‘US/Israel: Bush Should Press for End to Gaza Closure

Tue,, May 13, 2008 – President George W. Bush should urge Israel to reverse its strict closure policy towards the Gaza Strip, three human rights groups said in a letter to the US president today. Human Rights Watch and two Israeli human rights groups, Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, called on Bush to dissociate the United States from the closure policy, which is causing grave harm to Gaza’s civilian population.

Israel’s comprehensive restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, including fuel and other civilian necessities, constitute collective punishment against the civilian population, the three organizations said. Israel’s stated intention has been to pressure Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups to end their rocket attacks on Israel.

“It’s debatable whether Israel’s closure policy has had any impact on Palestinian armed groups who fire rockets at Israel,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “What’s absolutely clear is that the closure has gravely harmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”

In their letter, the three groups said that Palestinian rocket and other attacks against Israeli civilians, such as those that killed a man in Kfar Aza on May 9 and a woman in Moshav Yesha on May 12, violate the core humanitarian prohibition against attacks that deliberately target or cause indiscriminate harm to civilians. However, unlawful attacks by one side to a conflict do not permit unlawful actions – in this case collective punishment – by the other.

“Given the extent of US financial and military support for Israel, President Bush needs to speak out clearly against Israel’s closure of Gaza,” said Sari Bashi, Gisha’s executive director. “The United States should not be party to a policy that punishes civilians for the actions of these armed groups.”

Israel’s control over Gaza’s borders, airspace, territorial waters, tax collection, and population registry means it still bears legal obligations as the occupying power under international humanitarian law. On top of that, Israel has made itself Gaza’s major source of electricity and sole source of fuel needed for transportation and the functioning or water, sewage and sanitation, and health facilities.

The laws of war, which apply to military occupations, prohibit the occupying power from attacking, destroying, or withholding objects essential to the survival of the civilian population. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel is obliged to protect the rights of Palestinians to freedom of movement, to secure access to health care and education, and to lead normal lives.

“Israel’s stranglehold on supplies of fuel and other necessities have crippled transportation and other essential services,” said Hadas Ziv, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. “Palestinian attacks on the border crossings have aggravated the impact of the shortages, but the main cause remains Israel’s drastic reductions in supplies allowed into Gaza.”