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
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
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
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
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 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 .