Human rights organizations to Turkel Commission: The Gaza closure is illegal and harms the civilian population

October 14, 2010: At the invitation of the Turkel Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident, representatives of human rights organizations testified to the commission yesterday, October 13, 2010, about the humanitarian-medical situation in the Gaza Strip, its economy, the transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip and the legality of the maritime closure.

Gisha Legal Department Director, Tamar Feldman, said in her testimony: "The closure of Gaza does not derive from purely military considerations but rather is intended to harm the civilian population, in violation of international humanitarian law". Gisha added that, contrary to the government’s testimony to the commission claiming that the electricity supply to Gaza was not harmed, Israel substantially reduced the transfer of industrial fuel to Gaza, causing the electricity system to collapse.

B’Tselem Executive Director Jessica Montell said in her testimony: "Israel has declared many times over the last year that there is no hunger in the Gaza Strip. But ‘hunger’ is not the correct index to assess the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s legal obligations are not limited to preventing hunger in the Gaza Strip. The civilian population there has basic human rights and Israel, which controls and impacts many aspects of life in the Gaza Strip, is responsible for safeguarding those rights. There is no other way to describe the siege policy but as illegal collective punishment of the civilian population and it must be lifted. As long as Israel controls the external trade of the Gaza Strip it must allow the import and export of anything needed for its economy, subject to security inspections".

Prof. Zvi Bentwich, Chairperson of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, said in his testimony: "If it weren’t for substantial international aid, there would be a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza today". Ran Yaron, director of the organization’s Occupied Territories department, testified to the commission that there is an illegal distinction made between "life-saving" care and "quality of life" care, and told of a 62-year-old patient from Gaza who needs spinal cord surgery that cannot be performed in Gaza. After her request to leave Gaza for the treatment was rejected, PHR-I petitioned on her behalf to the court. Yaron quoted the state response to the commission: "The respondents will argue that the petition should be rejected in essence because the petitioner failed to prove that the treatment she needs is urgent or life-saving".