food aid has become increasingly more difficult to get in. The food that is available on shelves is too expensive for most people. The World Food Programme reports that since June 2007, 80,000 Gazans have lost their jobs, representing approximately 44% of the working population. Industries have shut down because they cannot get the imports of raw materials needed to produce goods. Those who have been able to produce agricultural goods, cannot export their harvests of tomatoes, strawberries, and carnations. The containers sit at the crossing points, rotting.
The situation for the seriously ill is dire, only a few are able to get out in order to receive proper care. Currently, cancer patients are not being allowed to exit to receive chemotherapy treatments. Since the most recent closure of Gaza Strip by Israeli forces, there have been 30 illness-related casualties. The most recent among such deaths was 49-year-old Zuheir Hussein of Jabalia refugee camp who succumbed to cancer.1
A recently released report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spells out the long-term problem: “Enough to survive, not enough to live.” 2 The U.N., the Red Cross and non-governmental agencies (NGOs) have been feeding the people of Gaza and the West Bank for decades. Their goals have been historically focused on humanitarian relief. They are there to feed Palestinians, 85% of which are suffering some level of malnutrition. In the context of attempting to keep the general population of Gaza alive through humanitarian assistance, it becomes fathomable why a neutral agency involved in such activities would suddenly begin to issue political statements–as did the Red Cross days ago. Oxfam International has followed suit, warning that there is the imminent possibility of serious health risks due to inadequate water supplies caused by the fuel shortages. 3
In a recent interview with BBC News, Beatrice Megevand Roggo, ICRC director of operations for the Middle East, made it clear why the organization has become decidedly vocal: “Why do we call for political action? Because actually we do not think that humanitarian aid can solve the problem. In Gaza the whole strip is being strangled, economically speaking, life there has become a nightmare. And for that there is no solution that can be provided by humanitarian organisations….We can try to put patches on the problems, but we do not have the key to a lasting solution that would address the roots of the problem.”
The people of Gaza Strip are sealed in. They are militarily bombarded from land, air and sea; in city streets, they are subject to shoot-outs between Fatah and Hamas; their water and electricity is controlled; and they are starving. This inside-outside crisis has left the people of Gaza headed for inevitable implosion. Will the world hear the urgent pleas from the Red Cross and Oxfam? The ongoing political gridlock offers nothing but more suffering, death and destruction. At this point, the only viable solution for saving the people of Gaza is immediate third party political intervention.
LARAY POLK is an artist and activist who lives in Dallas, Texas. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
1. Mohammed Omer, “Medicine, Water and Fuel Shortages,” 11 December 2007, BBSNews,
2. ICRC report, “Dignity Denied in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” 13 December 2007,
3. Mohammed Omer, “The grim reality in Gaza,” 10 December 2007, Newstatesman,