In testimony to Turkel Commission COGAT contradicts Netanyahu

• Contrary to what Netanyahu told the commission, COGAT confirms that the closure was meant to exert pressure on the civilian population in Gaza.
• Whereas Netanyahu testified that restrictions were vital to "prevent the entry of weapons and war materiel to the Gaza Strip, Dangot admitted that the restrictions were meant to paralyze the economy in order to weaken Hamas.
• Gisha: the motives behind the closure have bearing on its legality.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 – The testimony today by Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, before the Turkel Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident, confirms Gisha’s claim that the closure was imposed on Gaza not only for security reasons to prevent the entry of war materiel, but also to paralyze the economy, meanwhile harming civilian life in the Gaza Strip. According to Gen. Dangot’s testimony, Israel declared economic warfare against the Gaza Strip and prevented the entry of goods – including certain kinds of food and other civilian items – that posed no security threat, with the goal of disrupting civilian life in the Gaza Strip.

In a letter from Gisha to the commission ahead of Dangot’s testimony, written by Adv. Tamar Feldman, the organization noted that the state had previously declared its goal of paralyzing the economy in Gaza to pressure the civilian population, and therefore "the closure was based not only on security considerations but was also a declared attempt to hurt the civilian population." Gisha claimed that these motives, as well as the way the policy was implemented, have implications for the legality of the closure. International law allows restrictions whose purpose is to preventing the smuggling of war materiel, but does not allow for the prevention of passage of goods which are clearly civilian in nature.

Gen. Dangot was not asked to give the commission an explanation of how Israel defines the humanitarian minimum in the Gaza Strip or by what criteria it determines whether there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. As noted in Gisha’s letter, in the last three years Israel has maintained a policy of ambiguity and refused to reveal the criteria for prohibiting or allowing the passage of goods into the Gaza Strip, despite a petition by Gisha under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the letter to Justice Turkel, attorney Tamar Feldman, Director of Gisha’s Legal Department, asks: "Is the policy of imposing a tight and continuing closure on a civilian population of 1.5 million people – and this in order to pressure it to stop actions for which it is not responsible and change political circumstances that are beyond its control – a legitimate and reasonable one?" Furthermore, is this a policy that contributes to Israel’s security interests?