As we enter the fourth month since the end of hostilities in Gaza, it is increasingly apparent that its needs are not being met and that reconstruction is stalled. Donors have pledged money – among them the EU, the largest aid donor to the occupied Palestinian territory in 2008 and for Gaza's reconstruction – but the flow of goods is wholly inadequate and reconstruction is almost impossible.
Roughly 75% of Gaza's 1.5 million residents require assistance. But even the most essential imports are subject to intense limitations by Israeli authorities; only food and a few other items are allowed in. Reconstruction materials and essential spare parts of all kinds are essentially banned. An Israeli ban on exports, apart from a few lorry-loads of flowers, has exacerbated the situation by further crushing Gaza's job-creating industries.
Israel appears to see the ruin of hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods as the collective price that Gaza's civilians must pay for the acts of a few among them.
While Israel has primary responsibility for this terrible crisis of human dignity, Hamas is also to blame because of the indiscriminate and pointless rocket attacks it committed and allowed for so long. Hamas was well aware of the possible consequences, but went ahead anyway. Its claim to have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart was thereby weakened.
Gazans would far sooner buy what they want than rely on charity, but joblessness has left many families with no source of income. This heralds the fall of almost an entire society into dependency: the number of people requiring food aid has risen to an unprecedented level, even though food is available in the markets. Because of damage to the water and sanitation network, the incidence of water-borne diseases has increased.
Life-saving assistance and basic reconstruction needs must be de-coupled from security and political agendas. If an improvement in living conditions remains conditional on Israeli-Palestinian peace and inter-Palestinian reconciliation, the Gaza Strip risks being dependent on hand-outs for years.
A good starting point would be to reopen border crossings to all essential humanitarian and reconstruction goods. The relief workers currently applying for authorisation to work in Gaza must also be recognised and respected by Hamas and Israel as independent and autonomous actors. Humanitarian aid is neutral and impartial, a message that donors should reinforce at every opportunity.
These are preliminary steps that would bring at least a modicum of dignity to daily life, while doing nothing to advance or obstruct the political goals of either side.
In Gaza, humanity has taken a back seat to politics. A measly trickle of items has become the most the world can offer civilians trapped by a political stalemate. Reconstruction and providing for Gaza's most vulnerable must be elevated from an after-thought to a priority.
Protection, food, water, healthcare and shelter are basic human needs, not bargaining chips. That fact must be recognised by all parties responsible for the immense suffering in Gaza.
John Holmes is the United Nations' under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and its emergency relief co-ordinator.