Gaza Strip

13 Oct. '10: B'Tselem’s executive director testified today before the Turkel Commission, established by Israel to investigate the Gaza flotilla incident in May 2010

13 Oct 2010

The Turkel Commission invited B'Tselem, as well as Israeli human rights organizations Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights, to testify regarding the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. In her testimony to the Commission, B'Tselem's executive director, Jessica Montell, emphasized the following points:

  • The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip:  Israel has stated on numerous occasions in recent years that people are not starving in the Gaza Strip.  However, “starvation” is not the proper indicator for examining the humanitarian situation there.  Israel's legal obligations towards Gaza are not limited to preventing starvation. The civilian population has fundamental human rights, and Israel is responsible for ensuring that these rights are protected, in light of its control over broad aspects of life in Gaza.

Video: The Israeli military severely restricts fishing in the Gaza Strip.

    • Pressuring the civilian population in the Gaza Strip: Punishing a million and a half persons because some of them voted for Hamas is not legitimate. At any rate, the siege policy has not achieved its declared purpose: toppling the Hamas government and bring about the release of Gilad Shalit. There is, in fact, evidence that the opposite is true: in the absence of controlled foreign trade via Israel, a Hamas-controlled economy of smuggling via tunnels has developed, through which many kinds of goods are brought into Gaza, including weapons. Both the injustice and the futility of the siege policy are exemplified by the fact that, following international pressure in the wake of the flotilla incident, the government of Israel immediately announced that it would ease restrictions on entry of previously prohibited materials, including items that had been defined as potentially dangerous to state security.

      Video: No-go zones for Palestinians along Gaza's border with Israel.
    • Responsibility of Hamas for breaches of human rights: Hamas is responsible for grave breaches of human rights, both of Israelis and of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Armed Palestinian organizations that fire rockets and mortars at civilian population centers inside Israel breach international law, which prohibits intentional attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks on areas containing civilians. In addition, armed groups such as the military wing of Hamas knowingly endanger the lives of residents of the Gaza Strip and breach the laws of war when they attack Israel from inside population centers.  However, war crimes committed by the adversary do not justify breaches by the other side. Israel has claimed that its actions against civilians and the civilian infrastructure in Gaza are justified, among others, as a response to rocket fire at southern Israeli communities. Israel is obliged to defend its citizens and is legally and morally entitled to do so – but only within the framework of legitimate combat actions, as defined under international law.
    • The abducted soldier Gilad Shalit is legally a hostage:  Shalit is being held in captivity, in a place and in conditions that are unknown, without visits from the Red Cross or any other international body. International humanitarian law strictly prohibits the abduction and holding of a person, while threatening the person's life or body, for the purpose of pressuring the adversary. Taking of hostages is deemed a war crime, and everyone involved in commission of the act bears personal criminal responsibility. The Hamas leadership in Gaza has the duty to release Shalit immediately and unconditionally. Until that time, the persons holding him must treat him humanely and enable representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit him.
    • Collective punishment: The combination of measures that Israel has implemented amounts to forbidden collective punishment of civilians. Israel's policy has taken its toll primarily on the civilian population of Gaza, most of which is not directly connected to the armed attacks carried out against Israel since the 2005 disengagement plan or to the abduction of Gilad Shalit.
    • Foreign trade: As long as Israel controls the Gaza Strip's foreign trade, it must enable import and export of all the items necessary for sustaining the economy there, subject to security checks.