by Stephen Lendman
Gaza's suffocating siege persists. Israel imposes it illegally. It's been ongoing since June 2007. It began a year earlier in less extreme form. It constitutes collective punishment. Fourth Geneva's Article 33 states:
"No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."
"Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited."
Fourth Geneva mandates protecting civilians in time of war. Doing so includes letting goods and people move freely.
Blockades are acts of war. They're variously defined as:
• surrounding a nation or objective with hostile forces;
• isolating an enemy;
• encirclement and besieging;
• preventing the passage in or out of supplies, military forces, or aid in time of or as an act of war; and
• an act of naval warfare to block access to an enemy's coastline and deny entry to all vessels and aircraft.
Francis Boyle calls blockades:
"(B)elligerent measures taken by a nation (to) prevent passage of vessels or aircraft to and from another country."
"Customary international law recognizes blockades as an act of war because of the belligerent use of force even against third party nations in enforcing the blockade."
"Blockades as acts of war have been recognized as such in the Declaration of Paris of 1856 and the Declaration of London of 1909 that delineate the international rules of warfare."
Blockades are considered illegal if:
• their sole purpose is starving the civilian population or denying it other essentials for life; or
• -damage to civilians is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete or direct military advantage anticipated.
In other words, blockades may not disproportionately harm civilians. Israel's siege targets them.
Collective punishment is imposed. It's deliberate. It's malicious. It's illegal. It has nothing to do with security. The only threats Israel faces are ones it invents.
Israel institutionalized closure. Fundamental international laws are spurned. Crimes of war and against humanity persist. Slow-motion genocide is official Israeli policy.
Repeated calls by human rights organizations to free besieged Gazans are ignored.
Last January, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) "call(ed) upon the Israeli authorities to first of all lift this unjust closure completely, as it is a form of collective punishment prohibited under the international humanitarian law, and second to discontinue all the unjust restrictions imposed on the movement of civilians and thirdly allow the free movement of trade; including imports and exports to and from the Gaza Strip."
On October 3, the Ahlul Bayt News Agency headlined "Warning of humanitarian catastrophe as Gaza siege is tightened."
In September, the UN Human Rights Council held its 24th session. PCHR and six other human rights organizations submitted a written statement titled "Closure and accountability."
It highlighted deteriorating conditions. Egypt's military junta worsened them. Gazan tunnels provide a vital lifeline. They supply essential goods.
After Egypt's military ousted Mohamed Morsi, conditions deteriorated badly. State newspaper al-Gumoria said about 95% of tunnels were destroyed. Gazan officials estimate about 80% since July.
Equipment is used to detect tunnel activity. When found, bulldozers move in destructively. Rafah's International Crossing Point provides the only access to Egypt.
Most often it's closed. Enormous hardships are imposed. Gazans remain largely isolated. They're cut off from the outside world.
Students can't study abroad. Families are separated. Patients requiring medical care unavailable in Gaza can't get it. Judicial redress is denied.
The submitting organizations called on world leaders to intervene responsibly. They haven't done so for over seven years. They show no indication of changing policy. Gazan suffering continues.
The territory's olive agriculture is a shadow of its former self. Years ago it thrived. Gaza olives and olive oil are among the world's best. Planting and harvesting provided seasonal work for thousands of workers.
No longer. Small numbers remain. Israel's siege decimated a once thriving enterprise. Trees and agricultural lands were razed. Many farmers turned to other crops.
According to Palestine's ministry of agriculture, Israeli forces destroyed around 120,000 Gazan olive trees since September 2000.
Israel's buffer no-go zone includes 30% of agricultural land. It's some of Gaza's most fertile. Fishermen are greatly restricted. Choice waters are off-limits.
On November 1, Maan News headlined "Hamas: Power outage across Gaza as fuel runs out." Electricity production was halted.
Gazan energy authority deputy chairman Fathi el-Sheikh Khalil said:
"We have completely stopped the operation of (Gaza's sole) power plant this morning at 6:00 AM because we don't have a single liter of fuel."
Most Gazan areas lacked power. Khalil blamed it on Egypt. Destroying vital tunnels cut off supplies.
According to Khalil, the Palestinian Authority overcharges. "Less than 50 percent of the needs of the Gaza Strip are currently covered by electricity from Israel (and) we can no longer get Egyptian fuel" because most tunnels were destroyed, he said.
"We tried to get fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority, but it has imposed prohibitive taxes." Gaza's plant supplies about a third of electricity needs.
It'll "remain shut until fuel supplies resume from Egypt through the tunnels or the Rafah border crossing, or from Israel if the Palestinian Authority agrees not to impose the heavy taxes," Khalil added.
On Friday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator, James Rawley, expressed concern. Lack of power "impact(s) all essential services, including hospitals, clinics, sewage and water pumping stations," he said.
"It will also mean that Gaza's 1.7 million people will experience power outages of up to 16 hours per day." Before shutdown, Gaza got less than half the electricity it needs.
"For the benefit of Gaza's civilian population, it is essential that a way be found to allow the power plant to resume its operations and that the broader chronic energy crisis be addressed," Rawley added.
In September, Gaza's energy authority warned of an impending fuel shortage. It called on Egypt to resume shipments.
After Morsi's July ouster, relations between Cairo and Hamas deteriorated badly. Egyptian military officials wrongfully accuse Hamas of involvement in Sinai violence. Baseless allegations don't wash.
According to OCHA, goods from Egypt through Rafah crossing are less than 5% of their June volume.
"Less than 10 truckloads of goods may have entered Gaza through the tunnels per day between 20-26 October, compared to 15 truckloads which entered during the previous week, and 30-40 truckloads during September," it said.
Vital medicines are in short supply. Since Egypt's July coup, OCHA said:
"(T)he Ministry of Health in Gaza began restricting X-rays and limiting certain drugs to emergency use only, due to low supplies and the unreliable flow of medical supplies via the Rafah Crossing."
By end of July, "27 per cent (128 items) of essential medicines were at zero stock in the Central Drug Store in Gaza and 16 per cent (78 items) were at low stock (between 1-3 months' supply)."
"Twenty-five percent of (Gaza's) drug supplies are normally received from, or through, Egypt via this crossing."
"Two principal Egyptian donors, the Arab Physicians Union and the Physicians Syndicate, are expected to halt donations to Gaza in view of current urgent needs in Egypt."
"These groups have played a crucial role as a source for rapid supply of critical items, such as dialysis solutions, common chemotherapy drugs, Factor VIII for hemophilia, immunosuppressants for kidney transplant patients and treatments for other chronic blood disease conditions."
"Any sustained gap in the supply of these items would have immediate negative impact on patients."
"The Human Appeal International (United Arab Emirates) and Qatar Red Crescent also provide donations to the MoH in Gaza via Rafah, but according to the MoH, only one drug shipment has been received via that route since 30 June, from an Italian NGO."
Gazan construction is collapsing. General Eitan Dangot is Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
After a tunnel to Israel was discovered in mid-October, he blocked construction materials transfers to Gaza.
He did it punitively. He did it maliciously. It's standard Israeli policy. Preventing vital construction has nothing to do with internal Israeli security.
It goes for schools, medical clinics, private residences, and other nonmilitary purposes.
Destroying most of Gaza's tunnel economy affects available construction materials. OCHA commented before Dangot's blockage, saying:
"The Palestinian Federation of Industries estimated that, on average, around 1,500 tons of construction materials entered Gaza through the tunnels per day, compared to 7,500 tons prior to the imposition of the recent measures."
"The price of construction materials on local markets rose sharply before declining to between 20 to 30 percent above the normal price by the end of the month, and leading to a sharp slowdown in construction activities and the operation of concrete mix factories."
Gaza is more isolated than ever. Chronic shortages persist. Israel pretends otherwise. World leaders turn a blind eye.
Gaza's humanitarian crisis deepens. Palestinian Authority officials ignore it. They're illegitimate. They're duplicitous. They're shameless. Complicity with Israel reveals their true agenda.
Over 1.7 million Gazans suffer out of sight and mind. Nothing in prospect suggests relief.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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