Israel reopened Gaza’s sole commercial crossing on Wednesday, one month after shutting it down in an act of collective punishment inflicting millions of dollars of additional economic damage on the besieged territory’s long-suffering population.
Meanwhile a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, mediated by Egypt and the United Nations, was approved by the Israeli government.
Hamas had been observing a unilateral ceasefire after Israel bombed more than 150 sites across Gaza last Wednesday and Thursday, killing a pregnant woman, her toddler daughter and a Palestinian fighter, as well as destroying a prominent cultural center.
Three Palestinians in Gaza were fatally wounded by Israel on Friday.
Details of the reported agreement are scant but the Israeli daily Haaretz states that they are based on the ceasefire that ended Israel’s brutal 51-day assault on Gaza in 2014.
Negotiating basic rights and obligations
Those principles include lifting Israel’s restrictions on Gaza’s commercial crossing, increasing the Gaza fishing area that Israel enforces with live fire, and the rebuilding of infrastructure in the territory.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has previously affirmed that Israel’s blockade on Gaza – imposed after Hamas won legislative elections and began administering the internal affairs of the territory in 2007 – “constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”
Israel’s limitations on fishing off of Gaza’s coast violates the terms agreed to in the Oslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s.
The targeting of civilian objects such as homes and water and sanitation infrastructure has “become a feature of Israel’s military engagement in the Gaza Strip,” according to Al Mezan, a human rights group based in the territory.
The deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure including water wells destroyed by Israel last week is “a serious violation of international humanitarian law and could amount to a war crime,” Al Mezan states.
Israel’s obligations under international law, and the basic needs of Gaza’s population, are being treated as negotiable.
Negotiation of the very survival of Palestinians in Gaza – where hospitals have faced shutdowns for lack of fuel and the unemployment rate has soared above 50 percent – shows the fundamental inequality between the occupier and the occupied.
More than 180 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of the year, at least 125 of them during the Great March of Return protests beginning 30 March.
There has been a single Israeli fatality related to Gaza during that period, a soldier killed by sniper fire last month – the first Israeli death due to fire from Gaza since the 2014 ceasefire.
Israel banned the movement of goods including UN-funded emergency fuel at Gaza’s commercial crossing last month after flaming kites and balloons launched from Gaza caused hundreds of fires in the south of the country.
Israeli leaders have admitted that the tightened restrictions were a form of collective punishment on Gaza’s two million residents intended to put pressure on Hamas.
Collective punishment is a violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The closure of Gaza’s commercial crossing has reportedly caused $100 million in damage to its economy.
That is on top of the “unprecedented humanitarian crisis” resulting from more than 11 years of Israeli blockade and the bitter impasse between the Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank, as stated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
In July, Palestinians in Gaza endured the searing summer heat with only five hours of electricity per day on average.
That same month there was only 10 days worth of emergency fuel available in the territory, precipitously down from 150 days in March.
Some 40 percent of the population borrowed money from friends and family to pay for food.
Of the more than 2,300 applications made by Palestinians in Gaza to receive medical treatment outside the territory in July, Israel rejected 40 percent of them.
More than 20 Palestinians died of injuries caused by Israeli occupation forces, and more than 1,850 were injured.
About half of essential drugs were at zero stock level in July, meaning there was less than a month’s supply remaining.
Chemotherapy drugs at zero stock
Gaza’s health ministry announced on Sunday that chemotherapy would no longer be available due lack of supplies from the Palestinian Authority.
“The growing shortage of medicines in general, and of medicines required by cancer patients in particular, due to Palestinian Authority measures compounds the suffering of patients and their families who are attempting to navigate an already crippled healthcare system,” Al Mezan stated Tuesday.
“The Israeli authorities’ restrictions on the entry of medical supplies and equipment into Gaza within the context of closure, and on doctors traveling outside Gaza to pursue further medical training and specialization, means that Gaza’s hospitals are severely hindered in providing care,” Al Mezan added.
The human rights group noted that the irregular supplies of medicines sent to Gaza by the PA from the West Bank “serves to compound the issue by forcing more cancer patients to be referred outside of Gaza for treatment.” Many then face Israel’s rejection and such referrals drive up costs.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas “lashed out at the United States over its proposals to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza,” the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Abbas called US officials “liars.”
Egypt reportedly seeks the involvement of the PA in long-term truce talks indirectly held between Hamas and Israel, seemingly with the belief that the PA would sabotage any such agreement if it is not involved.
But on Wednesday PA leader Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his position that Hamas must hand over full control over Gaza to the West Bank government.
Abbas has previously demonstrated that, in tandem with Israel, he is prepared to maintain sanctions on Gaza even at the expense of Palestinian lives.