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The illegal closure of the Gaza strip: collective punishment of the civilian population

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Palestinian center for human rights issued new title report of the illegal closure of the Gaza strip: collective punishment of the civilian population

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 .