Gisha to Defense Minister: Open Rafah Crossing and Stop Collective Punishment of Gaza Residents

Wednesday, August 30, 2006 – Gisha sent an urgent letter to the Defense Minister demanding that he immediately open Rafah Crossing and stop collective punishment against 1.4 million Palestinians been trapped in the Gaza Strip for 10 weeks.

An internal document published today in Haaretz raises strong suspicions that the crossing was closed in order to apply pressure on Gaza residents. The document reveals that the position of the Shin Bet is that Rafah Crossing should be closed hermetically, without interruptions, as long as there is no progress in the matter of the abducted soldier. The reason given was to apply pressure on the civilian population. This position has apparently been given significant weight by the security authorities, who do not permit the crossing to open.

Since June 25, 2006, Rafah Crossing has been closed, except for five days in which limited passage was permitted. The closure has effectively punished 1.4 million men, women and children by locking them in a big prison. Patients cannot get medical treatment; students cannot reach universities abroad; family members are separated from each other, and Gaza residents, 60% of whom live in poverty, cannot reach sources of livelihood. Gaza residents outside the Strip cannot return home, because Rafah is Gaza’s only gateway to travel abroad.

According to the letter written by Attorney Sari Bashi, Gisha’s Executive Director: "Imprisoning 1.4 million Gaza residents to apply pressure on those who are holding the abducted soldier – despite how painful and important that subject is – constitutes collective punishment in violation of international law." Using the closure to apply pressure contradicts Israel statements to the European observers who monitor the crossing. Israel has claimed that the crossing must be closed because of security warnings.

The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits collective punishment of residents of an occupied territory.