Gaza Blockade: Still Operational, Still Violating Human Rights

gaza blockade white house

One of our postcard actions in front of the White house

This morning, Amnesty International USA delivered thousands of signed postcards to the White House.  The postcards call on President Obama to push for an end to Israel’s continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip. For over five years, the 1.6 million Palestinians of Gaza have lived under an Israeli military blockade that has left more than one million Palestinians dependent on international humanitarian aid.

The postcards, signed by thousands of Amnesty International supporters and members across the US, call attention to Israel’s near ban on exports from the Gaza Strip.  The Gazan economy has been effectively crippled by this export ban and other aspects of the blockade.

As a result, massive numbers of Palestinians now live in a state of permanent unemployment.  Our 2012 human rights report documents that over 70 percent of Gaza’s residents now depend on humanitarian aid.  While imports into Gaza have increased since mid-2010, they are still far below the levels allowed before the blockade began in 2007.

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Hamas Must End the Death Penalty

Trapped between a crushing Israeli blockade and human rights violations at home, the 1.6 million Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip face many challenges in their daily lives.  In our 2012 Annual Report, Amnesty International catalogues the list, from a humanitarian crisis created by the Israeli blockade to detention and torture by Hamas security forces.

There are reports that at least one of the four “confessed” to the crime of murder after being tortured.

Meanwhile, Palestinian armed groups have used the Gaza Strip to fire indiscriminate rockets and mortars into southern Israel.  Daniel Viflic, aged 16, died in 2011 after a school bus in which he was travelling was struck by a missile fired from Gaza.

The latest news is that four Gaza Palestinians are facing execution after being given the death penalty by Hamas military and criminal courts.  There are reports that at least one of the four “confessed” to the crime of murder after being tortured.  The family of Na’el Jamal Qandil Doghmosh has stated that when they saw him after two months in prison, his nails had been torn out and there were burns and bruises on his body.

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The Crisis in Gaza and the Rafah Crossing: How Much Has Changed?

When Egypt opened the Rafah crossing into Gaza, much of the coverage fell into two camps: One raising warnings that the opening would ease transit for armed groups and lead to a rise in terrorism, the other praising it as changing the humanitarian crisis.

gaza children

More than half of Gaza's population are children.

A month later, what evidence we have seen is that the former hasn’t occurred but hopes for the later was overstated.  The humanitarian crisis in Gaza hasn’t changed significantly at all.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  The Rafah opening is the only opening between Gaza and Egypt.  It was never designed to carry commercial and humanitarian traffic, and the ability to bring commercial items, food and other goods through the single crossing is extremely limited.

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Top Ten Reasons For Lifting the Blockade of Gaza

For updates on this and other stories about human rights in Gaza and Israel, follow me on Twitter.

10. 80% of the population is dependent on international aid
9.
61% of the population is food insecure
8.
Unemployment rate is around 39%, one of the highest in the world
7.
Power outages usually last 4-6 hours a day and often longer
6.
60% of Gaza’s population receives running water only once every 4 or 5 days, for 6-8 hours
5.
50 to 80 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage are released into the sea every day
4.
About 90% of water supplied to Gaza residents is not suitable for drinking and is contaminated with salt and nitrates
3.
78% of homes with major damages from Operation Cast Lead have not been rebuilt

These are the key humanitarian indicators of Gaza as listed in a new report by a coalition of 22 development, human rights, and peace-building organizations. The report Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade (pdf) describes the lack of change in Gaza despite Israel’s pledge to ease the blockade. The report calls for the international community to renew action for an immediate, unconditional, and complete lifting of the blockade and comes shortly after Tony Blair, the international Mideast envoy, emphasized that Israel needs to ease the blockade after meeting with the Israeli prime minister:

There has been significant change in Gaza, but not nearly as much as we need

His words echo the September statement made by EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton, who stated

Gaza remains a source of great concern for me … at the present time, we think that what’s happened with Gaza is unsatisfactory, the volume of goods is not increasing as significantly as it needs to.

While the international community has relaxed its pressure on Israel, little has been done to ease the restrictions for the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom are children. According to the report, Israel has not only neglected to ease the blockade but also failed to live up to various commitments it made.

Israel promised to expand and accelerate imports of construction-materials for UN and other international reconstruction projects. Israel has thus far only approved the import of materials for 25 UNRWA schools and clinics, for which only a fraction of the necessary materials has been allowed to enter Gaza. Furthermore, the approved plans represent only seven percent of UNRWA’s total reconstruction strategy. This fall 40,000 eligible children were unable to enroll in UN schools because materials were unavailable for building construction. Additionally, the UN estimates that rebuilding houses alone will require 670,000 truckloads of construction materials, a tough number to meet when an average of only 715 truckloads per month have entered the Gaza Strip since June.

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Israel Falling Short on the Gaza Blockade

The international community has been expected Israel to take steps to loosen the Gaza blockade ever since an attack on a flotilla resulted in the death of nine protestors.

The Israel response came today, and it wasn’t impressive.

More than half of Gaza's population are children.

Amnesty International believes the Gaza blockade imposes a collective punishment on 1.4 million Palestinians in clear violation of international law.  It must be completely lifted without delay.

The Israeli proposal fell far short of that.

“Any step that will help reduce the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza is to be welcomed, but Israel must now comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Just as important as allowing goods into Gaza is allowing exports to leave Gaza, yet there is no mention of this in today’s announcement. Banning the vast majority of exports, raw materials and the movement of people has destroyed the economy of Gaza, and pushed its population into unemployment, poverty and dependency on aid agencies for survival.  These problems will not be solved while the blockade continues.”

The Israel announcement offered few details but stated that it promised to “liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza” and to expand entrance of construction materials for civilian use.

As always, the Israelis cited an ever-changing number of excuses to justify this violation of international law.  One cited today was the continued holding of captured Israeli solider Gilad Shalit, and indeed the Israelis are right to insist on Shalit’s safe return.  AI has repeatedly pressed Hamas authorities in Gaza to free him.

And Amnesty International has strongly condemned the firing of indiscriminate weapons by Palestinian armed groups into southern Israel as a violation of international law.  But the Israeli blockade, which limits goods, the movement of people, threatens appropriate medical treatment of the sick and injured and virtually banning exports, target the civilian population as a whole not the armed groups in particular.

“Any restrictions imposed on the movement of people and goods into or out of Gaza must be proportionate and non-discriminatory,” Smart said.

The full Amnesty statement can be found here. A statement earlier this week criticizing shortcomings in Israel panel that will investigate the flotilla attack can be found here.

The US Needs to Ensure that the Israeli Siege of Gaza is Lifted

By Avner Gidron, Senior Policy Adviser at Amnesty International
(Originally posted on Huffington Post)

Israel’s rejection of an international inquiry into its deadly raid on the Gaza-bound ship is deeply disappointing, if not surprising. Judging by precedent, Israel is unlikely to provide the effective, independent and impartial investigation required to ensure truth, justice and reparations for victims and their families. But the truth is the outcome of an inquiry is unnecessary to reach the conclusion that Israel must end its siege of Gaza now.

The blockade violates human rights and humanitarian law, and it is politically senseless. It is past time that the United States and Israel’s other allies press for its immediate end.

For three years, the population of the Gaza Strip has been suffering the debilitating effects of Israel’s blockade imposed when Israel decided to treat the area as a “hostile entity” after Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza. With the stated aim of preventing rocket fire by militants and pressuring Hamas, the blockade instead punishes the civilians in the Gaza Strip by restricting a vast range of goods and products that have no possible military use.

The firing of indiscriminate rockets into Israeli towns by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups (which, since 2001, has killed some 16 civilians in Israel) deserves unequivocal condemnation. But Israel’s closure of Gaza goes well beyond its security needs, penning one and a half million Palestinians into a tiny strip of land and condemning hundreds of thousands to poverty and dependence. The sweeping scope of the blockade and statements by Israeli officials about its purpose make clear that this siege is being imposed as a form of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza, a flagrant violation of Israel’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

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Israeli Killings of Gaza Ship Activists Must Be Investigated

UPDATE: Amnesty International interim Secretary General Claudio Cordone called for an international inquiry into the deaths caused by the raid on the aid flotilla in international waters outside Gaza today.

Given the international nature of this incident and the continuing lack of credible Israeli investigations into violations of human rights in the context of the Gaza conflict, there is also a need for an immediate international investigation.

The Israeli authorities have the primary responsibility to investigate the use of lethal force by its forces, as well as the claims by Israeli officials that Israeli forces were attacked with a range of weapons. But for full credibility and transparency, Israel should invite the relevant UN experts to carry out an investigation into the events of 31 May.

Beyond this tragedy, however, it is imperative that Israel lifts the blockade of Gaza without delay, as it is a form of collective punishment in contravention of international law and primarily affects the most vulnerable among the population.

Israeli armed forces today stormed a ship carrying supplies for Gaza, killing 10 activists on board. The circumstances remain unclear; however, it appears that Israeli forces have used excessive force. Amnesty International has called for Israel to launch an immediate, credible and independent investigation into the killing. Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, had issued the following statement:

Israeli forces appear clearly to have used excessive force. Israel says its forces acted in self-defence, alleging that they were attacked by protestors, but it begs credibility that the level of lethal force used by Israeli troops could have been justified. It appears to have been out of all proportion to any threat posed.

The killings have drawn strong criticism and worldwide condemnation. The UN is preparing an emergency session for Tuesday.

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Gaza Blockade: Amnesty International Delivers 23,000 Signatures to Clinton

A boy poses in front of one of more than 4,000 houses in the Gaza Strip that the UN said were totally destroyed or beyond repair after the war. (c) IRIN 2010. Photo by Sahari Karam/Irin. CLICK IMAGE TO SEE COMPLETE SLIDESHOW

A boy poses in front of one of more than 4,000 houses in the Gaza Strip that the UN said were totally destroyed or beyond repair after the war. (c) IRIN 2010. Photo by Sahari Karam/Irin. CLICK IMAGE TO SEE COMPLETE SLIDESHOW

Today, we delivered a petition to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, asking her to urge the Israeli government to lift the blockade of Gaza immediately. More than 23,000 people signed the petition, making it Amnesty International’s most successful Facebook petition to date.

>> Check out IRIN News’ photo gallery, which showcases powerful photographs of life in Gaza.

Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip leaves more than 1.4 million Palestinians cut off from necessary and life-saving supplies, exacerbating a situation of extreme and desperate poverty. The blockade restricts the entry of basic goods, such as food and fuel, on which the population depends on for survival.

The blockade is strangling virtually every aspect of life for Gaza’s population, more than half of whom are children. The increasing isolation and suffering of the people of Gaza cannot be allowed to continue. The Israeli government must comply with binding legal obligation, as the occupying power, to lift the blockade without further delay - Malcolm Smart, Middle East and North Africa Director, Amnesty International

Israel argues that the blockade is a natural response to the continued attacks by Palestinian armed groups, including the rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel. But the blockade doesn’t distinguish between those responsible for the rocket attacks and those who are just trying to make it through another day. It collectively punishes the entire population of Gaza, including many women and children, who are just trying to survive with no resources.

The people of Gaza share with everyone else the right to dignified lives, free of indiscriminate and prolonged suffering. They should not be subjected to this continuation of collective punishment brought on by the blockade – Maxwell Gaylard, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory

To learn about similar petitions in the future, please join Amnesty International USA on Facebook.

Learn more about the situation in Gaza:

Suffocating: The Gaza Strip Under the Israeli Blockade (PDF)

Troubled Waters – Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water (PDF)

“I Have to Hold Back Tears” — Jimmy Carter

During the lead up to former president Jimmy Carter’s trip to Gaza, the general media sentiment regarding the trip was ominous. Questions of safety (and loyalty, due to the boycott of Gaza and the legitimacy of its government) arose as Carter announced he would be meeting with Hamas leaders to discuss the future of Palestine.

He arrived on Tuesday, June 16th, and met with the Gazan leadership, including Ismail Haniya and Mahmoud Zahhar. He also visited sites that were destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, including an American school obliterated by bombs dropped by F-16s. The human rights violations that took place during the Israeli offensive in earlier this year have stunned him, he said. “I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been wracked against your people.”

Other objectives of Carter’s trip to Gaza included delivering a letter to Gilad Shalit (the Israeli soldier taken hostage by Hamas in June 2006), asking Hamas to consider recognition of Israel (it refused), calling for an end to the Gaza blockade, and also to insist that Hamas end its rocket fire into areas such as Sderot.

Israel launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip last December in response to rocket fire, a war that left the territory in shambles and unable to rebuild due to the stiff international blockade from 2 years prior. Only the bare humanitarian needs are delivered to a population of 1.5 million. Carter specifically pushed the US and Europe to allow basic goods into Gaza. “Never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then denied the means to repair itself,” said Carter. “The citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings.”

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post