The Israeli siege has forced mills and bakeries in the Gaza Strip to close. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) calls upon the international community, particularly the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, United Nations agencies and all international humanitarian organizations, to immediately intervene and exert pressure on Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) to reopen border crossings of the Gaza Strip, whose closure has caused further deterioration to living conditions of approximately 1.5 million Palestinians, who have suffered from shortages in foods, medicines and other basic needs, including electricity and fuel supplies.
According to PCHR’s field observation of humanitarian conditions, on Monday, 17 November 2008, IOF allowed the entry of 31 containers of foods and medicines into the Gaza Strip through Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing, southeast of Rafah, which has been closed together with other border crossings of the Gaza Strip for two weeks. The containers were directed to UNRWA, World Food Programme, the ICRC and a number of traders of dairy and frozen products. These amounts do not meet the minimum daily needs of the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip, and they constitute less than 10 percent of the amounts allowed into the Gaza Strip before tightening the siege imposed on by IOF since June 2007. It is worth noting that IOF further tightened the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip on 5 November 2008. They closed all border crossings and cut off food, medical and fuel supplies and other basic needs. Since that date, IOF have allowed the entry of only 427,410 liters of energy fuel, which can hardly operate the Gaza power plant for one day. As a consequence, the plant has been completely stopped and at least 30 percent of the population of the Gaza Strip have lacked electricity.
Humanitarian conditions have continued to deteriorate due to the acute shortages in food and medical supplies needed by approximately 1.5 million Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip.
Three out of five mills operating in the Gaza Strip have stopped operation, and the remaining two are expected to join them by tomorrow due to the lack of wheat. There is also a shortage in drinking water, especially in high buildings due to repeated cutting of electricity.
In a grave development, several bakeries have stopped working due to the lack of fuel, cooking gas, electricity and flour. Developments at this level can be summed up in the following:
- There are 72 bakeries in the Gaza Strip: 47 that produce Syrian bread; 10 that produce Iraqi bread, and 15 that produce other kinds of bread and pastries. 29 bakeries that produce Syrian bread have completely stopped operation, while eight bakeries have been working in a lower capacity.
- Nineteen bakeries of Syrian bread, which is the most consumable kind of bread in the Gaza Strip, use cooking gas, eight others use electrical power, and the remaining four others use diesel.
- Seventeen bakeries that depend on cooking gas have stopped working due to the lack of cooking gas and eight bakeries that depend on electrical power have been working partially due to the repeated cutting of electricity.
- The population of Gaza City (approximately 570,000 people) depend on the bread produced by four bakeries that depend on diesel for operation.
- Ten out of 15 bakeries that depend on cooking gas for operation in the central and southern Gaza Strip have completely stopped operation, and the remaining five are expected to join them by Saturday, 22 November 2008, if the shortage in cooking gas continues.
- The last amount of cooking gas provided to bakeries in the Gaza Strip on 4 November 2008 was only 40 tons, which can hardly allow them to operate for one week.
Health conditions: Lives of patients are endangered
Health facilities have been facing a serious crisis due to the shortage in electrical and fuel supplies, which has in effect limited their ability to provide medical services to patients. Additionally, at least 45 kinds of medicines have been lacking in the Gaza Strip. Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip is a clear example of the impacts of shortages in electricity and fuel supplies on medical services provided to patients. According to sources of the hospital, several electricity generators need maintenance, which cannot be performed due to the lack of spare parts, whose entry has been banned by IOF. According to those sources:
- The main electricity generator, which generates 900 kilovolt amperes needs maintenance and IOF refuse to allow the entry of spare parts for it, although the ICRC intervened with IOF to allow the main keypad which is required for its maintenance.
- Prince Nayef Center for Carcinoma and the Magnetic resonance imaging machine have been stopped due to the lack of high voltage electricity.
- The hospital suffers from a shortage in cooking gas which is used in disinfection and in preparing food for patients.
- There are serious concerns that some vital medical equipments in hospital in the Gaza Strip, including artificial breathing sets in intensive care units, may stop working. Pasteurization machines may also stop working due to the lack of electricity and fuel.
IOF have continued to further tighten the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip in spite of the Egyptian-brokered lull between Israel and Palestinian resistance groups, which entered into force on 19 June 2008. They have continued to close border crossing of the Gaza Strip for long periods, and have allowed limited commodities into the Gaza Strip, which has caused further deterioration to humanitarian conditions.
PCHR calls upon the international community, particularly the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949:
- To exert pressure on IOF to force them to reopen all border crossing of the Gaza Strip in order to allow the Palestinian civilian population to live normal lives, to be able to communicate with other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and with the outside world and to enjoy their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
- To immediately intervene to ensure the opening of Rafah International Crossing Point on the Egyptian border to allow at least 5,700 Palestinians, who urgently need to travel abroad, including patients, students and humanitarian cases, and to allow hundreds of other who have been stuck in Egypt to travel back to the Gaza Strip.
- To immediately intervene to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law in order to stop the serious deterioration in living conditions in the Gaza Strip.
- To force IOF to stop using collective punishment measures against the Palestinian civilian population, including the closure of border crossings, which violate their economic and social rights.
- To remind Israel, of its obligations under the Convention and other international human rights instruments, particularly obligation under common article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states: ” To the fullest extent of the means available to it the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate. The Occupying Power may not requisition foodstuffs, articles or medical supplies available in the occupied territory, except for use by the occupation forces and administration personnel, and then only if the requirements of the civilian population have been taken into account.” PCHR calls upon the High Contracting Parties to fulfill their obligation under article 1 of the Convention to respect and ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstance and provide protection to Palestinian civilians.