Israeli human rights organizations call for respect of human rights and international humanitarian law in the Gaza Strip
The situation in the Gaza Strip is dire:
· Some 80% of the population is extremely poor, living on less than $2 a day. A majority of the population is dependant on food aid from international donors.
· In the past four months, the Israeli military has killed over 300 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Over half of those killed were unarmed civilians who did not participate in the fighting. Among the dead, 61 were children.
· About 70% of Gaza’s potential workforce is out of work or without pay. The public sector has been on strike for the past 3 months in protest of non-payment of wages for over 7 months.
· On 28 June, Israel bombed Gaza’s only independent power station, which produced 43% of the electricity needed by the residents in Gaza. Since then, most of the population has electricity between 6 and 8 hours each day. As water pumping stations are dependent on electricity, the power shortage also reduced water supply.
· Only a trickle of goods are exported from Gaza; imports are limited to essential humanitarian supplies, and the cost of these goods has risen steeply because of the difficulty in getting them through Israeli-controlled crossings.
· The Gaza Strip is almost entirely sealed off from the outside world, with virtually no way for Palestinians to get in or out. Rafah Crossing, Gaza’s gateway to the outside world, has been closed almost entirely since June 25, 2006.
Israel retains control and responsibility
Even after Israel’s “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005, Israel continues to hold decisive control over important elements of Palestinian life in the Gaza Strip, as follows:
1. Israel continues to maintain complete control over the air space and territorial waters of the Gaza Strip. Palestinians cannot establish an airport or a seaport without Israeli approval. Control of the air space provides Israel with the ability to effectively control actions on the ground, and to interfere with radio and television broadcasts. Control of the coastal area results in restrictions on the activity of Palestinian fishermen.
2. Population registry: Israel continues to control the joint Gaza Strip-West Bank population registry. Almost every change in the registry made by the Palestinian Authority, requires the prior approval of Israel. Thus Israel vetoes any change of address if it is between the West Bank and Gaza. Israel also prevents family unification between Gazans and their spouses who are foreign residents. By controlling the population registry, Israel continues to determine who is a “Palestinian resident” and who is a “foreigner.” Only persons registered in the Palestinian population registry can enter via the Rafah crossing. “Foreign” residents, except those in a few categories, are banned from entering the Gaza Strip. Those who receive special permission to enter can only do so via crossings under Israel’s control.
3. All movement in and out of Gaza – Israel exercises exclusive control over all crossing points between Gaza and Israel. In addition, Israel has the power to completely close the Rafah crossing to Egypt. The November 2005 agreement on movement and access provided for Rafah to be run by the PA, under the supervision of European monitors. However, Israel exercises control over whether the EU monitors will reach the crossing, and thus whether the crossing will open. Israel has in fact kept Rafah crossing closed for most of the past four months, since the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, on 26 June 2006.
4. Israeli ground troops continue to operate sporadically inside Gaza, including along the Gaza-Egypt border. Prior to June 2006, that activity was limited to brief incursions, but since June 2006, Israeli troops have conducted ground activities, including military operations inside civilian areas, with heavy civilian casualties and significant destruction of houses and agricultural areas.
5. Israel continues to exercise almost complete control over imports and exports from the Gaza Strip. The three main crossing points designated for this purpose – Karni, Sufa, and Kerem Shalom – are under Israel’s sole control. The Rafah Crossing to Egypt, when open, can be used for exports, however its usefulness is limited given that a Gaza-Egypt export route has yet to be established. Israel’s control of the movement of goods to and from the Gaza Strip has far-reaching consequences: Israel’s decision to close the commercial crossings, a frequent occurrence, paralyzes the Gaza Strip economy and causes a shortage of basic goods, including food and medicines.
6. Israel continues to maintain complete control of the movement of people and goods between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The entire West Bank is classified as a “closed military area,” meaning entry and exit require approval by the Israeli military. Palestinians living in the West Bank, whose addresses are registered in Gaza, run the risk of being arrested and brought to Gaza by force, even if they have lived in the West Bank for years and established families there. As noted above, changing the address on an identity card from one area to the other requires Israel’s approval. In addition, Israel classifies many West Bank residents as “persons forbidden to travel abroad,” which also prevents them from reaching the Gaza Strip via Jordan and Egypt. Ongoing control of movement between the two areas is decisive in light of their mutual dependence, particularly in key areas such as public administration, health services, higher education, and trade. Also, most Gazans have close family and social ties with persons living in the West Bank, and vice versa.
7. Relying on the economic protocol of the Oslo Agreement, Israel continues to control most elements of the taxation system of the Gaza Strip: Israel is responsible for setting the VAT and customs rates on goods intended for consumption in the Gaza Strip, collecting these taxes for the Palestinian Authority, and transferring the tax monies to the Palestinian Authority each month. Since the election of the Hamas government, Israel has withheld all tax monies it is legally obligated to transfer to the PA. These funds amount to some $60 million a month, which constitutes about half of the total PA budget for both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and they have not been transferred since February 2006.
The broad scope of Israeli control in the Gaza Strip creates a strong case for the claim that Israel maintains “effective control,” such that the laws of occupation continue to apply. This makes Israel legally responsible for all aspects of the welfare of the civilian population. Regardless of whether the Gaza Strip remains occupied, however, Israel is obligated to respect the human rights of residents of the Gaza Strip in those areas of life described above that Israel controls.
Israel has the right to defend itself, including defending its borders and border-crossings, protecting its troops and preventing attacks against its civilian population by armed Palestinian groups. However, all military measures taken by Israel must respect the provisions of international humanitarian law. Specifically, Israel must distinguish at all times between legitimate military targets and civilians who must be protected from the fighting. Even attacks on legitimate military targets are forbidden if they are likely to cause disproportionate harm to the civilian population.
Israeli human rights organizations call on the international community to ensure that Israel respect the basic human rights of residents of the Gaza Strip, and that all parties respect international humanitarian law.
List of organizations
· B’Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
· The Association for Civil Rights in the Israel
· Amnesty International – Israel Section
· HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual
· Gisha: Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement
· Physicians for Human Rights
· Rabbis for Human Rights
· The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel