What do you do when there’s no electricity or access to advanced technology? Enterprise, innovation and ingenuity try to fill the void. Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, a B’Tselem field researcher in the Gaza Strip, brings us a portrait of Gaza as seen through his own eyes. A third installment in a series.
On 10 October 2015, soldiers arrested six Gazan youths who crossed the perimeter fence into Israel during a demonstration and held them at a military base for three days. Three of them, minors, told B’Tselem they were held handcuffed out in the open, subjected to beatings and degradation, and denied food, drink and sleep. The fact that soldiers can so easily turn a military base into an exterritorial area in which they can treat minors as they please is, in part, due to a law enforcement system which has long enabled security establishment personnel to use violence against detainees, including minors, without any accountability.
Nine years have passed since Israel began its blockade on Gaza, paralyzing the job market in an area inhabited by two million people. The right to work and make a decent living are both basic human rights. On 1 May 2016, we highlighted the stories of four professionals desperate for work in Gaza.
On the night of 12 March 2016, there was an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF Spokesperson said the attack targeted a Hamas training camp, in response to a rocket fired at Israel. No one was injured on the base. The spokesperson failed to mention that a nearby family home was also hit, killing two children. This attack is part of a longstanding unlawful and immoral policy of air strikes on Gaza. Whoever planned the attack ought to have known there were civilians nearby and ensured their safety. Having failed to do so, the military and political decision makers are liable for the children’s death.
The demand for work in the Gaza Strip is enormous, with an unemployment rate of some 40%. The major reason is the prolonged siege Israel has imposed on Gaza. To mark International Women’s Day, we spoke with three women – a carpenter, a blacksmith, and a vegetable market laborer – who are all trying to sustain families in this near-impossible economic reality. Gazan women face a particularly trying challenge, as they must deal not only with the dearth of work to match their skills, but also, like women around the world, with a society in which women are considered less valuable and work harder for lower pay.
In at least four cases, the lethal gunfire was entirely unwarranted: In Dec. 2015-Jan. 2016 five Palestinians were shot dead by the military near the Gaza perimeter fence, when protests were underway there. B’Tselem documented 14 similar cases in Oct. and Nov. 2015. B’Tselem found that in 4 of the killings the use of live fire was unjustified, excessive and unlawful. B’Tselem’s examination of the military’s conduct during demonstrations near the perimeter fence repeatedly indicates that though the military prepares in advance and the soldiers face no real danger, they resort to lethal fire without any justification, and no one is held accountable for these actions.
In December 2015, Gazan farmers reported that Israel had sprayed their land with herbicides, seriously damaging crops in areas where farmers were supposedly permitted to work. The military frequently changes the scope of the “no-go” zone by the border fence, but does not bother to mark it or inform farmers. Israel cannot treat the Gaza Strip as its part of its territory and ignore the residents. If the military believes that there is a need for a “security zone” along the border, it must establish this zone within Israeli territory.
The Gazan health care system is unable to provide adequate care to the residents of Gaza, in part due to neglect during Israel’s direct rule there and also to the present day siege. Yet Israel does not allow most patients who need non-lifesaving medical care to enter Israel or pass through it en route to the West Bank or Jordan. An entry permit for medical care is not an act of charity: since Israel still controls Palestinian movement in and out of Gaza, it must let patients leave Gaza to allow them to get proper care.
Since 9 Oct. 2015 solidarity protests with West Bank Palestinians have been held in Gaza. B’Tselem found that 14 people have been killed and 379 wounded, mostly by live fire. Israeli soldiers stationed across the fence, dozens of meters away from protesters generally faced no mortal danger that would require use of live fire; they could have used crowd control measures instead. The large number of casualties indicates excessive use of live fire and raises concerns of unjustified, disproportionate and unlawful gunfire.
On 11 Oct. 2015, the military bombed the Hassan family home in Gaza, destroying it and killing mother Nur, 25, who was at an advanced stage of pregnancy, and daughter Rahaf, 3. Muhammad, 5, and father Yihya, 25, were lightly injured. B’Tselem’s investigation refuted claims that the bombing targeted “weapon production sites” or that the house collapsed due to a strike on a nearby training camp. The case exemplifies the illegality of Israel’s policy of airstrikes in Gaza, which has killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians in recent years.
The bombings of the Gaza Strip began a year ago today. For hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, last summer’s nightmare has become an ongoing reality. There are now some 100,000 displaced persons in Gaza living with relatives or in rented homes, in tents, or in the ruins of their old homes. Nearly 20,000 houses were partly or completely destroyed last summer, and hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza still live in 150,000 damaged residences. After the fighting ended, B'Tselem continued to publicize the stories of Gazans who are still dealing with its consequences.
The UN report on the 2014 Gaza conflict rejects Israeli government and military officials’ view of what is permissible in combat in densely populated areas. The UN commission’s premise differs from that of these officials, seeing Gaza as the home of over 1.5 million civilians where combat took place, not as a battlefield on which civilians live. The report states that the immense harm to civilians during the fighting cannot be justified nor can IHL be interpreted so as to legalize it, even considering the modus operandi of Hamas and other armed groups. The commission also found that the responsibility for violating IHL rests with the senior political and military officials who drew up the policy and did not change it even when its lethal consequences became clear.
The UN commission of inquiry into last summer’s fighting in Gaza recommended an international criminal investigation against Israel and Hamas. This is aimed primarily at the leaders on both sides, rather than at the ground forces. Despite the horrifying and predictable results, top military and government officials in Israel ordered that the lethal policy of massive bombings in Gaza be continued. Denial and passing the buck cannot be the only response to such serious findings. A healthy society should face the criticism and thoroughly investigate the allegations of serious human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law.
Palestinian women from Beit Hanoun found shelter with their families at an UNRWA school. They tell of the rough living conditions after losing their homes and speak of their hopes for the future. According to UN figures for Beit Hanoun, 90 homes were destroyed and 24 others damaged during Operation Protective Edge.
Op-ed by Hagai El-Ad, B'Tselem's executive director: The Gaza Strip is the most silenced issue in the current election campaign. Silenced? Apart from certain politicians vying for credit for discovering the tunnel threat, Gaza is completely absent from this election – erased, along with this summer’s unpleasant war. Gaza is gone. Its residents do not exist. Our future, our suffering, isn’t interlinked with theirs. The Gazan neighbors of Sderot, Ashkelon, Nahal Oz, and Tel Aviv are invisible.
Safiyeh a-Najar from Khuza'a describes life after Operation Protective Edge. The town of Khuza'a lies in south Gaza, about 500 meters from the Israeli border. The town council listed some 15,000 residents before the operation, in about 2,000 homes. Residents told B’Tselem that on 22 July 2014, 2 days after ground forces entered Gaza, the town was heavily attacked and many fled to schools in nearby Khan Yunis. The UN listed 556 homes damaged, 336 of them destroyed. Many residents still live in UN schools, trailers, or with relatives. Some, like a-Najar's family, are living in rough conditions among ruins.
Today (Wednesday, 28 January 2015) B’Tselem published its report on the policy of attacking residential buildings in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. The report addresses one of the appalling hallmarks of the fighting in Gaza this summer: bombings in which hundreds of people were killed – constituting more than a quarter of all of the Palestinians killed in the fighting. Time and again Palestinian families suffered much grievous loss of life. In a single instant, so many families were ruined, with the wreckage of their lives mirroring the devastation of their homes. Hamas made explicit its intention to harm civilians. In contrast, the Israeli government claimed that it acted to prevent harm to civilians in Gaza. Is that the case?
Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem field researcher in Gaza, has been hard at work documenting life amidst the ruins left in the wake of this summer’s fighting: “The fighting during the Operation Protective Edge made it practically impossible to get around Gaza to document events as they unfolded. For the past three months, B’Tselem’s 3 field researchers in Gaza have been carefully going through the Gaza Strip, following up on reports one neighborhood at a time, one house at a time. We take pictures of formerly vibrant, densely populated neighborhoods that have been reduced to rubble. We meet people living amidst the ruins... (click to read more and view the photos)
Shuruq's home is one of 100,000 houses in Gaza that were ruined or damaged in Operation Protective Edge. The families who lived in them now live in rough, crowded conditions in the cold. She related: "For the first 7 years of our married life, we lived with my husband’s parents. We kept dreaming of building a home of our house so things would be calmer and easier for us. In 2012 we own to build a house on our plot... I felt I couldn’t go and look at what’s left of the house. I couldn’t bear to see how years of work went down the drain in a single moment."
Tens of thousands of Gazan families are homeless, more than 3 months after Israel’s last operation there. In October 2014, the UN published that 20,000 homes of families were destroyed in the operation, and another 80,000 damaged. In the town of Khuza’a, east of Khan Yunis and close to the border with Israel, hundreds were destroyed. Until last summer, the extended al-Qara family lived in a five-apartment building. It was destroyed in the fighting and they now live in two tents next to the ruins.