Collective punishment continues

A view of Gaza from the “fishing zone.” Photo by Asmaa Elkhaldi

February 18, 2020. On Saturday evening, February 15, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced that “following rocket fire from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, civilian measures planned for Gaza – expansion of the fishing zone, reinstatement of 500 cancelled trader permits and reinstatement of entry of cement – are cancelled. Future policy will be determined by actions on the ground only.”

On February 5, Israel reduced the “fishing zone” it enforces in Gaza’s sea space to a maximal distance of 10 nautical miles (nm) in response to rocket fire from Gaza. Over the weekend (February 14-15), Israel had permitted Gaza fishermen to access the sea up to 15 nm in a southern section of the fishing zone, but on Sunday (February 16), it reduced the maximal distance back to 10 nm.

On February 1, Israel decided to revoke 500 “trader” permits that enable their holders to exit Gaza and travel to Israel and the West Bank for business. Last week Gisha sent an urgent letter to Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, and COGAT, Major Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, demanding that they reverse the decision immediately. COGAT’s announcement on Saturday presented the reinstatement of the cancelled permits as an “easing” despite the fact that their revocation was an arbitrary and damaging act of collective punishment to begin with.

Permission from Israel to allow entrance of cement for Gaza’s private sector independent of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, raised repeatedly in recent weeks as another “easing,” had not yet been implemented before COGAT’s announcement on Saturday.

Israel routinely implements punitive measures against the civilian population in Gaza, regardless of their infringement on basic human rights and the resultant damage to the local economy. On Saturday, Defense Minister Bennett gave a television interview where he spoke about Israel’s dialogue with Hamas regarding rocket fire from the Strip: “They said they were stopping. Now we’ll see whether it happens, and if not, they will be punished.”

Gisha reiterates that while deliberate or indiscriminate fire towards civilian population centers violates international law, constituting a war crime, Israel’s evasion of its responsibility to protect the basic rights of Gaza’s residents constitutes illegal and immoral collective punishment.