Gisha to Israeli ministers: Stop using civilians in Gaza as a weapon to enforce the ceasefire

• New Legal Opinion Published: Not a siege, not a blockade, not an economic sanction – closure and collective punishment 

• Punishing civilians in response to rocket fire by militants is illegal.

• Hundreds of thousands of people denied access to food, water and electricity because of actions they did not commit and which they cannot control.

Wed., Dec. 17, 2008
– As negotiations continue to renew the "ceasefire" agreement which is thought to expire at the end of the week, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement today called on the Israeli government to stop its equation of deliberately harming Palestinian civilians in response to rocket fire by militants on Israeli towns.

Gisha warned that closing Gaza’s crossings as a response to Qassam rocket fire violates international law and commitments made by the State of Israel to the Israeli Supreme Court. In a detailed legal opinion published today and sent to Israeli Cabinet ministers and the Attorney General, Gisha warned that the restrictions on the passage of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip cannot be considered a siege, a blockade or an economic sanction – but rather a closure imposed for the illegal purpose of collective punishment against innocent civilians. The Gaza Strip is occupied territory. Israel controls Gaza’s borders and insists that humanitarian goods enter only through Israel’s own crossings with Gaza – imposing a duty to permit that passage. Preventing humanitarian goods from entering Gaza also violates the duty that every nation in the world owes – to actively facilitate the passage of humanitarian goods to civilians affected by armed conflict.

Punishing civilians in Gaza for acts they did not commit and for political circumstances beyond their control by preventing the passage of goods contradicts commitments the State of Israel made before its own Supreme Court – that it would permit "minimum" quantities of supplies necessary for civilians.

Since the collapse of the ceasefire agreement on November 4, 2008, and unrelated to any concrete threat on the crossings, Israel has tightened the closure on Gaza, almost entirely preventing the passage of basic humanitarian goods to hundreds of thousands of families in Gaza. International law forbids deliberately firing rockets at Israeli civilians– and international law forbids intentionally harming Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip by depriving them of basic goods.

According to Sari Bashi, Director of Gisha: "Any equation created between rocket fire by militants and the closure of Gaza’s crossings to civilian goods violates the fundamental principle of international humanitarian law – to protect civilians. Civilians must not be used as a weapon to enforce agreements between combatants."