Gaza: EU must act to stop the blockade immediately and unconditionally

The Gaza Strip, 365 square kilometers enclave, has been under a blockade by Israel since 2007 through land, air and sea. By maintaining the total control over the land and all aspects of Palestinian life in Gaza, Israel exercises its most extreme form of occupation there. In this densely populated area about 2 million people have been kept captive, denied of basic human rights for 15 years.

This blockade impacts all the aspects of the population’s daily life and it consolidates the fragmentation of the territorial and political Palestine, undermining dignified life and self-determination for the people.

Severe restriction on freedom of movement for people and goods, loss of agricultural land arbitrary declared “buffer zone”, tight restrictions over the fishing zone, severely affected economic activities, and led Gaza’s economy to a sharp decline without means to recover and develop1. Egypt’s restriction on its border with Gaza made the blockade even tighter. Most of the people in Gaza lost their activities and livelihood, while farmers and fishermen also routinely got shot while trying to access their land and sea.

This dire condition was aggravated by a periodic pattern of military attacks. Four major military attacks (2008-2009, 2012, 2014, 2021) caused a staggering human and material loss (Annex). Very basic human rights, such as right to life, freedom and safety are denied to the Gaza population. The human toll and the destruction of livelihood, civilian infrastructure such as power plants, water and sanitation facilities, housings and business affect every aspect of the daily life of the whole population, leading to a collapse of essential services such as health care and education, of the living standard and of the environment. The combined impact of unprecedentedly lengthy period of blockade, aggravated by cyclical military offensives on the economic, social and environmental aspect, has been catastrophic. This disaster has been documented in numerous reports by the UN and NGOs. Already in 2015, the UN warned that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020 2.

All these consequences were not unexpected to the Israeli government, but openly sought for as a systematic and deliberate policy to maintain political and territorial fragmentation of Palestine3, and to provoke the collapse of Gaza as a part of Israel’s strategy including “demographic engineering” 4.

The May 2021 assault was particularly devastating, as it hit Gaza crippling under the shadow of COVID-19 pandemic and still suffering from previous round of traumas. Hospitals were already strained in a middle of a chronic crisis with shortage of medicines, equipment, resources, and training. Numerous reports emphasize the cumulative effects of prolonged traumas particularly inflicted upon children that constitute 50% of Gaza’s population. Aid agencies including the World Bank issued unprecedented statements, emphasizing the need for systematic policy efforts5, which reflect their acknowledgement for an urgent need for a new political approach.

War crimes and crimes against humanity

The blockade and indiscriminate military attacks on Gaza constitute a collective punishment, forbidden by international law (1977 Additional Protocol II), and a war crime under the 1949 Geneva convention. It is an integral part of the Israeli policy to perpetuate ethnic dominance, defined as crime of Apartheid and crime of persecution, which both fall under category of crimes against humanity and are documented in recent reports of human rights organizations 6, 7.

During the four military operations, hospitals, schools, medics and journalists were also targeted, which constitute war crimes. In addition to these major offensives, unarmed protesters demanding the end of blockade from March 2018 to 2019 were met with brutal military repression again resulting in high mortality and injuries, again including children, women, elders, and clearly labeled medics and press 8. These war crime allegations are described in volumes of reports including those by the UN 9. Currently the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigates numerous allegations10. That all is to be added to the disregard by Israel of its obligation as the occupying power to guarantee the safety of people under occupation.

Israel tries to justify its policy citing “security concern”. However, depriving 2 million civilian population of their basic human rights, destroying public infrastructures and private properties and sources of livelihood, shooting civilians, farmers and fishermen have nothing to do with security, but are clearly meant as punitive measures. Their narrative of “self-defense” is not backed by legal standard. The international human rights norms prohibit the use of lethal force except in situations when it is necessary to prevent an imminent threat of death or serious injury11. Indiscriminate aerial attacks on residential area, intentional targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, killing during popular protests unarmed protesters, even disabled persons, clearly marked medics and journalists at work, cannot be justified as “self-defense”.

There is no justification to those acts of war crime and crimes against humanity committed by Israel against the Palestinian people in Gaza. All these are clear violations of international law, while total impunity has been enjoyed by the government of Israel and by those directly responsible in perpetuating the injustice. This status quo of the blockade cannot remain crystallized after 15 years and is incompatible with the prospect of right-based solution.

An urgent need for a change of perspective from the international community

The alarming conditions, finally acknowledged as not repairable under the blockade, need a change in perspective from the “support for emergency” to an end to the chronic man-made disaster. Current vicious circle of destruction by Israel and emergency reconstruction by international donors has proven to be futile under the exacerbating blockade and amounts to a continuing denial of freedom and self-determination of the population.

Although needed, emergency relief alone cannot grant long term viability and reconstruction. Worse, it makes the international donors as an unwilling partner in crime by contributing to the perpetuation of this vicious cycle by paying the repair to be destroyed again. UN institutions, rapporteurs and numerous NGOs have expressed the need for “tackling the root cause”, identified in the blockade and relentless persecution and called for “serious political effort” 12, 13

The intolerable suffering inflicted upon Palestinians trapped captive in Gaza has reached its breaking point. The matter of urgency is paramount and justifies no further delay in taking political decisions. The Israeli rhetoric of blaming “the terrorists” does not conveniently wipe out these war crime allegations.

Time has passed for the international community to blindly accept the deceptive excuse of “Security of Israel” that lacks legal basis according to numerous documentation11. Security of Israel can only be achieved when the security of Palestinians is also guaranteed. This means the end to injustice and repression. 15 years of failure on Gaza (or 54 years regarding the OPT) compels international community to adopt a radical paradigm shift guided by principles of international law. This is the path also suggested by the UN expert group14.

Our demands and recommendations to EU and member states

We demand the EU and its member states to uphold their moral and legal obligations to work towards the immediate and unconditional lifting of the blockade guided by the principles of international law, and therefore:

  1. Acknowledge a paradigm shift regarding the blockade of Gaza: the situation of the Palestinian people in Gaza is so catastrophic that no condition can be accepted from the occupying power, Israel, to lift the blockade. It is necessary to recall that the blockade has brought no security, neither for Israel, nor for the Palestinians.

  2. Demand to the government of Israel, as the occupying power, an immediate and unconditional lifting of the blockade.

    1. Unrestricted passage of people and goods between Gaza and West Bank and the rest of the world,

    2. Removal of the buffer-zone and restriction on fishing zones.

  3. Set these demands as conditions in all agreements in the field of political, diplomatic, cultural and economic relation with Israel. Prepare a mandatory time frame for a complete relief of the blockade with verifiable intermediate steps; adopt the principle of sanctions if the timeframe is not respected.

  4. Call the Egyptian authorities to stop the limiting measures to circulation of persons and goods, agree on compulsory steps on Egypt’s side.

  5. Establish discussion channels of direct interlocution with all the Palestinian counterparts to facilitate the furthering of the process.

  6. Support the International Criminal court and the other investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity, including those by the UN rapporteurs and by the special commission of UNHRC.

References:

  1. https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/a75d310_en_1.pdf

  2. https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/tdb62d3_en.pdf

  3. https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Netanyahu-Money-to-Hamas-part-of-strategy-to-keep-Palestinians-divided-583082

  4. https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/sharon-maintains-control-in-face-of-demographic-shift-1.482484

  5. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/westbankandgaza/publication/the-gaza-2021-rapid-damage-and-needs-assessment-june-2021

  6. https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution

  7. https://www.btselem.org/publications/fulltext/202101_this_is_apartheid

  8. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwj1j8fn-urzAhXkCmMBHSE8CV4QFnoECAIQAQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.unrwa.org%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fcontent%2Fresources%2Fgaza_gmr_one_year_on_report_eng_final.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1Elmxwvz5mbJodpGS4keA9

  9. https://www.un.org/unispal/document/two-years-on-people-injured-and-traumatized-during-the-great-march-of-return-are-still-struggling/

  10. https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/item.aspx?name=210303-prosecutor-statement-investigation-palestine

  11. https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/03/israel-gaza-killings-unlawful-calculated

  12. https://unsco.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/security_council_briefing_-_30_august_2021_0.pdf

  13. https://www.amnesty.org/en/petition/end-the-violence-in-occupied-palestinian-territories/

  14. https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27102&LangID=E

    Annex

    Summary of the military attacks on Gaza

     

    December 2008-January 2009

    November 2012

    July -August 2014

    May 2021*

    The Duration (days)

    22

    8

    55

    12

    Palestinians killed

    1,409

    167

    2,251

    254

    Unarmed Palestinian civilians killed

    1,172

    87

    1,462

    at least 129

    Palestinian children killed

    348

    32

    551

    66

    Palestinians injured

    5,380

    5,000

    11,231

    2.212 (610 children, 398 women)

    Israeli soldiers killed

    10

    Na

    67

    na

    Israeli civilians killed

    3

    Na

    6

    12 (2 children)

    Houses damaged/destroyed in Gaza

    14,000

    2,174

    18,000

    2.000/15.000

    Displaced persons

    28,000

    10,000

    500,000

    107,000

    Ppeople without access to municipal water

    Na

    Na

    450,000

    800,000

    *https://www.ochaopt.org/content/gaza-strip-escalation-hostilities-10-21-may-202

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