After Gaza’s crossings closed, Gisha warns Defense Minister: Do not respond to ceasefire violations by punishing civilians in Gaza

Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013: Gisha today warned Israel's defense minister against punishing civilians in Gaza in response to violations of the ceasefire reached with the Hamas regime. The warning, expressed in a letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, came after Israel stopped the flow of goods into and out of Gaza and limited travel of persons, following a rocket fired from Gaza toward the Israeli city of Ashkelon this morning.

The rocket fired this morning on Ashkelon was apparently the first since an Egyptian-brokered November 22 ceasefire ended a large-scale military operation undertaken by Israel in Gaza. Following the rocket fire, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing where goods are transferred into and out of Gaza and limited travel via Erez Crossing to medical patients, foreigners and Israeli citizens leaving Gaza. On average, each day, in addition to medical patients, about 150 Palestinians cross through Erez for commerce, family visits, and other reasons defined by Israel as humanitarian.

Gisha noted that indiscriminate rocket fire toward civilians in Israel is illegal and can be considered a war crime, but that the response cannot be to punish civilians in Gaza.

"The timing of the closure of Kerem Shalom and canceling the planned travel of dozens of Palestinians via Erez today raises serious concern that this is not a travel restriction necessitated by a concrete and weighty security imperative but rather a punitive act aimed at Gaza's civilian population," Gisha Executive Director Sari Bashi wrote in the letter to Barak. "International humanitarian law explicitly forbids collective punishment".

The letter noted that Israel officially repudiated its 2007 to 2010 policy of explicitly restricting civilian access into and out of Gaza in order to achieve security or political goals, and urged Barak to avoid resuming the practice of closing civilian crossings in response to rocket fire.

"If this is how Israel plans to respond to violations of the ceasefire agreement, this is a dangerous regression to a policy that violates humanitarian law and has been repudiated by Israeli security experts, who understand that there is no security value in harming civilians," the letter stated.

Gisha noted that in order to bring its policy into conformity with international law, Israel must cancel remaining restrictions on civilian access, including restrictions on travel between Gaza and the West Bank, the ban on marketing goods from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank and restrictions on the entrance of construction materials.

For the current status of the closure of Gaza click here.

For an analysis of the opportunity created by the ceasefire, click here.