Economic siege of Gaza leading to humanitarian crisis

CRIPPLING GAZA: With the economic seige in place on the Gaza Strip, Israel is still carrying out military strikes. Here family members mourn after seven Palestinians were killed in two separate air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, 1 July 2007. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

PCHR is gravely concerned for the tightened siege imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) through the closure of all border crossings, including the Rafah International Crossing Point on the Egyptian border. PCHR warns of the consequences of the policy of collective punishment practiced against the Palestinian civilian population. PCHR calls upon all states, particularly the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, United Nations agencies and all international humanitarian organizations to immediately take steps to pressurize IOF to allow the normal flow of basic supplies, including foodstuffs and medical supplies, into the Gaza Strip to avoid an imminent crisis that would threaten 1.5 million Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip, 73 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

PCHR has closely observed the deteriorating economic and social conditions resulting from the total siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and threats to maintain it for a long period. IOF have effectively denied the free passage of foodstuffs, medical supplies and basic needs into the Gaza Strip. According to information available to PCHR, the humanitarian conditions had been already disastrous before tightening the siege by IOF following Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip on 15 June 2007. IOF have closed all border crossings that had been partially operated and have denied the free passage of fuels, foodstuffs and medicines. In addition, they have also prohibited the travel of Palestinian civilians out of the Gaza Strip, including patients who need medical treatment abroad. The unprecedented stranglehold of the Gaza Strip has doubled the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population leading to a disastrous situation. Furthermore, the health sector has started to suffer from a crisis due to the shortages of medical supplies necessary for the operation of hospitals and medical centers in the Gaza Strip with the closure of all border crossings between the Gaza Strip and both Israel and Egypt.

IOF have completely closed Rafah International Crossing Point on the Egyptian border since 15 June 2007. The crossing point was partially operated on Monday, 18 June 2007, to allow 160 Palestinian travelers who were held at al-‘Areesh Airport for the lack of visas, to travel back to the Gaza Strip. At least 6,000 Palestinians have been blocked at the Egyptian side of the crossing point waiting to be allowed to travel back to the Gaza Strip. Some of these Palestinians had traveled abroad through the border crossing to receive medical treatment, study, work or visit relatives. Others include families that had arrived in Egypt on their way to the Gaza Strip to spend their summer vacations with relatives, and dozens of patients who had underwent surgeries and need special medical care that is lacked at the crossing point, so they have been forced to stay in nearby Egyptian towns. Many of these Palestinians have run out of money. Thousands of Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip, including at least 400 patients who need advanced medical treatment, have not been able to travel abroad.

IOF have closed Karni commercial crossing since 15 June 2007. Before this latest closure, restrictions on the movement of goods have been relatively eased. IOF have denied the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip. If IOF continue to close the crossing, the Gaza Strip will soon suffer from a humanitarian crisis as the storages of basic foodstuffs will run out soon. Such crisis will severely impact at least 73 percent of the population who live below the poverty line. Due to the shortage of wheat, three mills have stopped operation and the others would soon stop if their storages of wheat ran out. It is worth noting that the Gaza Strip needs at least 600 tons of wheat daily.

Furthermore, IOF have closed Sofa crossing, which is designed for the entry of construction raw materials, since 15 June 2007. The crossing was partially operated on 25 and 26 June 2007 to allow the entry of 84 trucks loaded with goods for local traders, and 290 tons of flour for World Food Program (WFP). As a result of the closure of the crossing, most construction projects have been halted.

Like other border crossings, IOF have closed Kerem Shalom since 15 June 2007. The crossing was partially operated from 19 to 24 June 2007 to allow the entry of two containers of medicines for the ICRC and Ministry of Health; 150 tons of rice, 130 tons of oil and 260 tons of foodstuffs for WFP; 600 tons of food aid provided by Jordan; 10 containers of medicines provided by USAID; and 14 container of dairy products, four containers of frozen meat; and 70 tons and four containers of animal feeds for local traders.

IOF have completely closed Erez crossing since 15 June 2007. They have prevented workers of international and local organizations, patients and approximately 300 traders, who had been permitted to travel through the crossing before the closure, from passing through the crossing. IOF have also cancelled the family visitation program of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which is coordinated with the ICRC. On 19 June 2007, IOF started to allow a limited number of patients to travel to Israeli hospitals through the crossing. Since that time, IOF have allowed 78 patients to travel through the crossing following coordination through the ICRC.

IOF closed Nahal Oz crossing, which is designed for the entry of fuels into the Gaza Strip. The crossing was reopened on the following day, and the daily needs of fuels for the Gaza Strip are entered on a daily basis without any possibility of storing reserves. The Gaza Strip consumes 200 tons of domestic gas, two million liters of benzene and eight million liters of gasoline daily.

In light of the continued deterioration of humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, PCHR calls upon the international community:

1. To reopen Rafah International Communication to keep links between the Gaza Strip and the outside world, and allow the freedom of movement of its civilian population;

2. To pressurize Israeli occupation authorities to lift the economic siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, open commercial crossing to allow the flow of goods, and abstain from practicing the policy of collective punishment which deprives the civilian population of enjoying their economic and social rights;

3. To immediately intervene to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law in order to stop the deterioration of living conditions of the Palestinian civilians population in the Gaza Strip;

4. Not to punish the population of the Gaza Strip through halting financial aids; rather increase assistance to international humanitarian organizations, especially UNRWA, and call them for increasing their relief, educational and health assistance and expanding the scope of humanitarian services;

5. To remind the State of Israel, the occupying power of the Gaza Strip, of its legal obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 towards the Palestinian civilian population; Article 55 of the Convention 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;” and

6. Particularly on the High Contracting Partied to fulfill their obligations under article one of the Convention to ensure the application of the Convention by IOF to ensure protection for Palestinian civilians.

Related Links

  • BY TOPIC: Key Events: Israel closes Rafah crossing (9 June -)
  • BY TOPIC: Cutting Aid to Palestine (30 March 2006)
  • Palestinian Centre for Human Rights