Military Letter Reveals Dangerous Incoherence in Gaza Punishment Policy

As Israel imposes a punishing closure on civilians in Gaza for a 15th day, Military Letter Reveals Dangerous Incoherence in Gaza Punishment Policy

· Two weeks of closing Gaza’s crossings has even disrupted the provision of bread and water and caused electricity blackouts of up to 16 hours per day.

· Israeli military claims, in response to Gisha protest, that fuel is being withheld due to “disruptions” of attempts to transfer fuel and goods; but to the media, generals are explicitly declaring that the closure is a response to violations of the ceasefire – meaning that innocent civilians are being punished for the actions of militants.

· Gisha: Deliberate deprival of fuel and basic goods violates international law, commitments made to Israel’s High Court – and endangers 1.5 million civilians.

Wed., November 19, 2008 – Israel continued to block the transfer of fuel and goods to the Gaza Strip for a 15th day today, causing disruption in the provision of goods as basic as bread and water. For the 6th day in a row, electricity blackouts that last between 4 and 16 hours are disrupting the basic needs of 1.5 millions residents of the Strip. A military document sent to Gisha claims that the military is trying to open the crossings – even as generals openly declare that they will remain closed in response to ceasefire violations.
The total closure has created serious shortages in a wide range of basic commodities, some of which are detailed below:

Þ Electricity: The continued closure of the crossings, including the Nahal Oz terminal, the only point of entry for regular transfer of fuel and gas to the Gaza Strip, including industrial diesel needed for electricity production at Gaza’s power plant, has caused power outages of 8 to 16 hours per day in the central and northern area of the Strip, and 4 to 8 hours per day in the southern areas.

Þ Water: According to Gaza’s water utility (CMWU), 100 of Gaza’s 150 water wells are functioning at partial capacity, and 8 have stopped functioning completely due to the lack of electricity. An additional 10 wells are not operating due to lack of spare parts. Water supply for households in the middle area of the Gaza Strip (including Gaza City and its surroundings) has become scarce: 30% of households receive running water for an average of 24 hours every 3 days, 40% get water for 24 hours every four days, and the remaining 30% get water for an average of 24 hours every five days.

Þ Cooking Gas: Households in Gaza report a serious shortage in cooking gas, which can only be regularly transferred through Nahal Oz terminal and which has been completely blocked from entering for two weeks. Many families have begun cooking outside on fire stoves on rooftops, balconies, and in front yards. Shifa Hospital’s laundry facilities and kitchen need cooking gas for regular operation; due to the shortage, these facilities are in danger of ceasing operations in the coming days.

Þ Bread: Nearly half of Gaza’s pita bread bakeries have closed due to the lack of cooking gas and because of long electricity blackouts, resulting in long lines and bread rationing. The wheat flour reserves in the Strip are expected to be exhausted by Saturday, unless the transfer of wheat through the crossings is resumed.
A mother of 5 living in Gaza City told Gisha’s field researcher yesterday that: “Over the past few days we have only had electricity between midnight and 8am. It’s very hard even to get candles in the shops, and the children are doing their homework next to a fire we place on the roof or on the balcony. When the children go to sleep it’s totally dark, and they are frightened and crying. At night they wet their beds, something that didn’t happen before. We decided to sleep together in the same room – me, my husband and the children – in order to calm the children and conserve warmth. I’m tired of this life, I can’t continue like this”.

In a letter to Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, a legal adviser to the Defense Ministry claimed that the reason for blocking the passage of fuel and goods was that rocket fire by militants in the Gaza Strip “endangered the supply of goods, including fuel” – this despite clear public declarations by senior military officials that the closure of Gaza’s crossings is a reaction to violations of the ceasefire – not a response to concrete threats on Gaza’s crossings. In its letter, Gisha demanded that the military live up to the dictates of international law, which prohibits act of collective punishment – and avoid deliberately depriving civilians of vitally needed basic supplies.

The closure of the crossings into the Gaza Strip is not undertaken to prevent a concrete threat against a specific crossing but is done with the illegal intention of inflicting pressure on the civilian population in an attempt to affect the behavior of militants and political elements. The closure of the crossings is therefore in violation of the absolute prohibition in International Law against collective punishment”, wrote Gisha Attorney Yadin Elam in response to the military’s letter. “We demand the immediate reversal of all restrictions on the transfer of fuel, cooking gas and humanitarian products into the Gaza Strip”.

Brief Background:

The crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip are the only crossings through which Gaza residents are permitted to import and export goods. Israel does not permit goods to enter Gaza via air or sea, and goods are not permitted to enter via the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

At least since June 2007, and reinforced by the Israeli Security Cabinet decision of September 19th 2007, the Israeli army has been implementing a policy of deliberate cuts in fuel and transfer of goods into the Strip, causing serious shortages in food and other goods, transport difficulties and routine 4-6 hour daily electricity cuts. These problems are compounded with each closure of the crossings.

On November 5, 2008, following Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip and ensuing rocket fire on civilian targets in southern Israel, Israel hermetically sealed the crossings. Apart from two days in which it allowed the transfer of some industrial diesel, and the entrance of 30 trucks carrying humanitarian goods, including for UNRWA – Gaza has been totally cut off in the last 15 days even from the limited amounts fuel or goods it was permitted to import in the past. Deprived of the European Union-donated industrial diesel needed to operate Gaza’s power plant, the plant has been completely shut down since last Thursday. Because 30% of Gaza’s electricity supply comes from Gaza’s power plant, massive power outages have ensued.