Gaza: daily violence and failing public services
On his return to Geneva after heading the ICRC's sub-delegation in Gaza for the past 15 months, Georgios Georgantas answers our questions.
The people of Gaza have to con tend with extreme violence and failing public services on a daily basis. Health care, education and other public services have gradually broken down since aid to the Palestinian Authority was suspended in early 2006. Meanwhile, violence has surged as a result of the Israeli military operations, the fighting among Palestinian factions and the rise in ordinary crime.
How has the armed violence affected people's daily lives?
There are two sources of violence: the military operations conducted by the Israeli army and the internecine fighting among Palestinians.
The Israeli operations consist mainly of incursions into the territory that can result in the isolation of entire neighbourhoods or villages. During these i ncursions, people can no longer move about freely: they cannot shop, visit a doctor or go to a hospital. Homes are occupied and the owners sometimes no longer have access to food or water.
The main problem caused by the fighting among Palestinian factions is the lack of access to medical care. Ambulances are often delayed at check points or road blocks and cannot collect the wounded and take them to hospitals.
What activities is the ICRC currently carrying out in Gaza?
Above all we strive to reach the people caught up in the violence and bring them vital assistance.
One of our main priorities is to make sure that ambulances can collect the wounded. Another is to provide food and water for all those in need, especially families whose houses have been occupied. We also help repair basic infrastructure so as to restore access to water and electricity.
During the infighting among Palestinians, our main role is to remind the parties of their obligation to spare all medical personnel, ambulances and hospitals.
As an ICRC representation who has just spent 15 months in Gaza, what do you see as the organization's main achievements during that period?
Before I arrived in Gaza, I was afraid that it would be very difficult for the ICRC to carry out its activities in such a highly politicized environment – and one that was the focus of so much media attention. I was afraid that we would have very little room for manoeuvre.
Once I got there, however, I realized that our work ia especially useful in such an environment. Thanks to its professional expertise, the ICRC is able to reach people in need and provide them with essential assistance and protection.