21 January 2008
On Sunday 20 January 2008, Israel’s ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip, including the blocking of fuel supplies, forced Gaza’s only power plant to shut down, plunging over 800,000 Palestinians into darkness. According to the General-Director of the plant, the shortage of electricity caused by the lack of fuel will affect the provision of medical care and water and sanitation services.
On Sunday morning, the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, which normally operates 130 wells as well as sewage treatment plants, stated that if the fuel supply is not restored by Tuesday, these services will cease to function throughout the Gaza Strip. Since Friday 18 January, Israel has also closed all Gaza’s border crossings and blocked all humanitarian aid, except in exceptional circumstances. With some 80 percent of Gaza’s population requiring food aid, the impact of these measures will be catastrophic. This escalation has also been accompanied by an intensifying of Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip in the first 19 days of 2008, costing the lives of 69 Palestinians, including four children and eight women, and the injury of over 190.
Israel’s current policy in relation to the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants constitutes an unmitigated violation of international humanitarian law including, but not limited to, Israel’s obligation as an Occupying Power to, at a minimum, ensure the basic needs of the population under its effective control, and the prohibitions on collective punishment, coercion and unlawful reprisals.
Israel’s current policy and recent actions have shown a casual disregard for the lives and dignity of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, treating their suffering and the violation of their fundamental rights as little more than an inconvenience that will earn gentle reprimand from the international community and Palestinian National Authority, but will otherwise be irrelevant. With the intolerable conditions and constant state of fear that the Gazan population is now forced to live under, it is time for this position to change. Israel must not be allowed to shield itself from the implementation of its international legal obligations, nor should the international community shy away from enforcing such implementation. Inarticulate fears of disrupting a “peace process” that exists only in vague declarations and diplomatic handshakes, that treats the Gaza Strip as separate from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Palestinians as a divided people, cannot be an excuse for allowing the continued siege of the Gaza Strip. In fact, if any “peace process” is to succeed, the conclusion reached must embody a sense of justice. This requires, as an unavoidable starting point, that the fundamental rights of all parties be recognised and protected.
Al-Haq therefore calls upon,
• Israel to immediately cease all military operations in the Gaza Strip and to end its policy of collective punishment, including the opening of border crossings to allow the movement of goods and people, and restoring the supply of fuel and humanitarian aid.
• the Palestinian Liberation Organisation to establish Israel’s obligations under international law in respect of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, including ending the collective punishment and ensuring access to essential medical services, food and water and sanitation, as an integral part of any negotiations.
• regional organisations and individual states to take concrete measures, including economic and diplomatic sanctions, to ensure Israel’s compliance with international law.
• all international agencies, including the UN, present in the OPT to actively draw the attention of international decision makers to the impact of Israeli policies on the Palestinian civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
• the UN Secretary-General immediately bring the situation in the Gaza Strip to the attention of the Security Council.
• concerned individuals and civil society groups to raise Israel’s violations of international law with elected officials in their home counties.
• Palestinian armed groups to immediately cease the launching of rockets targeting civilian population centres in Israel.
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