Five Questions for Defense Ministry on Closing Gaza’s Crossings

Since the November 28, 2012 ceasefire, there have been four incidents of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza at civilian areas in southern Israel, including yesterday's. In three cases, Israel responded by closing the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and adding additional restrictions on travel by Palestinians to the West Bank and Israel. Israel has also reduced Gaza's fishing zone from six to three nautical miles, in response to the fire.
Deliberate or indiscriminate fire at civilians in southern Israel violates international law and can be considered a war crime. In light of the importance of distinguishing between civilians and combatants, preventing civilians from traveling or transferring goods, in response to rocket fire by militants, also violates international law, specifically the prohibition on collective punishment.

Since 2010, Israeli security officials have stated that steps to expand access via the commercial crossings "increase the PA fund revenues by charging customs fees and other taxes", in contrast to the tunnel economy, taxed by the Hamas government. Outgoing Southern Commander Tal Russo recommended "opening the border crossings with the Gaza Strip to allow passage of goods without restriction in order to prevent international criticism and rebuff the deligitimization of Israel in the world". Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, said in 2011 that "we are committed to distinguishing between the population and terrorist activists".

Gisha believes there are at least five questions that the Defense Ministry should answer:

1. Is there a new policy toward the Gaza Strip? If so, what is it? Who decided it, and when? In what forum did the discussion take place?
2. What is the relationship between this policy and statements by senior security officials, that closing crossings strengthens the Hamas regime in Gaza?
3. Is this policy coordinated with the renewed dialogue with Turkey and the understandings reached with Egypt, the mediator between Israel and Hamas?
4. How does this policy correspond with the commitment that Israel has made, pursuant to its international law obligations, to distinguish between civilians and combatants and to refrain from punishing civilians for acts they did not commit?
5. What are the goals of the policy? How is their achievement monitored?

Gisha has repeatedly posed these questions to Israel's defense minister but has yet to receive a response.