Gisha: Open Gaza’s Crossings for Civilian Access

· Hundreds of thousands of civilians are in the line of fire, unable to protect themselves.

· Israel must refrain from targeting civilian areas and open Gaza’s crossings.

Sun., December 28, 2008 – Gisha expresses grave concern over the death and destruction in the Gaza Strip, as a result of Israeli airstrikes that began yesterday. Gisha calls on Israel to take measures to ensure the safety of Palestinian residents of Gaza: to refrain from deliberate or disproportionate harm to civilians, to open Gaza’s crossings for vital goods, and to allow civilians to escape the fighting if necessary, including by traveling to the West Bank.

The airstrikes are hitting populated areas throughout Gaza, placing hundreds of thousands of civilians in the line of fire, with no ability to leave. Many received phone calls from the Israeli military warning them to leave their homes – but they have nowhere to go.

Salha Khalil, 27, mother of four, resident of the northern Gaza Strip, has been trying for the past 1.5 years to reunite with her husband in the West Bank, but Israel has refused to allow to let her travel through Gaza’s sealed crossings:

"When I heard the sounds of the bombing, I sat with my children in the middle of the house, trying to find cover. The children didn’t stop crying with fear, and I was terrified for my oldest son, aged 8, who was in school at the time. I have no way to protect my children – there is no electricity, no fuel, no medicine … I have nowhere to go."
Under the international law of combat, all sides – Israel, Hamas, and other armed groups – must refrain from attacks that cause deliberate or disproportionate harm to civilians, whether in Gaza or southern Israel. Hamas must stop rocket attacks aimed at civilian targets in Israel. Israel must refrain from attacks expected to cause deliberate or disproportionate harm to civilians in densely populated Gaza. In addition, Israel’s continued occupation of Gaza, including control over the crossings into and out of the Strip, imposes an obligation actively to protect the welfare of the civilian population. The year and a half long closure of Gaza, which became nearly hermetic last month, has weakened Gaza’s infrastructure, including health, water, electricity, sewage, and transportation systems, and left them ill-equipped to cope with the tremendous damage inflicted by airstrikes that have killed nearly 300 people. The minimal passage of goods permitted today is insufficient to provide for Gaza’s needs – and civilians remain trapped, including those seeking medical care or to flee the fighting.