Following on from weeks of intensive behind the scenes lobbying and, most recently a public media campaign, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has played an integral role in the limitation of an enhanced X-Ray machine from the Rafah international crossing point.
Since February 18, Palestinian civilians leaving Gaza through the Rafah international crossing point have been forced to submit themselves to a humiliating enhanced X-Ray process which allows the Israeli occupation force to photograph civilians completely naked. However, as of yesterday, Israel began to restrict use of the machine to certain individuals – a clear admission of the dangerous health and privacy issues regarding its use.
PCHR is concerned that this machine: (1) Constitutes a form of collective punishment, which is specifically prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention – because all civilians were forced to travel through the machine; (2) constitutes a violation of the right to privacy – because it photographs Palestinian civilians completely naked; and (3) constitutes a violation of the right to health because of the ionisation of civilians.
Having received information from international privacy lawyers and civil liberties campaigners, including Liberty (UK), PCHR was the first organisation to bring to the attention of Palestinian civilians the actual purpose of this machine and to take action and to expose the IOF for an activity which clearly forms part of an ongoing policy of collective punishment applied to all Palestinian civilians leaving the Gaza Strip — even “security” logic dictates that the machine might be used for those entering the Gaza Strip.
Although it remains unclear exactly which type of machine is being used against civilians by the IOF the machine is part of a family of machines which have been developed at research labs such as Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in the USA and others in the UK. PNNL describe their machine as:
“Looking much like a conventional metal detector, the system projects ultrahigh frequency… radio waves onto the front and back of the person being screened. These waves penetrate clothing and bounce off the person and the items he or she may be carrying.”
Civilians, who are regularly subjected to days of costly humiliation at the Rafah crossing point, were recently forced to pass through the machine which civil liberties campaigners, in the USA and the UK, have condemned as being a “voyeurs charter”.
The majority of these machines are considered to have the same harmful effects as X-Ray machines. Consequently, PCHR has been particularly concerned at the effect the machines have had on pregnant women and people with heart conditions.
Many pregnant women are forced to leave to receive expert medical care not available to them inside the Gaza Strip because of complications in their pregnancy. The health risks of subjecting pregnant women to an intensive ionisation process are well documented and PCHR is concerned that these women may have already suffered detrimental effects on their health. PCHR’s Legal Unit is already preparing the way for any such cases to be taken to the Israeli courts seeking appropriate compensation.
The decision to remove the machines can be basically credited to an intensive lobbying and advocacy process by Palestinian civil society, and the media, towards the Palestinian Authority and international community requesting that they engage directly with the Israelis on this and other issues relating to the terminal.
However PCHR is concerned that the restrictions on use of this machine do not amount to the ending of harassment by the IOF against Palestinian civilians at the Rafah international crossing. Even now civilians will continue to be subjected to humiliating security checks, delays and abuse simply to pass in and out of the Gaza Strip.
Further concern has been raised at the fact that the IOF appear to be using this machine in the newly constructed tunnels complex at the Erez Checkpoint into Israel. Palestinian workers are now being forced to undergo an even more extensive policy of humiliation and duress in order to pass through for the possibility of working in Israel.
At the same time international humanitarian staff walking through Erez have been shielded from this sight as a result of the completion of a new secondary tunnel at the Erez Checkpoint. This is part of a policy of hiding the truth of what is happening to Palestinian civilians from the international community. This policy also includes heavy restrictions on international organisations trying to operate in the OPT as well as extensively documented attacks against the media. Such attacks are designed to persecute the media and to deter them from covering the human rights’ violations of the IOF.