8 July 2006
Al Mezan urges for pressure on Israel to halt its disproportionate military action in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip
Due to the further severely deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip since June 25th, 2006 owing to disproportionate military attacks by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, Al Mezan is highly concerned about the wellbeing of the Palestinian population living in Gaza. Al Mezan is launching this urgent appeal to urge international intervention to place pressure on the Government of Israel to halt its damaging military actions in the Gaza Strip, and lift the imposed siege, in order to avert a deepening humanitarian crisis.
The new crisis started on June 25th following the capture of an Israeli soldier in a military operation against an Israeli military post on Gaza border. Palestinian armed groups said their action came after a series of Israeli extra-judicial executions of leaders as well as the killing of numerous Palestinian civilians in Israeli raids over the previous few weeks. They called for a prisoner swap, which has been rejected by Israel, which sent troops and heavy arms into Gaza.
During the ten difficult months since the Israeli Disengagement plan was carried out in September 2005, the situation in Gaza has never been worse than at this time. Appearing to use the captivity of the Israeli soldier as a pretext for its military action, the IOF have reoccupied major parts of the Gaza Strip, forced people from their homes and destroyed civilian and public property including essential infrastructure, state buildings and educational institutes. The Gaza Strip has been hermitically sealed and trauma is being caused to large parts of the population. All this comes at a time when Palestinian Government and factions have agreed to pursue a just two-state solution and restrict their resistance acts in the OPT to avoid civilian targets.
The tight siege that was imposed on the Gaza Strip has now worsened, and the closure of all crossing points has left many people stranded. There are currently close to 4,500 Palestinians waiting at Rafah to leave or enter Gaza, including over 30 patients waiting to return to their homes after receiving medical treatment abroad. There are serious shortages in Gaza of food, medical supplies and equipment and fuel, and very little humanitarian assistance is being allowed to reach the besieged communities. Al Mezan confirms that fuel reserves will be depleted in two days, which will have serious effects especially on maintenance of hospital equipment and treatment of patients. It will also bring to a halt pumping water to households and the ability of local authorities to remove solid waste and sewage. The siege also has disastrous consequences on the economic sectors in Gaza and further exacerbates the high unemployment and poverty rates among the already impoverished population. Tens of thousands of residents are now running out of water, especially those living in high buildings where residents rely on pumped water supplies; a wider shortage is expected within two days.
IOF missile strikes are ongoing and have targeted mostly civilian and state property. The destruction of civilian infrastructure has continued despite international condemnation. According to Al Mezan field investigations, ongoing missiles have caused fear and trauma, destroyed three bridges connecting parts of the Gaza Strip, roads, as well as three educational institutions and many other buildings and vital infrastructure. The shelling also destroyed the only Gaza power plant which supplies 70 percent of the population with electricity, as well as the six central generators. This has affected the general population and prevents the functioning of water and waste collection services, as well as essential medical equipment. Between 5th and 8th July, 44 Palestinians were killed through such strikes, as well as 110 people injured, including 28 children and two women.
Al Mezan stresses with concern that methods of collective punishment, strictly prohibited under international law, have increased during this period. In addition to the closures, missiles and power cuts, the IOF have reinitiated their official policy of sonic booms which has the sole effect of harming and indiscriminately traumatising the entire population, especially young children. Since the 25th June, there has been an average of 25 sonic booms reported per day. Additionally, heavy artillery shelling on north Gaza continues, with some 400 shells dropped daily.
In the night of 8 July, the IOF dropped a shell on Shejaiya neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City, killing a mother and her two children. Although the IOF denied responsibility, Al Mezan’s fieldworker and an UNRWA fieldworker happened to be in the neighbourhood at the time and witnessed the shelling. This reflects continued attempts by the IOF to avoid the obligation of conducting genuine investigations in such cases and provide impunity to its members who perpetrate such acts despite having sophisticated and precise arms at their disposal.
Finally, Al Mezan is concerned about Israel’s forcible transfer of 27 Palestinian elected legislators, including eight cabinet ministers, being detained without charge. This not only constitutes a grave breach of international law but, coupled with the attacks on governmental ministries and other entities, also prevents the Palestinian Authority from exerting any control or attempting to maintain any degree of the rule of law among its population.
According to Al Mezan, a real health and humanitarian crisis is erupting in the Gaza Strip as a result of these IOF measures, and fuel reserves will last only a few days, affecting the functioning of various health and sanitation services. Hospitals have been faced with serious shortage of medical supplies and power and had to minimise their working capacity to the least, receiving only emergency, life-saving cases. Al Mezan condemns these intensified IOF measures, which amount to grave breaches and war crimes under international humanitarian law. The targeting of indispensable and civil facilities constitutes a severe violation of Israel’s legal commitments under international humanitarian law and international human rights treaties, particularly the ICCPR, ICESRC and CRC. The Centre regrets the high numbers of Palestinians killed over the past days, and condemns the disproportionate use of force by the IOF in the Gaza Strip when attacking Palestinian resistance fighters who are in civilian areas and not directly engaged in hostilities. The numbers of fatalities reflect the destructive, disproportionate use of heavy, highly sophisticated arms, but yet without due respect to the international customary law rule of distinction between military and civilian targets, which applies at all times. Al Mezan is also concerned about the repercussions of the continued measures of collective punishment by IOF which, in the words of UNRWA chief, brought to a new low the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.
It is important that the Palestinian groups holding the Israeli soldier treat him humanely, as they claim to be doing, and to refrain from targeting Israeli civilians. These are obligations held by both State and non-State actors under international law. But it absolutely essential that Israel’s disproportionate military actions conducted as a response be curbed in order to prevent further civilian casualties. The damaging military actions and acts of collective punishment targeting the entire population are destroying not only property but also the morale of Gaza residents which may in fact exacerbate the long-run security threat to Israel. Al Mezan also would like to assert here the absolute responsibility of the State of Israel for meeting the basic needs of the civilian population under its occupation.
Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights hereby stresses that the international community, most notably the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, has legal and ethical obligations to intervene in order to put a halt to Israeli war crimes and provide protection to Palestinian civilians as well as to ensure respect to the Convention. Such an intervention is essential to prevent a real humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip should the IOF uphold the siege and continue to target civilians, civilian property and indispensable facilities. The Centre urges governments to uphold their legal and moral obligations to respect and ensure respect of international law, and pressure the Government of Israel to do the following:
Al Mezan also calls upon the international community and international human rights and development organizations to:
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com for more information.
Please contact your government and/or parliament in regards to the situation described in this Appeal. Urgent letters of appeal can also be sent to the following representatives:
European Union (Finnish EU Presidency) Prime Minister’s Office
PM. Matti Vanhanen
United Nations The Honourable Kofi Annan
United States Condoleeza Rice
Secretary of State
Urgent letters of protest to:
Israeli PM Ehud Olmert
Prime Minister of Israel
Minister of defense Amir Peretz