One year ago, on 12 September 2005, Israel completed its unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip under the ‘Disengagement Plan’. In the year that followed, the Gaza Strip endured military incursions, shelling, attacks on infrastructure, targeted assassinations, sonic booms, aerial surveillance, border closures, and fishing restrictions. Also Israel retains control of the civil population registry. The unilateral withdrawal aimed to establish that the Gaza Strip was no longer occupied, thereby relieving Israel of its duties as the Occupying Power. In reality, Israel has retained effective control of the Gaza Strip and consequently has never ceased its occupation.
Israel continues to control Gaza’s land borders, air space and territorial sea. It closes at will the border crossings regulating the entry and exit of people, goods and services. In fact, external freedom of movement has worsened since the withdrawal. In the year since 12 September 2005, Karni Crossing, used for the transit of goods, was closed completely for a total of 175 days and partially for a further 169 days. Since April 2006, there have been severe humanitarian shortages in the Gaza Strip, including essential medicines and food stuffs. The situation has been aggravated by restrictions on the entry of humanitarian supplies and access for humanitarian workers. These measures violate Israel’s obligation to ensure the right to freedom of movement to, and to provide for the well-being of, the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
Since the unilateral withdrawal, Israel has actually increased its shelling and its targeted assassinations of wanted Palestinians within the Gaza Strip, especially since the beginning of large scale military incursions (Operation ‘Summer Rains’) on 28 June 2006. These attacks have killed 362 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians, including women and children. The attacks have also targeted private houses, educational institutions, charitable associations, government ministries, and infrastructure such as bridges and roads, as well as Gaza’s main power plant, resulting in severely restricted power supply. By these actions, Israel has repeatedly failed to uphold its duty to distinguish between combatants and civilians, as well as between military objectives and civilian objects.
On 9 July 2006, Israeli online newspaper Arutz Sheva reported that Israeli General Yoav Galant, Southern District Commander, described the purpose of Operation ‘Summer Rains’ as follows:
The IDF is ready for a long operation involving raids. Within a month or two, the Palestinians will count hundreds of dead terrorists, damaged infrastructures and destroyed offices. When they make the overall calculation, I assume that they will think twice before their next attack or abduction attempt.The stated intention is to punish all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip for an armed raid and rocket attacks against Israel carried out by a small number of individuals. Those actions cannot justify Israeli military operations such as indiscriminate shelling and sonic booms by low-flying military planes, which affect the Palestinian population as a whole. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits collective punishment of protected persons for an offence they have not personally committed. By undertaking such measures, Israel is in clear breach of this provision.
The events of the past year demonstrate that Israel’s occupation remains, and consequently its obligations as the Occupying Power in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, there have been numerous breaches of these obligations, and Operation ‘Summer Rains’ has done much to worsen the situation. Ending occupation and respecting international law are fundamental prerequisites for a durable solution to the conflict. On this day, one year after the conclusion of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Al-Haq calls on the High Contracting Parties to the four Geneva Conventions to recognise Israel’s continued occupation of, and responsibility for, the Gaza Strip, and to uphold their obligation under common Article 1 to ensure Israel’s respect for the four Geneva Conventions.