Today, April 6, 2020, Gisha sent an urgent letter to Israel’s Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Kamil Abu Rukun, to demand that they immediately reverse the blanket ban imposed by Israel on the entry of communication equipment into the Gaza Strip.

On February 10, 2020, COGAT posted a notice on its Arabic Facebook page announcing that Israel would no longer allow communication equipment to enter Gaza. The decision was said to be a response to the theft of equipment from storage facilities owned by the Palestinian telecommunications company, Paltel, allegedly carried out by Hamas-affiliated operatives. According to COGAT’s notice, Israel will only remove the ban when the stolen items are returned.

Ever since this announcement, Israel has denied the entry of all communication equipment for Gaza’s two million residents, including desktop and laptop computers and accessories, printers, internet routers, network cables, landline phones, cellular phones, and accessories and spare parts for these devices. The ban has already resulted in a shortage of these items in shops in the Strip, severely undermining the livelihoods of those employed in the communication and technology sector, as well as harming the general population, who needs access to these basic, everyday items.

Israel’s blanket ban on the entry of communication equipment only amplifies the social isolation experienced by people in Gaza. As the rest of the world turns to technology to work, study, and communicate with family and friends in a time of social isolation enforced to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so too do Gaza’s residents. As a result of the shortage in the local market, the price of equipment still in stock has soared.

In the letter, Gisha emphasizes that conditioning the renewed entry of communication equipment into Gaza on the return of items stolen within the Strip is not only inappropriate and unjustified, but also without legal basis. “The blanket ban is unreasonable and disproportionate,” states Gisha lawyer Muna Haddad, in the letter. “Under the current circumstances, the measure constitutes unlawful collective punishment and a breach of Israel’s obligation to respect and safeguard normal living conditions for Gaza’s civilian population.”

Israel controls Gaza’s access to communication infrastructure, preventing wireless technologies from the third-generation, or higher. In addition, Israel defines all communication equipment as “dual-use,” meaning that its entry is always controlled and routinely restricted. Due to the significant control it maintains over life in the Strip, Israel has a responsibility to protect the living conditions of its residents. Instead of denying access to basic needs, Israel must take action to allow life in Gaza to continue as normally as possible under the difficult circumstances we all face at this time.

To read the letter, see here.