It’s 2020 — Lift the Gaza Closure!

In Gaza, two million Palestinians live in one of the world’s most densely populated areas, facing profound levels of poverty, food insecurity and regular military attacks. Only 4% of water is fit for human use and consumption, and sanitation services are limited. Gaza’s healthcare system faced collapse even before the coronavirus pandemic and patients in need of lifesaving treatment outside Gaza face a maze of opaque rules and barriers.

In June 2020, Israel’s military occupation marks 53 years and the closure of the Gaza Strip marks 13 years. As the world continues to respond to COVID-19, Palestinians in Gaza are particularly susceptible to the pandemic due to overcrowding, the inability to access adequate water and sanitation, and a healthcare system crippled by successive Israeli military attacks and years of structural violence that deny Palestinians their basic human rights, with impunity.

All aspects of life in the Gaza Strip have been undermined by Israel’s prolonged closure. Since 2012, the UN has repeatedly warned that Gaza would become unliveable by 2020 should Israel fail to lift its illegal closure, which has severely deprived Palestinians of the ability to exercise their individual and collective rights.

The Palestinian people in Gaza need effective measures and meaningful global action and solidarity to let Gaza live by lifting the closure with immediate effect.

Map of the Gaza Strip presenting the restrictions of the illegal closure, Al-Haq, 2020.

The situation of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere today is grown from a history of displacement and dispossession since 1947/48⁠, a plight that includes prolonged refugeehood, occupation, fragmentation, institutionalised discrimination, and closure.

Read more in this brief historic overview on Medium.

The Palestinian people have been systematically deprived of the ability to exercise their individual and collective rights, in particular their right to self-determination, including permanent sovereignty over natural resources, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, lands, and property.

Currently, 1.4 million Palestinian refugees are registered with the UN Palestine Refugee Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip, constituting about 70% of the population.

For decades, Palestinians have been calling for these root causes to be addressed. The failure of the international community to answer that call with meaningful action has allowed for the continuation of harmful policies and practices, including the illegal closure of Gaza.

A short documentary — “Gaza: Unhabitable”, Al-Haq, 2019.

In 2012, UNRWA commissioned a report that projected that the Gaza Strip would become an uninhabitable place for Palestinians by 2020. Now, midway through the year, Gaza is unfit for human habitancy, yet the closure remains in place.

The resulting human rights and humanitarian crisis following Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip is entirely manmade crisis and aggravated by three successive Israeli military assaults that have repeatedly destroyed homes and infrastructure, with the closure undermining the ability to rebuild.

The Israeli occupying authorities have imposed various movement restrictions on the Gaza Strip since the 1990s — restrictions that were intensified in 2007 as collective punishment of the Palestinian population.

Since then, Israel has closed off the Gaza Strip by land, sea, and air and imposed a stringent permit regime that largely prohibits movement in and out of the Strip.

As a result, international observers have often described the Gaza Strip as the world’s largest open-air prison.

The international community has widely regarded Israel’s closure of Gaza as illegal.

In 2013, the UN Secretary-General concluded that “the blockade and related restrictions target and impose hardship on the civilian population, effectively penalizing them for acts they have not committed,” therefore amounting to collective punishment.

“No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” Article 33, Fourth Geneva Convention

Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip is clearly prohibited as collective punishment under international humanitarian law, while Israeli policies and practices that deny Palestinians their freedom of movement and their rights to life, health, work, and education, and an adequate standard of the living amount to systematic human rights violations and suspected international crimes.

The ‘Access Restricted Area’ is a military buffer zone unilaterally imposed by Israel that extends along the perimeter fence of the entire eastern part of the Gaza Strip, as well as at sea (see the map above). To the east, most of the buffer zone is located on agricultural lands, while the buffer zone at sea limits fishing activities to an area where fish has already been severely depleted and larger fish are out of reach.

Destroyed building after Israel’s military offensive on Gaza, ©️PCHR 2014.

Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the call to lift the closure is more urgent than ever.

Today, 96% of Gaza’s water supply is unfit for human use and consumption, while the electricity supply is limited to 14–15 hours in a 24-hour period.

The right to health and healthcare in Gaza is seriously undermined by long-term, politically-driven and mutually reinforcing policies including de-development, movement restrictions and attacks on the health sector and health workers with impunity.

Read more in a separate piece “Right to health and healthcare” on Medium.

The closure has accelerated de-development of Gaza’s healthcare system through restrictions on the movement of people and goods and through economic damage and impoverishment. Gaza’s health services are unable to develop in line with the needs of its population. During 2018, WHO recorded that only “15% of applications to exit the Gaza Strip on behalf of health partners and the Ministry of Health were approved.”

As highlighted by WHO: “exposure to violence has longer-term implications for physical and mental health, with Palestinian adolescents having one of the highest burdens of mental disorders in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.”

Gaza’s hospitals often lack adequate supplies. According to the Ministry of Health, 48% of essential medicines and 26% of medical disposables were at ‘zero stock’ in 2019, meaning less than one month’s supply available at Gaza’s Central Drug Store. The health of patients with cancer and kidney disease is particularly threatened, with 58% of chemotherapy drugs and 41% of kidney dialysis medicines at zero stock in December 2019.

In recent years, the steep decline of Gaza’s health sector and the unavailability of specialized medical services have increased the need for patients to be referred for more advanced facilities outside of Gaza. As a general rule, Israel prevents all Palestinian patients other than “exceptional humanitarian cases” from travelling to receive treatment when it is unavailable in the Gaza Strip. Even among such patients, Israel imposes onerous restrictions on access to medical care outside of the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s closure has undermined the livelihoods of Palestinians, leading a process of de-development of the Palestinian economy in Gaza.

This policy is exemplified by the situation of Gaza’s fishermen, who face regular assaults by the Israeli occupying forces and are forced to fish in a severely restricted fishing zone.

Changes in the fishing limits for the Palestinians in Gaza, 2020, Source: Al-Mezan .

In early 2020, the fishing zone was re-restricted back to 10 NM. The current imposed expansion of the sea buffer zone prevents Palestinian fishermen from accessing 50% of the maritime areas they are entitled under the Oslo Accords and diminishes both the quantity and quality of the available catch. As such, the livelihoods of the Palestinian fishermen and their families have been severely affected.

Israel’s policy to deny Palestinian fishermen access to Palestinian territorial waters violates Palestinian sovereignty over natural resources. Israel frequently targets Palestinian fishermen at sea by opening fire on them, resulting in killings and injuries, harassing them through chases, and in many instances, arresting them and confiscating their fishing boats and equipment. By preventing Gaza’s fishermen from working safely and freely, the Israeli occupation undermines what would otherwise be a viable sector in the Palestinian economy.

The fishing community, once prosperous, is now one of the poorest communities in the Gaza Strip.

The buffer zone extends over some 17% of the Gaza Strip’s land and, depending on the specific area, farmers are effectively prevented from accessing land located up to 1,000–1,500 metres from the perimeter fence, approximately 95% of the restricted area is arable land. The buffer zone extends over 35% of the Gaza Strip’s agricultural lands.

Document on chemical spraying of farmlands, Al Mezan.

While Gaza’s key agricultural and maritime employment sectors are hindered by Israel’s continued enforcement of the buffer zone.

Israel further undermines the agricultural sector by routinely spraying chemicals assumed to be herbicides in the buffer zone, burning and damaging crops grown by Palestinian farmers in the area.

In Gaza, 68% of Palestinians are food insecure, and one in ten children under five years old suffers stunting (being short for age, a marker of chronic malnutrition), which is cause for serious concern.

Virtual field visit, Al-Haq.

Denial of sovereignty over natural resources has made Gaza more and more dependent on external aid and support that can only patch some gaps in basic services. Palestinian gas and oil reserves located off the Gaza shore have been systematically exploited by the Israeli occupation, with Palestinians prevented from developing them due to the naval closure imposed on the Gaza Strip.

Since 2008, the Israeli occupying authorities have severely restricted the entry of materials Israel considers to have a so-called ‘dual’ civil and military purpose, including essential medicines and basic construction materials.

Given the arbitrary, disproportionate, and punitive nature of Israel’s ‘dual-use’ list, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have struggled to rebuild homes and infrastructure destroyed by the Israeli occupying forces. Israel’s severe restrictions on importing certain materials under the ‘dual-use’ pretext have also limited Palestinians’ ability to compete in local and regional markets, as these materials are needed to manufacture products.

The Great Return March in Gaza, ©Abdel Hakim Abu Daqen 2018

Starting on Land Day, 30 March 2018, in response to decades of Israeli oppression, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip began to demonstrate on a near-weekly basis by Gaza’s perimeter fence, calling for the realisation of their inalienable rights, in particular the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and for Israel’s illegal closure of the Gaza Strip to be finally lifted.

The overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, known as the Great Return March, were violently suppressed by the Israeli occupying forces. Week after week, Israeli snipers systematically and deliberately resorted to lethal and other excessive force against Palestinian civilians.

Between 30 March 2018 and the suspension of the demonstrations in December 2019, Palestinian human rights organisations documented the killing of 217 Palestinians, including 48 children, four health workers, two journalists, and persons with disabilities during the Great Return March. During the same period, thousands were injured by Israeli occupying forces, including 9,515 with live ammunition and shrapnel, including 2,134 children.

Documentary on the Great Return March — year after protests started, Al-Haq.

In May 2018, following egregious killings perpetrated by the Israeli occupying forces during the Great Return March, the UN Human Rights Council established an independent, international Commission of Inquiry to investigate all violations of international law committed during the demonstrations.

“The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognizable as such.” (Source)

The commission of inquiry recommended that Israel, the occupying power, “lift the blockade on Gaza with immediate effect” and called for international justice and accountability for suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity. While States adopted these recommendations in Human Rights Council resolution 40/13 of 22 March 2019 with a view to implementation, no effective measures have been taken in this regard over a year later.

Take Action Now!

We are calling for a genuine solidarity movement that will allow us to create the political will and address the root causes of Palestinians’ rights deprivations in Gaza.

Sign the petition to lift the closure and share it further.

Follow us @lifttheclosure — on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Call for action among your friends and networks.

Urge decision-makers, politicians, governments, the UN, and the international community to immediately lift the Gaza closure.

Sign existing nationwide petitions in your country to lift the Gaza closure, like in Canada, Norway.

The content of the campaign was prepared jointly by Al-Haq, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).

You may contact us at gaza2020campaign@gmail.com.

A blog for the campaign “Gaza 2020* — Lift the Closure!” Prepared by non-profit organisations: Al-Haq, Al Mezan, MAP, PCHR.

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