Life under occupation – 14

December 22, 2010

pchrThe Illegal Closure of the Gaza Strip: Collective Punishment of the Civilian Population

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), 10 December 2010

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has released a new report on the situation in Gaza

Executive Summary

In June 2007, following the Hamas takeover, Israel imposed an absolute closure on the Gaza Strip. For more than three years, this most extreme form of closure has been continuously applied to the so-called “hostile entity” that is the Gaza Strip, cutting off 1.7 million individuals from the outside world.

Palestinian civilians are illegally denied access to their basic needs, including food, medicine, fuel, electricity and other necessary commodities.

As a rule Palestinians are not allowed to travel in and out of Gaza, with few exceptions mainly for humanitarian reasons (mostly patients needing life saving medical treatments). Students are not allowed to attend university programs abroad, or in the West Bank; families are divided and unable to visit each other even within the Palestinian territory; traders and businessmen are prevented from doing their business. Only a small, tightly regulated, number of internationals are allowed into Gaza under a strict system of permits.

For the past three and half years the import of goods into Gaza has been prohibited by the Israeli authorities, with only limited quantities of basic goods, mainly food, allowed entry for ‘humanitarian’ reasons. Israel has also imposed a total ban on the exports of the Gaza Strip’s products, destroying the economic sector and generating dependency. Only limited quantities of two goods, flowers and strawberries, were allowed to be sporadically exported thanks to specific international mediation.

The effects of the current absolute closure of Gaza have been exacerbated by Israel’s 27 December 2008-18 January 2009 military operation (codenamed “operation Cast Lead” by the Israeli military). The offensive caused the death of 1,419 Palestinians, 1,167 of whom (82%) were civilians not taking part in hostilities and the injury of a further 5,300 and resulted in the extensive destruction of houses and civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, and industry.

Since the offensive, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009), Israel has failed to open the borders of Gaza, thus impeding the passage of goods necessary for recovery and reconstruction. By imposing this draconian closure policy – and not lifting it in the aftermath of the military operation – Israel has manufactured a chronic and profound humanitarian crisis.

By denying a people their ability to work and their right to move; by depriving families of the ability to rebuild their homes which have been reduced to rubble; and by forcing individuals to give up generations-old family traditions, an entire population is being reduced to a ‘humanitarian problem’. To this end, the most profound impact of the closure cannot be described by figures or statistics. The systematic humiliation, intimidation and general degradation that are the result of Israel’s measures and restrictions erode the very fabric of life for the people of Gaza and deprive them of their very human dignity.

95% of the 3,900 industrial establishments in the Gaza Strip have closed or suspended their work due to the restrictions placed on the import of raw materials and as a result of the inability to export their products. The remaining 5% work at 20-50% of their capacity.

The decimation of Gaza’s industry has resulted in the loss of between 100,000- 120,000 jobs. After the military offensive of December 2008-January 2009, only 1,878 individuals, of 65,000 employed prior to the current closure, continue to be employed in the industrial sector in Gaza.

Israel’s unilateral imposition of a growing “buffer zone” all along the Gaza borders, as a “no-go area” implemented with open fire, currently renders 17% of Gaza territory or 35% of its agricultural land not accessible or accessible only under high risk of being shot by Israeli military forces. At sea, Israel allows fishing only out to 3 nautical miles, despite the limit of 20 nautical miles established under the Oslo Accords. This has further drastically negatively impacted upon the agricultural and fishing sector on which thousands of families depend economically.

This report focuses on the Gaza Strip and on the exceptionally strict conditions of closure imposed by Israel over the past three and half years. However the situation in Gaza cannot be isolated from the overall context of the occupation of the Palestinian territory. Equally, the closure policy is not a new phenomenon or one that is limited to the Gaza Strip. Israel has subjected the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) to an illegal policy of harsh restrictions for almost two decades.

For many years, Palestinians have not been allowed to travel within the oPt. Residents of Gaza have not been allowed to travel to the West Bank and residents of the West Bank are not allowed to travel to Gaza. Even members of the Palestinian Legislative Council have been restricted from traveling in and out of Gaza. The vast majority of Palestinians living in the West Bank have never visited the Gaza Strip, as they are prevented from doing so. An entire generation of Gazans has never visited the rest of the Palestinian territory, let alone the world beyond the Palestinian territory.

PCHR believes that Israel has pursued numerous aims through the imposition of these closures on the occupied Palestinian territory, which are one of the tools used by the occupying power to implement a policy of separation, fragmentation and isolation of the occupied territory and of its inhabitants.

An evident direct implication of Israel’s closure policy is the growing separation inside the Palestinian territory and among the Palestinian people. The internal political implications of this separation, forced closure and isolation are evident today. Ultimately, PCHR finds that the closure perpetuates the long-standing denial of self-determination of the Palestinian people.

Most of all Israeli policy of closure exhibits a strongly punitive and reprisory character: the closure is imposed collectively as a means of ‘economic warfare’, violating international law which unequivocally prohibits collective punishment and reprisals against civilians (Art. 33 IV Geneva Convention). The International Committee of the Red Cross clearly stated that:

“The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”

This report details the Israeli authorities’ responsibilities for the implementation of this illegal closure policy, which violates fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and the most basic human rights of the Palestinian population of Gaza. In the words of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, led by Justice Richard Goldstone:

“The conditions of life in Gaza, resulting from deliberate actions of the Israeli armed forces and the declared policies of the Government of Israel – as they were presented by its authorized and legitimate representatives – with regard to the Gaza Strip before, during and after the military operation, cumulatively indicate the intention to inflict collective punishment on the people of the Gaza Strip in violation of international humanitarian law”.

The closure is prohibited as a form of collective punishment and results in the infliction of great suffering on the civilian population, which is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. It is a crime that entails individual criminal responsibility for those involved in this policy at various levels, especially at the level of planning, organization, and active implementation of the closure. Ultimately, the closure may amount to persecution, which is a crime against humanity.

PCHR reiterates that nothing has substantially changed after the alleged “easing” of the closure, announced by Israel in June 2010 (after the deadly Flottilla attack). As a very recent independent report co-signed by a number of international NGOs has thoroughly detailed, the measures taken by Israeli to allegedly ease the closure are not effective and Israel failed to address the root causes of the socio-economic crisis of Gaza.

Moreover PCHR highlights that the partial easing of the restrictions implemented by Israel does not deal with the most important aspect, which is the freedom of movement – also as a precondition for the enjoyment of many other fundamental rights – of the imprisoned population of Gaza and the restoration of their human dignity.

The International Fact Finding Mission mandated by the UN to investigate the 31 May 2010 Israeli attack on the flotilla carrying humanitarian assistance to Gaza, concluded that the situation in the Gaza Strip is “deplorable”, “unsustainable” and “totally intolerable and unacceptable in the 21st Century”. The closure is “unlawful and cannot be sustained in law. This is so regardless of the grounds on which it is sought to justify the legality of the blockade”.

The International community has the duty to take measures to put an end to the illegal closure of Gaza, which is inherently illegal and criminal in its nature. The High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions have the duty to respect and ensure respect for the Conventions. This entails a duty to investigate and prosecute those responsible for grave breaches of the Conventions and to bring the perpetrators to justice before their own national courts (Art. 147 IV GC).

By failing to do so the international community bears responsibility for the intentionally manufactured socio-economical crisis that is progressively destroying Gaza, and depriving its people of their most fundamental human rights and dignity .


Download the full report

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