Gaza: Occupation by Siege

February 28, 2011

Five years after Israel’s 'Disengagement Plan’, Israel continues to occupy the Gaza Strip. Under its unilateral disengagement plan, Israel evacuated all 8,500 settlers living in Gaza and redeployed its ground troops to Gaza’s borders. Rather than end Israel’s occupation, however, the 'disengagement’ merely transformed Israel’s 1967 military occupation of the physical territory into an occupation by siege through which Israel has continued to exercise control over the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants.

Beginning in 2000, Israel intensified its control over Gaza’s air and sea space, and all points of access in and out of the Gaza Strip, severely restricting the movement of goods, people and much needed supplies like food, fuel and medicines into the Gaza Strip. In addition, Israel virtually eliminated all exports from the Gaza Strip. By June 2007, complete closure had become the norm rather than the exception.

Access into and out of the Gaza Strip is restricted to just three crossing points that are under full Israeli military control. Our people living in the Gaza Strip today require permits from Israel to leave or enter Gaza. Requests for these permits are regularly denied. Any goods leaving or entering Gaza must be approved by the Israeli authorities, and most goods are banned due to “security” concerns. Israel’s permit system also covers the entry of food and medicine into the Gaza Strip, as well as fuel needed to generate electricity and ensure water supplies. In addition to this, Israel maintains a naval blockade along Gaza’s entire coastline. Even before the election of Hamas in 2006, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) could not, without Israel’s permission, perform basic functions such as providing social and health services or security, setting immigration policy, developing our economy or allocating resources.

For these reasons, international law continues to regard Israel as an occupying power in the Gaza Strip, bound by its obligations under international humanitarian law, including the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel’s hermetic blockade of the Gaza Strip violates the 1994 San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, which prohibits naval blockades intended to starve the civilian population, denying the entry of objects essential for survival or where the expected damage to the civilian population from the blockade is larger than the concrete military advantage. The blockade is illegal because it prevents the delivery of essential and basic needs to our civilian population. The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has deteriorated rapidly as a result of Israel’s siege. Israel drastically cut imports and barred all exports, effectively destroying Gaza’s economy and with it the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of our people. From June 2007 to September 2008, 98 percent of the Gaza Strip’s industrial operations became inactive as a result of the closures, with just 23 industries left operating out of 3,900. Nearly 40,000 farmers in the agricultural sector and more than 70,000 workers in other sectors lost their jobs. As an example of the restrictions on imports, an average of 9,400 trucks per month entered Gaza before June 2007; between June 2007 and June 2008, that number had fallen to an average of just 1,930 trucks per month.

As the occupying power, Israel is also violating its duty to provide for our civilian population in the Gaza Strip. Approximately 70 percent of our population in the Gaza Strip currently lives below the poverty line. The same percentage relies on foreign food aid to survive. According to the World Health Organization, chronic malnutrition has risen to affect over 10 percent of the population.

Israel’s siege has had an equally devastating impact on civilian infrastructure, which remains on the verge of total collapse for lack of fuel and spare parts to carry out necessary repairs. For example, in June 2008 the amount of fuel Israel allowed into the Gaza Strip accounted for only 54 percent of Gaza’s needs. Today, approximately 90 to 95 percent of drinking water in the Gaza Strip is contaminated and unfit for consumption, while the vast majority of Gazan’s experience electricity cuts of 8-12 hours a day.

Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip amounts to collective punishment against the Palestinian civilian population, which is prohibited under international law.


On December 2008, Israel launched a 22-day military assault against the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants. Our civilians bore the full brunt of Israel’s brutality, with Israel indiscriminately targeting residential neighborhoods and public facilities such as schools, hospitals, mosques and even buildings belonging to the UN. According to figures cited by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian

Affairs (OCHA), 1,440 Palestinians were killed over the three week period, including 431 children and 114 women. A further 5,380 Palestinians, including 1,872 children and 800 women, were injured.

Israel’s assault also damaged the Gaza Strip’s water and electricity networks. The result was a rapid deterioration in the humanitarian situation beyond that already experienced as a result of Israel’s siege.

An initial survey by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found that more than 14,000 homes in Gaza were either totally or partially damaged during the assault. Estimates by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) put the number of Palestinians left homeless at 50,000, with an additional 100,000 Palestinians displaced. Approximately 48 percents of the Gaza Strip’s health facilities were damaged or completely destroyed, including 15 hospitals and 41primary health centers.

Today poverty, unemployment and destitution remain at endemic levels, with 88 percent of Gaza’s population reliant on foreign food aid from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Our people continue to experience chronic shortages of food, clean water, cooking gas, fuel and essential medical supplies as a result of Israel’s refusal to allow sufficient passage of much needed humanitarian aid and essential supplies.The UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (“Goldstone Report”) concluded that Israel’s blockade over the Gaza Strip, executed for political reasons,“ constitutes collective punishment of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.” In addition to breaching several norms of international humanitarian law, Israel’s hermetic blockade of the Gaza Strip severely violates the human rights of the 1.5 million strong civilian population. The Goldstone Report made reference to “the blockade and Israel’s obligation to respect, protect, facilitate or provide, to the extent possible, for the enjoyment of the whole range of economic, social and cultural rights in the Gaza Strip” and concluded that “Israel’s actions have led to a severe deterioration and regression in the level of realization of those rights. Consequently, the Mission finds that Israel has failed to comply with those obligations.” The Report also concluded that Israel violated the economic, social and cultural rights of our people in Gaza, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the human rights to food, housing and water. Furthermore, the Goldstone Report found Israel’s actions to constitute “a series of acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water. Palestinians are further denied freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country … rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy are limited or denied by Israeli laws.”

Fact Box One: Israel’s military assault on Gaza

  • The Israeli military assault on Gaza lasted 22 days, from 27 December 2008 until 18 January 2009.
  • According to figures cited by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 1,440 Palestinians were killed during the assault, including 431 children and 114 women. A further 5,380 Palestinians, including 1,872 children and 800 women, were injured. 
  • An estimated 4,247 homes were demolished in the Gaza Strip during the assault. 
  • An estimated 41,730 homes were damaged in some way during the Operation. 
  • 85 percent of the damage was caused by shells from tanks and airstrikes; 12 percent of houses were destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. 
  • 211 industrial premises were damaged (102 completely destroyed, 109 partially destroyed); the damage led to massive job loss and layoffs of over 75 percent of employees. 
  • 1,549,776 acres of agricultural land were destroyed.

Fact Box Two: Life under the siege

  • More than 70 percent of our residents of the Gaza Strip rely on aid from international organizations to obtain food.
  • In 2009, an estimated 40 percent of Gazans were unemployed. 
  • In 2009, an estimated 70 percent of the Gaza Strip’s population was living below the poverty line. 
  • An UNRWA poverty survey indicates that the number of refugees living in abject poverty (unable to secure access to food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic of items such as safe drinking water) has tripled to 300,000 since the onset of the blockade in 2007. 
  • A 2010 WHO report stated that chronic malnutrition has risen and has now reached 10.2 percent. 
  • The Rafah Crossing has been closed since June 2007 except for occasional and limited openings. In 2010, an average of 3,192 people passed through the crossing monthly. Before closure, an average of 40,000 people traveled through the crossing each month. 
  • Since January 2010, there has been a serious deterioration in the supply of electricity to the Strip because the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) is able to produce only half the electricity that it did prior to January 2010. This is due to lack of funds needed to purchase the industrial fuel required to operate the plant. Thus, many of the 1.5 million of our people in the Gaza Strip must cope with daily electricity cuts of 8 to12 hours (before January 2010, typical blackouts lasted for 6-8 hours). 
  • Amnesty International reports that 90-95 percent of the drinking water in the Gaza Strip is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. 
  • Israel prevents raw materials for industry from entering, which is part of an “economic warfare” policy designed to prevent economic activity. Thus, 90 percent of the Strip’s factories are closed or are working at minimum capacity. For example: Israel prevents rubber, glue, and nylon from entering to prevent the production of diapers, but allows the transfer of diapers produced in Israel into the Gaza Strip. 
  • Israel restricts fishing access to three nautical miles from the shore.
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