Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has cost the seaside territory as much as US$16.7 billion in economic losses, and sent poverty and unemployment skyrocketing, a UN report said on Wednesday.
The report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development echoed calls by international bodies over the years criticizing the blockade.
However, its findings, looking at an 11-year period ending in 2018, marked perhaps the most detailed analysis of the Israeli policy to date.
Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 after Hamas, an Islamic militant group that opposes Israel’s existence, violently seized control of Gaza from the forces of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.
Israel says that the restrictions are needed to keep Hamas from building up its military capabilities.
The bitter enemies have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes.
However, critics say that the blockade has amounted to collective punishment, hurting the living conditions of Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants while failing to oust Hamas or moderate its behavior.
Gaza has almost no clean drinking water, it has frequent power outages and people cannot freely travel abroad.
“The result has been the near-collapse of Gaza’s regional economy, and its isolation from the Palestinian economy and the rest of the world,” the UN agency said in a statement.
The report analyzed the effects of the closure, which has greatly limited Gaza’s ability to export goods, as well as the effects of the three wars, which took place in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014.
The most recent war was especially devastating, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians and displacing about 100,000 people from homes that were damaged or destroyed, according to UN figures.
Seventy-three people, including six civilians, were killed on the Israeli side, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and indiscriminate Hamas rocket fire brought life to a standstill in southern Israel.
Using two methodologies, the report said that overall economic losses due to the blockade and wars ranged from US$7.8 billion to US$16.7 billion.
Gaza’s economy grew by a total of just 4.8 percent during the entire period, even as its population grew by more than 40 percent, it said.
These economic losses helped propel unemployment in Gaza from 35 percent in 2006 to 52 percent in 2018, one of the highest rates in the world, the UN agency said.
The poverty rate jumped from 39 percent in 2007 to 55 percent in 2017, it said.
Based on Gaza’s economic trends before the closure, the report said that the poverty rate could have been just 15 percent in 2017 if the wars and blockade had not occurred.
“The impact is the impoverishment of the people of Gaza, who are already under blockade,” said Mahmoud Elkhafif, the agency’s coordinator of assistance to the Palestinian people and author of the report.
Israel has long accused the UN of being biased against it.
The report, for instance, included only a brief mention that indiscriminate rocket fire at Israeli civilian areas is prohibited under international law, it said.
“Palestinian militants must cease that practice immediately,” it said.
The ministry accused the UN agency of failing its mission to assist developing economies and presenting a “one-sided and distorted depiction” that disregards “terrorist organizations’ control over the Gaza Strip and their responsibility for what occurs in the Gaza Strip.”
“In light of all this, we cannot take the findings of the reports it publishes seriously, and this report is no different,” it said.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said that the report revealed “the level of the crime” committed by Israel.
“This siege has amounted to a real war crime and pushed all services sectors in the Gaza Strip to collapse,” Qassem said. “These figures also reveal the international inability to deal with the illegal siege on Gaza.”
Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that pushes for freedom of movement in an out of Gaza, said that it was Israel’s “moral and legal obligation” to lift the closure.
“The true price paid by Palestinians in lost time, opportunities, and separation from loved ones is inestimable,” it said.
Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.