Forbidding the Palestinian Sea

Palestine is a land with a long maritime tradition. Seventy years ago the Palestinian fishing fleet worked all over the eastern Mediterranean.

“AYYAM ZAMAN” is Arabic for the “old days” — a time before the Israeli military occupation. A time when fishermen fished freely off Gaza’s coast. The population of the strip swelled as a result of the Palestinian exodus during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War Al GazaNakba. Gaza came under Egyptian rule until the 1967 Six Day War, when it was occupied and Israeli Military occupation usurped Gaza’s natural resources. This meant the end of self-sufficiency and ability to trade; and confiscation of water, which forced Palestinians to live on foreign aid.

In the Interim Agreement, signed by Israel and the PLO as part of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Israel undertook to allow fishing boats from Gaza to go some 20 nautical miles (about 37 kilometers) from the coastline, except for several buffer zones near the borders with Israel and Egypt, to which they were prohibited entry. In practice, however, Israel did not issue permits to all the fishermen who requested them, and allowed fishing up to a distance of 12 nautical miles.

With their fishing fleet now hemmed into a sea area 6 miles wide and 40 miles long, the fishermen themselves are now reduced to just fishing to put what little fish they catch on their own family tables.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, on an almost daily basis, fishermen are subject to being shot at, which results in deaths and injuries among crew. Their vessels are often attacked with powerful water cannon, arrested, unnecessarily inspected, humiliated, and their boats and fishing equipment are often confiscated.

The Blockade

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 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.

Israeli assaults

2008-2009: Operation Cast Lead

Gaza assaultOn 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.

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.

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.

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.

November 2012: Operation Pillar of Defense

Israel’s next major air strike offensive on Gaza was Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

It began with an air strike that killed the commander of Hamas’s military wing, Ahmed Jabari, whom it accused of responsibility for &all terrorist activities against Israel from Gaza& over the past decade. Prior to the operation, the Israeli military had been shelling Gaza and carrying out air strikes.

An Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, said 167 Palestinians were killed, including 87 civilians. Six Israelis – two soldiers and four civilians – were also killed.

2014: Operation Protective Edge

In July and August 2014, another devastating assault hit the population of Gaza, leading to massive destruction and killings. The UN says at least 2,104 Palestinian died, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women.

An Israeli government official told the BBC that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed 1,000 &terrorists& during the assault on Gaza.We call on the international community to take swift and appropriate action before it is too late and history repeats itself at the hands of Israel.

The Freedom Flotilla

The Freedom Flotilla is an international action that is challenging the blockade on Gaza.

Palestine welcomes any peaceful effort by the international solidarity movement to break the ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza and reach the 1.8 million Palestinians sitting in Israel open-air prison.

Any attempt by Israel to obstruct the movements of Freedom Flotilla is considered a violation of international law, as it is a violation of  international law  the bloody and violent act of Israel in 2010 against the unarmed civilian activists who were on foreign vessels while sailing in international waters toward the shores of Gaza.

The international Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC) is a grassroots people-to-people solidarity movement composed of campaigns and initiatives from all over the world working together to end the siege of Gaza. It was formed after the 2010 Freedom Flotilla mission – the Free Gaza Movement’s ninth attempt to break the naval blockade – in order to coordinate action between numerous local campaigns that joined the efforts against the siege of the Gaza Strip.

The Goldstone Report

In 2009, 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 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”. It also denounced that “Palestinians are further denied freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country”, pointing out that “rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy are limited or denied by Israeli laws.”

Today, more than 10 years after Israel’s ‘Disengagement Plan’ and 6 years after the Goldstone Report,  Israel continues to occupy the Gaza Strip. Under its unilateral 2005 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.

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.

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