Here you will find news and information with a focus on the situation in Gaza.

27 Dec. ’09: One and a Half Million People Imprisoned

Background and data on the impact of the siege on the residents of the Gaza Strip*

1. Damage to the economy resulting from the harsh restrictions on imports and exports

  • Israel allows only 35 kinds of goods, which it defines “humanitarian”, to enter the Gaza Strip, compared with some 4,000 kinds of goods entering Gaza prior to the siege.
  • In the two years of the siege, the daily average of truckloads of goods entering Gaza (112) was reduced to less than one fifth of the comparable figure for truckloads entering in the first five months of 2007 (583).
  • Entry of most materials intended for industry, agriculture, and construction is prohibited, preventing the reconstruction of more than 3,400 residential houses that were destroyed, and some 2,900 that were harmed, in Operation Cast Lead. At present, a year since the operation began, more than 20,000 persons are still living in rented apartments, with relatives, or in tents. It has also been impossible to repair the infrastructure that was damaged: some 10,000 residents of the northern Gaza Strip have no access to running water and some 80 million liters of raw and partially-treated sewage flow daily into the environment.
  • Israel prohibits the import of raw materials and most forms of export from the Gaza Strip (only 147 truckloads of flowers and strawberries, compared with a monthly average of more than 1,000 truckloads during the first five months of 2007). As a result, the Gazan economy has been severely harmed: 95 percent of the businesses in the industrial sector (3,750) have closed, and the remaining five percent have had to cut back operations. AS a result, some 120,000 persons have lost their jobs as a result.
  • The stock of imported food products is dwindling, and their prices are rising, while fruits and vegetables that were intended for export are sold in the local markets at a loss. Even these low prices are beyond the reach of many families, given the high rate of poverty.

2. Detachment of Gazans from the outside world
Israel has closed all its crossing points along the border with the Gaza Strip and as a rule, prevents persons from entering or exiting Gaza, except in the rare cases it deems “humanitarian.” The Crossings Agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in November 2005 arranged the opening of Rafah Crossing, but implementation of the agreement ceased in June 2006, following the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Rafah Crossing has been closed since then, and the rare occasions on which it is opened, for varying lengths of time, does not meet the needs of Gazan residents. Some one and a half million people are imprisoned in the Gaza Strip, which they can only leave if given a special permit by Israel.

3. Grave harm to the health system
Before Operation Cast Lead, the health system in Gaza was already on the verge of collapse due to lack of knowledge, expertise, and experience of the medical teams, lack of medical equipment and personnel capable of operating it, lack of medicines, shortage of rescue vehicles, and frequent and prolonged black-outs. Under these harsh conditions, the health system had to cope with the consequences of the military attack and the thousands of its victims. As a result, the health system further deteriorated. The decline was exacerbated by Israeli attacks that struck medical teams and medical facilities during the operation (8 hospitals and 26 medical clinics).

Despite the dismal situation of the health system in Gaza, from January 2008 to August 2009, Israel rejected or did not respond in time to 40 percent of the requests for a permit to leave Gaza for purposes of medical treatment.

4. Prolonged energy crisis
Israel limits the entry into the Gaza Strip of industrial fuel whose sole purpose is to operate Gaza’s only power station, as well as fuel for motor vehicles, diesel fuel, and cooking gas.

  • 90 percent of Gazans suffer electricity black-outs for 4-8 hours a day; the other 10 percent have no electricity at all.

5. Severe harm to the agriculture and fishing sectors
Israel prevents the entry of pesticides, animals, fuel, and replacement parts for irrigation systems into the Gaza Strip. In addition, it has significantly reduced the distance from the coast that fishermen are allowed to reach to a mere 5.5 kilometers, and does not permit access to farmland that lies several hundred meters from the border with Israel.

  • At least 30 percent of the farmland in the Gaza Strip lies close to the border, and most of the fish are found in deep waters, beyond the 5.5-kilometer permitted range.
  • The restrictions on fishing deny Gazans access to a vital food source and encourage excessive fishing in the permitted areas, thus endangering the supply of fish.

6. Poverty and unemployment

  • More than 140,000 persons, comprising more than 40 percent of the workforce in the Gaza Strip, are unemployed as a result of the collapse of economic activity. In the under-30 age group, unemployment has reached almost 60 percent.
  • 75 percent of the Gazan population, more than 1.1 million persons, now lack food security, compared with 56 percent in 2008. Some 1 million Gazans depend on food provided by aid agencies.

* The data were collected by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Palestinian Trade Center (PalTrade).

Operation Cast Lead, 27 Dec. ’08 to 18 Jan. ’09

Between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, the Israeli military carried out an attack on the Gaza Strip named Operation Cast Lead. The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so. Israel also caused enormous damage to residential dwellings, industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water, and health, which was on the verge of collapse prior to the operation. According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings and 20,000 people were left homeless.

During the operation, Palestinians fired rockets and mortar shells at Israel, with the declared purpose of striking Israeli civilians. These attacks killed three Israeli civilians and one member of the Israeli security forces, and wounded dozens. Nine soldiers were killed within the Gaza Strip, four by friendly fire. More than 100 soldiers were wounded, one critically and 20 moderately to seriously.

As an Israeli organization, B’Tselem focuses on Israel’s acts and its responsibility for human rights violations. However, it should be noted that Hamas also committed serious violations of international humanitarian law during the operation. Hamas’s practice of operating within Palestinian civilian communities undoubtedly affects the legality of Israel’s attacks that caused civilian casualties. This, however, does not legitimize every military action during the operation, nor does it prove that Hamas bears sole responsibility for all the harm to civilians.

One year after the operation began, extensive areas in the Gaza Strip have yet to be rebuilt. Israel’s sweeping prohibition on the entry of construction materials prevents the rebuilding of houses that were destroyed and damaged, and more than 20,000 persons continue to live in overcrowded conditions in rented apartments, with relatives, or in tent camps. The prohibition also prevents rehabilitation of the infrastructure that was damaged: 90 percent of Gazans suffer electricity black-outs for four to eight hours a day, a result of the damage to infrastructure and of the severe shortage of industrial fuel. Some ten thousand Palestinians in the northern section of the Gaza Strip have no access to running water, and 80 million liters of raw and partially-treated sewage flows daily into open areas. The health system is unable to function properly due to the lack of medical equipment, and seriously ill patients have difficulty receiving necessary medical treatment.

The extensive harm to the civilian population and the enormous damage to property do not indicate, in and of themselves, that the military breached international humanitarian law. However, investigations B’Tselem made during and after the operation, and information from many other sources, raise doubts regarding the declarations of Israeli officials that the military acted lawfully. The suspicions regarding breach of international humanitarian law relate not only to the conduct of one soldier or another, but primarily to policy. In some cases, there is a well-founded suspicion that the harm to civilians resulted from breach of the principles of distinction and proportionality, which are intended to ensure that civilians remain outside the cycle of the hostilities.

Therefore, Israel is obligated to open an independent, credible investigation, and not rely on internal operational debriefings or isolated investigations that focus on a limited number of incidents and the responsibility of relatively low-ranking commanders. An independent and credible investigation is not only required by law, but is also vital in order to fulfill the public’s right to know what the state did in its name in the Gaza Strip.

When the operation ended, human rights organizations, among them B’Tselem, wrote to the attorney general, demanding that an independent investigation be established to examine the military’s conduct during the operation, but were refused. In March 2009, the organizations repeated their request, but were again rejected. Following the publication of the Goldstone report, in September 2009, they made a joint call for Israel to conduct an independent and effective investigation.

To date, no independent-investigation apparatus, which can also investigate the responsibility of the political and military decision-makers, has been established. As far as B’Tselem knows, 19 Military Police investigations have been opened into cases in which a suspicion arose that soldiers in the field violated army regulations. Only one soldier has been prosecuted regarding actions taken during Operation Cast Lead; he was convicted of stealing a credit card and was sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment.

The Military Police investigations currently under way do not meet Israel’s obligations and are insufficient. Even if they lead to the filing of indictments, low-ranking soldiers alone will be prosecuted, while the persons responsible for formulating the policy will not be held accountable. Also, the investigations are being carried out by a body that is an integral part of the military and therefore, by definition, are not independent.

Gaza Massacre: Dec 27, 2008 – Jan 18, 2009

On June 19, 2008 a 6-month truce went into effect between Israel and fighters in Gaza. The terms of the truce were that Israel stop all invasions into Gaza, reduce its blockade on Gaza, and that Palestinians stop all rocket attacks on Israel.

Israel never fulfilled its obligation to ease the siege of Gaza, which had created, according to numerous relief organizations, “catastrophic” humanitarian conditions. Christian Aid stated that Israel must stop using food and medicine as weapons against Gaza’s 1.5 million men, women, and children (over 1 million of whom are refugees from 1948). Five months later, on November 4th, the truce ended when Israel invaded Gaza, killing 6 Palestinians. Only after this did Hamas resume rocket fire.

killed in gaza

On December 27th, Israel began a premeditated air, land, and sea assault on Gaza that reduced large areas to rubble. Like shooting fish in an over-crowded barrel, in three weeks Israeli forces killed 1,417 Palestinians – 313 of them children – and injured 5,303. Palestinians killed 9 Israelis during this time. Israeli strikes damaged and destroyed huge numbers of homes, causing a third of all Gazans to be displaced at some point during the assault. According to the WHO, “Vital infrastructure has been compromised or destroyed, resulting in a lack of shelter and energy sources, deterioration of water and sanitation services, food insecurity and overcrowding.”

After ignoring calls for a ceasefire for 3 weeks, Israel finally declared what it called a “unilateral ceasefire” on January 18th. Palestinian factions called a ceasefire as well a few hours later.

Ceasefire Violations

It was widely reported by the media that this ceasefire was first breached by Palestinians on Jan 27th. In reality, however, Israel had already violated the ceasefire at least seven times, including killing two farmers – the first only a few hours after the ceasefire went into effect – and shooting a child.

A study conducted of all the ceasefires, truces, and periods of calm during the past 8 years, concluded:

“…a systematic pattern does exist: it is overwhelmingly Israel, not Palestine, that kills first following a lull. Indeed, it is virtually always Israel that kills first after a lull lasting more than a week.”

The words below are a few lines taken from an article in Adbusters, written by Mousa Abu Marzook (deputy of the political bureau of Hamas) in December 2007. His words are very moving and bring a clear perspective to this question of state’s rights.

I, for one, do not trouble myself over “recognizing” Israel’s right to exist- this is not, after all an epistemological problem; Israel does exist, as any Rafah boy in a hospital bed, with IDF shrapnel in his torso, can tell you. This dance of mutual rejection is a mere distraction when so many are dying or have lived as prisoners for two generations in refugee camps. As I write these words, Israeli forays into Gaza have killed another 15 people, including a child. Who but a Jacobin dares to discuss the “rights” of nations in the face of such relentless state violence against an occupied population?
I look forward to the day when Israel can say to me, and millions of other Palestinians: “Here, here is your family’s house by the sea, here are your lemon trees, the olive grove your father tended: Come home and be whole again.” Then we can speak of a future together.


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