Siege in Gaza v International Law
- David Halpin: Siege of 1.4 Million Souls in Gaza v International Law
05/18/06 "Information Clearing House" -- -- The 360 square kms of the
'Strip' represent 1.5% of 'mandate' Palestine. Another 3 million
Palestinians live in the ineptly named 'West Bank', and in East
Jerusalem. This represents about 11% of mandate Palestine. Two thirds
of the 1.4 million population in the Gaza Strip are refugees and their
offspring. The former had fled southwards from their homes and land in
1948 before and during the Arab-Israeli war. The massacre of Deir
Yassin on April 4th was a central cause of the panic that drove that
mass migration, as well as overwhelming force of arms. The refugees
were given materials for building concrete shelters in 'camps'
throughout the Strip. They were cheek by jowl, and cold in winter. In
spite of UN resolution 242 and others, they have remained trapped in
an utterly oppressive environment. Since the start of the second
intifada 'shaking loose', in September 2000, the standard of living
has dropped steadily. Unemployment has been over 50% and is rising
quickly now. 78% of the population are living under the poverty line
of less than US $ 2.1 per person per day, and 10% of children under
the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. (1) A study in late
2002 found that 17.5% of children aged 659 months suffered from
chronic malnutrition 53% of women of reproductive age and 44% of
children were found to be anaemic (2)
The Israeli Occupation Force withdrew itself and 8000 colonists last
September from the 30% of the Strip they occupied. But the occupation
went on. Tight control of the border crossing points has continued,
including the one with Egypt - Rafah. Overflights by 'drones', Apache
helicopter gunships and F16s persist. The latter were used to cause
sonic booms at low levels last autumn. The mental injury to adult and
child triggered a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court. (3) The
distance from shore within which Palestinians are allowed to fish is
set by the occupier, and sometimes banned completely. Thus an
important source of high quality protein is limited. A commercial port
was being built, but that was bombed along with the airport.
Then in January this year, Hamas received 43% of the votes in
scrupulously held elections.(4) Out of this they gained 74 of the 132
seats in the legislature. Hamas, which first came to life in 1987, has
been proscribed as a 'terrorist' structure because of its charter and
because of its use of suicide bombing from 1993. However, it has
maintained a hudna a truce, with the occupier for 18 months. It has
energetically led social, educational projects etc and in Gaza
especially. It has widespread support within the populace which wishes
to be sumud steadfast. Ground has been lost in reality and
metaphorically; 'not one grain of sand more!'
An already dire state of affairs, was quickly exacerbated. Taxes
amounting to $50 million per month that are due to the Palestinian
government have been withheld by the State of Israel and financial
support by the EU ceased. The latter amounted to 0.5 billion euros in
direct and indirect aid per year.
The US has driven this policy of isolation with the clear intention of
destabilising the elected government so that it is overturned. There
is no money to pay the 150,000 public servants within the 'West Bank'
and Gaza strip. This includes doctors, nurses and other health
workers. Most have not been paid for two months. There is very little
money in circulation. High quality fruit that has been grown for
export through Israel has been allowed in only small amounts through
Karnai, the commercial checkpoint. No other exports are passing
through, and little is coming in. That includes drugs, spare parts for
dialysis machines etc. There are no drugs and anaesthetic agents left
in the hospitals. Shafa hospital, the main public hospital, was
threatened with closure last week. What was to be done for the case of
peritonitis? Dr. Moawiya Hassanein at the Ministry of Health (MOH)
reported 7-05-06 that Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) prevented 274
patients last month from passing through the Erez checkpoint to
receive vital medical treatment in the hospitals of the West Bank and
Israel. He added that they suffer from critical diseases such as
cancer, leukemia, cardiac diseases etc. They are in need of urgent and
advanced medical treatment as well as surgical operations.
To this economic siege has been added the firing of tens of thousands
of shells (5) into 'open ground' for over two months by artillery,
tanks and ships. These fall into one of the most densely populated
areas in the world. The ostensible purpose is to quell the firing of
the primitive and unguided Qassam rockets, which have killed thirteen
Israeli subjects in the last two years according to B'tselem ( 6).
This Israel based organisation states the indiscriminate nature of
these weapons makes their firing a war crime, especially when it is
close to Palestinian residential areas. It points out the shelling is
a disproportionate response and an inappropriate one, given that these
rockets are fired from varying positions. There has been considerable
loss of life and limb. In the first fortnight of April, 16 were
killed. On 16 April 2006, B'Tselem, along with other Israeli and
Palestinian human rights organizations, petitioned the High Court of
Justice to cancel the IDF order reducing the safety zone for shells
fired into the Gaza Strip to only 100 meters from civilian objects.
The petitioners argued that the weaponry is not precise and reduction
of the safety zone endangers civilian lives. On 10 April, after the
range had been reduced, seven-year-old Hadil Ghiban was killed by a
shell that struck her house. The blast also injured twelve members of
her family. Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) has
documented mental injury to children caused by the noise and shock of
shell explosions. In addition to these war crimes, extra-judicial
assassination of Palestinian resistance leaders occurs without
abatement. Often bystanders are involved. This is usually done by
rocket from Apache helicopters or unmanned aircraft.
It is unconscionable and unprecedented that nations who are
signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention and of the UN Charter
should be instruments in a siege which is causing suffering and loss
now, and which will lead to a humanitarian disaster, probably epidemic
Under international humanitarian law, Israel as occupier, must protect
the wounded, sick, children, and pregnant women, enable the free
passage of medicines and essential foodstuffs, enable medical teams to
provide assistance, and not impose collective punishment. Under
international human rights law, Israel must respect the right of every
person to freedom of movement, to work, to an adequate standard of
living, to education, to adequate health care, and to family life. (6)
The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the Protection of
Civilian Persons in the Time of War, states in its first article -
"The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure
respect for the present Convention in all circumstances." In addition,
Article 146 of the convention outlines specific obligations of
contracting parties, including undertaking legislative procedures, to
pursue those suspected of committing serious violations, and to bring
them to trial or hand them to a third party interested in bringing
them to trial. (7)
The 25 countries of the EU have an additional obligation in that the
second article of the EU-Israel Association Agreement states "
Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the
Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and
democratic principles, which guides their internal and international
policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement. (7)
The EU Commissioner, Ms Ferrero-Waldner, is currently negotiating ways
to get money into the hospitals and schools without it 'touching' the
Hamas dominated Palestinian Authority. AIDA and other NGO groups have
spoken strongly against this as being inefficient and destabilising.
There are large amounts of money from Arab nations and individuals
which are sitting in Cairo and elsewhere because Arab banks fear
draconian sanctions by the US if they break the siege.
These words from the total of one hundred and twenty-six in the
Balfour Declaration on the 2nd of November 1917 would seem to have
'...it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may
prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish
communities in Palestine,..'
International law is clear as to the state obtaining in Gaza today.
There is no requirement to negotiate 'solutions', but for these
unlawful actions to cease forthwith.
David Halpin FRCS Orthopaedic and trauma surgeon.
Jan Coffey Save the Children UK Programme Manager at press
conference with 31 other international aid agencies meeting (AIDA) in
Jerusalem on 4-05-06.
John Hopkins and Al-Quds Universities for Care International.
Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) and Physicians for
Human Rights -Israel (PHR): Joint Press Release 14-11-05
Jimmy Carter: 'Punishing the innocent is a crime' 05/07/06
International Herald Tribune
Conal Urquhart:Observer 7-05-06
Palestinian Committee for Human Rights:
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